Food and Water Safety

Food and water safety and food security

Area 1: To understand the dynamic relationship between food and water safety, and food security and how these relationships can be influenced through appropriate institutional mechanisms and technologies

The objective of this research is to understand the dynamic relationship between water quality (whether wastewater used for irrigation; irrigation water polluted with industrial pollutants, or potable water contaminated with arsenic) and food safety. IFPRI sees three linkages of water quality to food safety. First, there are linkages of water quality with food safety in terms of production and processing of food with wastewater or with water that is contaminated with pollutants. Second, there are linkages of water quality with inputs to food production such as chemicals (fertilizers and pesticides) and livelihoods assets such as soil quality. Third, there are linkages of water consumed with health and nutrition outcomes.

Research questions

  1. What are the links between water quality and food safety and its linkages with health and nutrition outcomes?
  2. Do developing country consumers have significant demand for safe food and water? What are their current awareness levels regarding food and water safety risks? Would consumers be willing to pay a price premium for ensuring good quality and safe food and water? What are the best mechanisms for communication of these risks and strategies for their minimization?
  3. What is the baseline risk associated with using poor quality or contaminated water or other types of inputs (pesticides, fertilizers and soil) which are known to have a potential risks for food production?
  4. What are the pro-poor cost-effective control measures for reducing risks associated with using poor quality water for irrigation, drinking and cooking? What is preventing producers and consumers from adopting such control measures?


The hypotheses to be tested in this research are:

  • The baseline risk associated with using poor quality water (e.g., wastewater or water contaminated with industrial pollutants) in production of food is high.
  • There are linkages between water quality, health, nutrition and other livelihood outcomes.
  • As a result of market failures, such as lack of information and unrecognized demand for safe food and water, current levels (quality and quantity) of water use are inefficient.
  • There are pro-poor cost-effective solutions to risk reduction.
  • If cost-effective solutions were adopted they would reduce foodborne diseases, malnutrition and poverty.
  • There is an increasing awareness among consumers on the risks of adverse health effects associated with the use of poor quality water for irrigation and direct consumption, they would be willing to pay higher prices for safer food which minimizes these risks.

Research approach and methods that may be used

The risk analysis will involve the following activities:

  1. identifying the hazard that may cause harm through pathways for poor quality water that may cause a food safety risk;
  2. conducting quantitative risk assessments;
  3. collecting data on the cost of control measures and analyzing the costs and benefits of the identified control measures;
  4. analyzing the cost-effectiveness of control measures for the poor.

Next economic valuation methods will be used (i.e., non market valuation methods) to inform efficient and effective water management policies and plans. Economic valuation methods can be employed to capture farmers’, consumers’, or public’s willingness to pay (WTP) for higher quality water. The estimated WTP value, when aggregated over the relevant population, represents total economic benefits of improved inputs, which could then be weighed against the costs of investments in infrastructure or control measures which can provide higher water quality.

Projects to Date

Water Quality Management in the Maipo River Basin

Water resources that meet sufficient quality standards are necessary to sustain human, animal and plant life and are an essential component of economic activity. While resources are adequate at the aggregate level; spatial, temporal or seasonal and quality constraints create challenges in meeting increasing demand for water in different sectors. The rapid increase in demand for water for non-irrigational purposes driven by growing income and economic growth is affecting rural water supplies. In addition to reduced water supply, deteriorating water quality is also becoming a major issue affecting rural livelihoods.

To better provide advice to decision makers, IFPRI has incorporated water quality impacts into integrated economic-hydro models to evaluate the impact of industrial and agricultural activities on water quality and farm incomes. To improve decision making at the local level, IFPRI has developed tailored approaches to include demand management, education, and economic incentives so as to enhance rural water security through improved water quality management in Chile’s Maipo River Basin.