IWMI Director General calls for sustainable intensification of agriculture to avert global resource crisis
Stockholm Water Prize Laureate’s speech challenges water professionals to abandon “business as usual” approaches to water management
(Stockholm, 27 August) Addressing a packed opening plenary session at the World Water Week in Stockholm, Sweden, Dr Colin Chartres argued that the “paradox” of feeding up to two billion more people with limited resources in an era of rapid economic growth and climate change, was immense challenge.
Population growth, dietary change and poverty and malnutrition will be key drivers of change with respect to agriculture. Even without factoring in climate change, the outlook was “pessimistic”, he added.
Presenting new projections, Dr Chartres showed that, even under an optimistic scenario where global population growth stabilises and agricultural demand remains more or less constant thanks to better water management, growth in industrial and domestic demand will still mean that less water will be available for agriculture in the coming decades. Climate change can only exacerbate this situation.
But change is possible. Immense gains could be made by improving irrigation efficiency and water productivity and by building resilience through increased water storage. Recycling and reuse of wastewater and sewerage also has huge potential. But water reform, in policy, governance, institutions and regulation is urgently needed.
Other approaches such as reducing food waste and enhancing supply chains for the benefit of farmers, consumers and environment will be vital, he added. The importance of ecosystem services to agriculture also needs greater recognition.
Summing up, Dr Chartres said that food and water security issues are still daunting in the developing world and that “business as usual” paradigms would have to be rethought. Sustainable intensification of agriculture is the way forward, but will require significant investment in research and development, capacity building, and land and water policy reform. If we combine these approaches with reduction of food waste, he concluded, we can feed two billion more people without significantly increasing agriculture’s footprint.