As we observe World Food Day and contemplate the vital role of food in sustaining us and strengthening our resilience, this year’s theme, ‘Water is life, water is food. Leave no one behind,’ highlights the essential link between water and food. Embracing water-centric agriculture isn’t just vital for our planet; it is the pathway to sustainable food systems benefiting all.
Water—the lifeblood of our planet—holds immense significance. Recent statistics from my home organization Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) reveal that nearly 800 million people suffer from hunger, while approximately 2 billion people lack access to safe drinking water. These alarming figures emphasize the urgent need to address intertwined food security and water scarcity challenges.
At the heart of the food-water nexus lies water-centric agriculture—a paradigm prioritizing sustainable water resource management in food production. This approach ensures adequate water for crops, minimizes waste, and promotes efficiency. In an era marked by climate-induced droughts and erratic rainfall, water-centric agriculture emerges as a beacon of hope, championing drought-resistant crops and sustainable farming practices. These strategies bolster agriculture’s resilience against climate change while safeguarding food security.
Precision irrigation techniques, powered by advanced technologies such as soil moisture sensors and remote sensing, play a pivotal role in delivering the right amount of water to crops, reducing waste and boosting yields.
Soil biodiversity also plays a crucial role in sustaining life and tackling global challenges—it supports bolstered food security, better climate adaptation and poverty reduction. Healthy soil houses over 25% of the planet’s biodiversity, with more organisms in one gram of soil than people on Earth. While we strive to best save our environment, safeguarding soil biodiversity is an unavoidable step to ensure we offer the next generations, and ourselves, a better tomorrow.
As we anticipate the upcoming COP28 UAE this December, it is worth noting that some of the most pivotal decisions affecting our soil and, indeed, our very existence, are likely to unfold at its negotiation tables. The Conference provides us with an exceptional chance to tackle these urgent challenges, put them under the spotlight, and ensure the world understands the intricate and vital relationship between food and water.
Amidst high stakes and formidable challenges, my optimism for the future is unwavering. I draw this optimism from the realization that many carry on the fight, and that numerous global organizations are actively addressing the world’s myriad problems. Fortunately, there are great entities around the world devoted to uplifting grassroots initiatives. I recently came across several, such as the Zayed Sustainability Prize, firmly focused on recognizing and rewarding organizations driving positive change across critical sectors, including around the future of food, water and its inherent support systems.
Focusing on supporting SMEs and NPOs operations, the Prize serves as a catalyst for innovative solutions, saving lives and transforming communities worldwide. Initiatives and structures like this one are precisely what we need. In many remote areas, water-centric agriculture has a profound impact, offering innovative solutions to pressing challenges—challenges that impact millions of people daily. We must back grassroots organizations that champion sustainable solutions, such as pioneering technology-driven, water-efficient farming practices and ensuring access to safe drinking water. We must also support smaller local SMEs and NPOs which actively contribute to the worldwide endeavor to eliminate hunger and poverty, starting from the bottom up.
On this World Food Day, let us commit to fostering a more sustainable, equitable and resilient world where clean water and quality food are accessible to all. The time for action is now, and together, we can nourish our planet and leave no one behind.
Sasha Koo-Oshima is currently the Deputy Director of Land and Water Division at the UN Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO), leading programs on integrated water resources management, agricultural water development and governance. She was formerly the Senior International Water Advisor for the U.S. Environment Protection Agency and the Director of the U.S.-China Clean Water Action Plan under the bilateral Strategic & Economic Dialogue for Environment and Trade Cooperation. Her career spans over 25 years focusing on the issues of water, agri-environment and sustainable economic development, and includes experience in multi-level governance and water financing.
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