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Significance of Water in Food and Nutrition Security

Why is it in the news?

  • The theme for World Food Day this year is “Water is Life, Water is Food,” emphasizing the critical role of water in food production and nutrition security.
  • Due to increasing climate extremes, managing water wisely has become crucial, as countries face challenges like droughts, floods, unseasonal rains, and prolonged dry spells.
  • With less than seven years left to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), food agencies like Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), and World Food Program (WFP) stress the importance of innovative and collaborative approaches to improve water resource management and conservation.

A Perspective

Water and Crop production

  • Decades of poor water management, misuse and pollution, and the climate crisis have degraded freshwater supplies and ecosystems, adding to the vulnerability of small-scale producers to climate shocks and land degradation in some of the world’s most fragile ecosystems.
  • About 40% of the planet’s total land area is degraded, leaving farmers with less productive land. Small-scale farmers, who make up more than 80% of farmers globally, are especially affected as they often lack access to finance, technology and irrigation to maintain a level of production that can sustain their livelihoods.
  • Extreme weather events and variability in water availability are severely affecting agricultural production, changing agro-ecological conditions and shifting growing seasons. Changes in rainfall and higher temperatures also affect crop productivity, reducing food availability.

Impact of Climate Change

  • The Government of India has assessed the impact of climate change in 2050 and 2080 using climate projections and crop simulation models.
  • Without adaptation measures, rainfed rice yields in India are projected to reduce by 20% in 2050, and by 47% in 2080 scenarios, while irrigated rice yields are projected to decline by 3.5% in 2050 and 5% in 2080 scenarios. Wheat yields are projected to decrease by 19.3% in 2050 and 40% in 2080, while kharif maize yields could decline by 18% and 23%. In every scenario, climate change without adequate adaptation measures reduces crop yields and lowers the nutritional quality of produce.
  • The FAO, in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Himachal Pradesh, and Maharashtra, is piloting a crop forecasting framework and model incorporating climate (weather), soil characteristics and market information to aid rainfed farmers in making informed decisions contributing to food security.
  • Irrigation can also be an effective measure to make agriculture more resilient, and in most cases, enable farmers to transform their livelihoods by growing, consuming and selling high-value crops such as nutritious fruits and vegetables. In this context, the WFP supports soil and water conservation, the building or fixing of irrigation canals, dams, ponds, and dykes, as well as flood barriers through food assistance in exchange for labor. In 2021 alone, 8.7 million people across 49 countries benefited directly from such support.
  • Similarly, IFAD supports Indian States in leveraging the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act scheme. Through safeguards during design and planning and encouraging participatory institutional development, IFAD ensures that micro-irrigation infrastructure is environmentally and socially sustainable and financially viable.


Climate Change Adaptation Efforts

  • FAO supports sustainable transformation in agrifood systems and climate-smart agriculture practices, with a focus on improving water-use efficiency.
  • FAO supported the Farmer Water School program in Uttar Pradesh, benefiting smallholder farmers.
  • FAO’s efforts included the Andhra Pradesh Farmer Managed Groundwater Systems project, covering seven drought-prone districts and involving hydrological monitoring.
  • IFAD has integrated climate change adaptation into its core strategies and aims to leverage climate financing to address agriculture’s adverse impacts and help farmers adapt to weather volatility.
  • IFAD-supported projects in Maharashtra, Odisha, Uttarakhand, Nagaland, and Mizoram incorporate climate-resilient seed varieties, climate-sensitive agricultural practices, and soil management.
  • WFP collaborates with the Government of Odisha to enhance resilience among smallholder farmers, with a focus on women, through solar technologies and climate advisory services.

Steps needed for Food and Nutrition Security

  • Achieving global food and nutrition security requires both political commitment and concrete investment.
  • Policies and investments should promote innovative technologies that boost farmer productivity, enhance climate resilience, and reduce the climate footprint of agricultural production.
  • Strategies should emphasize environmentally, socially, and financially sustainable irrigation and water management approaches.
  • Efforts should bring sanitation and drinking water supplies closer to rural households.
  • Strategies should include efficient food and water recycling methods.
  • Institutional arrangements and capacity for sustainable and equitable water regulations, management, access, and ownership need strengthening.
  • The UN’s food agencies collaborate closely with the Government of India and state governments on various innovative initiatives, including Solar 4 Resilience, Secure Fishing, and millet revival for renewable energy, food security, and nutrition.

Way Forward

  • Adapting to climate change is crucial for promoting resilient and sustainable rainfed production through technologies and practices that can mitigate the effects of climate variability.

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