Water and food security

Water resources distribution between populations needs and agricultural needs is another crucial issue at stake.

Food safety threatened by global population growth

As global population will reach 9 billion in 2050, it has become ever more urgent to take into account the consequences of this demographic growth on urban pressure and increased food needs. At this pace, water demand is forecasted to increase by 64 billion cubic meters by 2050. How to feed the world while answering pressing needs for water and sanitation services for the populations? Will available water resources be sufficient to cover those needs?

Several factors can explain the increase in water consumption: a global demographic increase, upscaling of living standards and development of irrigation systems as a result of higher levels of food production. In many places in the developing world, water shortages are more and more frequent and severely worsen the water stress situation. In a context of resource scarcity, should one type of usage be supported over another? We must answer all needs: a functional society relies on its capacity to provide food and livelihoods to its people. The real issue therefore does not lie in the opposition between rural and urban areas or between cities and suburbs, but rather lies in the drive for society to satisfy all needs. It is an organizational issue.


Managing competing uses of water

Only 10% of total water withdrawal at the global level goes to personal or domestic uses. Agriculture accounts for 70% of water consumption while 20% is used for industrial activities and electricity production. In a general context of acute scarcity of the resource, protecting the Human Right to Water and Sanitation henceforth implies to define priorities amongst the various water uses and to determine accordingly the volumes allocated to each of them.

The international community is caught on the horns of a double dilemma: on the one hand, increasing available water resources by arbitrating between farming, industry and household uses, and on the other hand, protecting and maintaining the natural environment in which water is subsequently released. 


Solutions for improving food safety in developing countries

Solutions exist across countries and needs and range from seed enhancements to better agricultural practice or reuse of wastewater. It all comes down to reducing volumes of food wasted, accompanying more sustainable food consumption patterns and producing differently – notably through better irrigation techniques. Better land management, better resource conservation and the promotion of more sustainable modes of production and consumption are key to ensure food safety.

Besides, implementing incentive-based pricing policies for farmers has been at the heart of several countries’ reforms. For instance, Morocco’s Green Plan launched in 2008 foresees a whole system of financial incentives or administrative proceedings simplification to obtain subsidies under national water economy programme.

To go further, please refer to the “Jointly achieving food safety and water access” conference organized by (Re)sources during the World Water Forum in 2009. 

(Re)sources' recommendations

  • Transition from a water use conflict management to a mode of organization based on conflict mediation and optimization of successive uses of water.
  • Reusing cities’ wastewater (after treatment) for agricultural or industrial uses can be a long-lasting, sustainable solution
  • Using wastewater recycling loops for crop irrigation can help promoting development of suburban agriculture that is bound to become cities bread baskets.


  • Le rapport publié fin novembre 2011 par la FAO, Organisation des Nations Unies pour l'alimentation et l'agriculture, fait état de l'appauvrissement et de la dégradation des terres et des eaux, constituant une menace pour la sécurité alimentaire.
  • L'agriculture occupe 11% de la surface des terres émergées et utilise 70% de toute l'eau tirée des aquifères, des cours d'eau et des lacs.
  • Dans les pays du Sud, l'agriculture devrait croître de 15% d'ici 2030.
  • Selon la FAO, il sera nécessaire d'ici 2050 de produire 1 milliard de tonnes de céréales et 200 millions de tonnes de produits d'animaux supplémentaires chaque année.
  • Pour améliorer la productivité de l'agriculture, la FAO recommande une gestion intégrée des ressources en terre et en eau. Elle estime que près de 900 milliards d'euros devront être investis d'ici 2050 pour développer la gestion de l'irrigation dans le monde et pour la protection et la mise en valeur des terres, la conservation des sols et la lutte contre les inondations.

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Water and food security