Today’s statistics on food insecurity and malnutrition are alarming. Unreliable access to water for food production particularly in rural dryland areas is one of their main causes. Globally, there are 870 million chronically hungry people with almost 200 million children suffering from stunting due to acute malnutrition – a significant impact on future generations. Some 1.35 billion people live with prevailing food inadequacy.
Water insecurity is a related and pressing global challenge. This crisis has been building for decades due to growing populations, intensification of agriculture through an unsustainable use of groundwater, and diversion of ever-more fresh water resources for farming uses. Today there are 34 countries with per-capita fresh water levels below the so called “water poverty-line”, which is considered to be 1,000 cubic metres per year.
To tackle these critical development challenges, nearly 200 policy-makers, development partners, NARS, NGOs, donors and representatives of the private sector from 30 countries have gathered in Cairo on 24 to 26 June at the 'International Conference on Policies for Water and Food Security in Dry Areas'. The meeting deliberated on innovative ways to improve water management on a sustainable and equitable basis while ensuring food security for smallholder farmers from the world’s dry areas.
The meeting, held under the patronage of H.E. Dr. Hisham Mohamed Qandeel, Prime Minister of Egypt was jointly organized by ICARDA, FAO, IFAD, IDRC and Egypt’s Agricultural Research Center, five leading organizations in the promotion of sustainable agricultural and rural development of drylands.
“The meeting promotes a unique approach for two reasons”, say the organizers. “On the one hand, it encourages the exchange of expertise between a number of dryland countries on enabling policies, practices and recent innovations on enhancing food and water security. On the other hand, through the contribution of senior policy makers and water and agriculture experts, it aims at deliberating on how to more effectively get research innovation into use through the development of more farmer-centered policies. To think out of the box, this is what the conference encourages the participants to do in order to bring new and effective solutions to improve water and food security in low income countries.”
“Nowadays, we know and use many practical, science-based solutions to reduce crop water use while improving agricultural productivity and farmers’ incomes” explained Dr. Mahmoud El Solh, Director General of ICARDA. “The challenge is how to scale-up and pilot approaches to benefit millions of smallholder farmers. The links between the research community, policy makers and the rural development and extension partners need to be strengthened to engage in a real policy research, dialogue and action. The large presence of senior agricultural policy makers at this conference shows interest of decision makers: they are interested in better understanding how they can create the best policy and institutional conditions for innovations and investment to the benefit of each small-holder,” he added.
Nations must invest more in science and technology, technology transfer, water infrastructure, such as irrigation and drainage systems and their sustained maintenance in a way that is not totally dependent on public funds. It is imperative for food security to reduce water overuse and inequality by expanding supply to areas that are not reached today. This is a wise and strategic investment for countries to give more priority to for significant economic and social pay-offs – a clear message to be conveyed during the conference’s deliberations.