Water Shortages, Scarcity In Agriculture Must Be Addressed Boldly To Achieve SDGs

7 Dec 2020 by Staff - Water Diplomat
ROME, Italy

More than three billion people live in agricultural areas with high to very high levels of water shortages and scarcity, and almost half of them face severe constraints, says a new report by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (UNFAO).

Freshwater resources per person have declined by more than 20 Percent over the past two decades globally, data shows. Use of rainwater and freshwater in agriculture accounts for over 70% of global water withdrawals.

“With this report, FAO is sending a strong message: water shortages and scarcity in agriculture must be addressed immediately and boldly if our pledge to achieve the sustainable development goals (SDGs) is to be taken seriously,” UNFAO Director-General Qu Dongyu stated in the foreword to "The State of Food and Agriculture (SOFA) 2020".

The report suggests actions to address the issues, ranging from investing in water-harvesting and conservation in rainfed areas to rehabilitating and modernising sustainable irrigation systems in irrigated areas.

“These must be combined with best agronomic practices, such as adopting drought-tolerant crop varieties, and improved water management tools – including effective water pricing and allocation tools, such as water rights and quotas – to ensure equitable and sustainable access,” states the report.

Water accounting and auditing must be the starting point for any effective management strategy, the report claims.

“The inherent characteristics of water make it difficult to manage,” it states. “Water should be recognised as an economic good that has a value and a price,” the report continues, while noting that treating water as a free commodity often creates market failures.

“A price that reflects the true value of water, by contrast, sends a clear signal to users to use water wisely. Policy and governance support to ensure efficient, equitable and sustainable access for all is essential,” it states.

The report says that in some cases, small-scale and farmer-led irrigation systems can be more efficient than large-scale projects.

Though completely developed water markets involving the sale of water rights are relatively rare, when done correctly, they can induce efficient and equitable allocation of water all while promoting its conservation, the report concludes.

Dongyu said that meeting the internationally agreed UN’s sustainable development goals, including the Zero Hunger target, "is still achievable," but only by ensuring more productive and sustainable use of freshwater and rainwater in agriculture.