Ten Strategies For Wise Water Use Through Food & Agriculture

Chicago, IL—March 22, 2013 is the 20th anniversary of World Water Day. Although about 70 percent of the earth’s surface is covered by water, only 0.001 percent is fresh and available for human consumption. The largest portion of this—70 percent—is used for agriculture. Global agricultural water consumption is expected to increase by approximately 19 percent by 2050.
“Nearly one billion people suffer from hunger and more than 2.3 billion live in water-stressed areas. Understanding the global food system and making smart, sustainable changes in the way we eat and produce food now, can help prevent both famine and thirst in the future,” says Ellen Gustafson, co-founder of Food Tank.
Food Tank: The Food Think Tank and the Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition (BCFN) have launched a new joint initiative highlighting World Water Day and ways in which eaters, farmers, and policymakers can reduce their water footprint. 
In 2012, the United States experienced the most severe drought in at least 25 years, which, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), affected 80 percent of agricultural land in the country. Couple that with recent droughts in other parts of the world, most notably in the African Sahel, and the urgency for action to safeguard water resources is clear.
“Drought is a problem for farmers across the world. But from the U.S. to Ghana, extraordinary water-saving innovations are being developed by farmers, research institutions, and NGOs. The solutions are out there, but they need more attention, more research, and ultimately, more funding and investment,” says Danielle Nierenberg, and co-founder of Food Tank.
Extreme weather events aren’t the only threat to agriculture and water resources. As water supplies face mounting pressures from growing populations, climate change, and an already troubled food system, water wealth and water security are entering the heart of the international discourse around global cooperation and stability. The scarcity of the global water supply means that, if we are to meet all municipal, agricultural, and ecological needs, new and innovative water-saving systems will be crucial to the future of food production.
Here are Food Tank’s 10 Recommended Strategies for Wise Water Use through Food and Agriculture:
Farmers can…
Strengthen soil with intercropping, agroforestry, and cover crops
Soil health is critical to water conservation, according to the U. S. Department of Agriculture National Resource Conservation Service. Diversifying farms by including cover crops, planting trees on farms, and intercropping can help keep nutrients and water in the soil, protect plants from drought, and ensure that every drop of water delivered by rainfall or irrigation can be utilized.
Put supplemental irrigation to use
The World Wildlife Fund estimates that approximately 60 percent of water used for irrigation is wasted. Drip irrigation methods can carry higher installation costs, but can also be 33 percent to 40 percent more efficient, carrying water or fertilizers directly to plants’ roots.
Collect rainwater for crops-—even in cities
Rainwater harvesting is not a new idea—it was critical for communities during the Roman Empire. Modern day rainwater harvesting can increase water availability and crop yields, as well as recharge groundwater supplies. The U.N. Environment Programme has reported on rainwater irrigation around the world, highlighting how capturing rainwater runoff can be especially useful in urban areas. The Rainwater Catchment Project in Gansu, China has provided drinking water for 1.3 million people, as well as irrigation for courtyard gardens and supplemental cash crops.
Favor perennial crops
Perennial crops protect the soil for a greater length of time than annual crops, which reduces water loss from runoff. According to a report from the The Land Institute, "annual grain crops can lose five times as much water and 35 times as much nitrate as perennial crops."
Policymakers can…
Provide support for small-scale, family farms
Agricultural subsidies in the United States disproportionately support large-scale agribusinesses over the small-scale producers who are more likely to be engaged in sustainable food production, and may be challenged by drought or commodity price fluctuations. Changes in government support services could reduce this deficit and improve food and water security.
Recognize traditional knowledge
Cultivating indigenous vegetables that are often highly nutritious and can withstand drought, flooding, and are resistant to pests and disease is increasingly important as climate change takes a bigger hold on sub-Saharan Africa. But this traditional knowledge has often been ignored by funders, governments, and research institutions. Many organizations, including International Center for Research in the Semi-Arid Tropics and AVRDC-The World Vegetable Center, work with farmers directly to develop new crop varieties, preserve the seeds of traditional crops, and improve farmers’ production methods so that this knowledge can be shared with farmers everywhere.
We all can…
Cut Down on Meat
According to the Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition, switching from a meat-based weekly menu to a more sustainable diet could save 2,500 liters of water a day!
Steam veggies instead of boiling, or at least re-use the water
In general, steaming vegetables uses less water than boiling, and according to a study in the Journal of Food Quality, is more nutritious. For example, boiling corn on the cob in a large pot may use 6-8 quarts of water, whereas steaming only uses 1-2 quarts. If you must boil your vegetables, save the water. It can be used to water houseplants or your garden, used to clean pots and pans, or put in soups.
Streamline water use in home gardens
During the summer months, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that nearly 40 percent of household water is used for watering lawns and gardens. National Geographic suggests incorporating native plants into your garden that are adapted to the local climate and often require less water. Manually watering plants, instead of using automatic sprinklers, cuts water use by 33 percent, according to a report by the EPA. Consumers can also buy self-watering planters, or construct rain barrels that can save you up to 1,300 gallons of water.
Reduce food waste
The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reports that nearly one third of all food produced for human consumption is wasted throughout production, storage, transportation, consumption and disposal. Learn about food’s shelf life and how long it  can be stored in the  freezer. Other ways to reduce food waste are only buying what you plan to eat, using leftovers to create new meals, or donating food you can’t use to soup kitchens.
While human and environmental pressures are increasing, so are opportunities to address these problems. Food Tank will feature posts focused on innovations around water each day as we count down to March 22nd.
About Food Tank
Food Tank: The Food Think Tank (www.FoodTank.org), founded by Danielle Nierenberg and Ellen Gustafson, is a think tank focused on feeding the world better. We research and highlight environmentally, socially, and economically sustainable ways of alleviating hunger, obesity and poverty and create networks of people, organizations, and content to push for food system change.

Source: Food Tank