The political role of water: Water Management and Food Production

The Challenge Program on Water and Food (CPWF) of the CGIAR has released a new report on water resources, drawing on five years of research in 30 countries around the world.

The report, titled Major River Basins Have Enough Water to Sustainably Double Food Production in the Coming Decades, says that whilst water-related conflicts and shortages abound around the globe, there is sufficient water to sustain food, energy, industrial and environmental needs during the 21st century.

The reports author’s claim that the biggest challenge facing water is not scarcity, but the inefficient use and inequitable distribution of the water flowing through key river basins such as the Nile, Ganges, Andes, Yellow, Niger and Volta.

Alain Vidal, the director of the CPWF, said:

“…the problem overall is a failure to make efficient and fair use of the water available in these river basins. This is ultimately a political challenge, not a resource concern.”

Researchers identified large areas of arable land in Asia and Latin America where production could potentially rise by at least 10 per cent.

Dr. Simon Cook, the leader of the CPWF’s Basin Focal Research Project, said:

“…there are relatively straightforward opportunities to satisfy our development needs and alleviate poverty for millions of people without exhausting our most precious natural resource… With a major push to intensify rainfed agriculture, we could feed the world without increasing the strain on river basins systems.”

The report states that if donors and government ministries put more emphasis on supporting rain-fed agriculture, food production could increase rapidly and sustainably.

The authors of the report also note that policies often ignore the role of livestock and fisheries in local livelihoods and diets, which play a vital role in certain communities, such as the 40 million in the Mekong who depend on fisheries for at least half the year.