Press Statement

Scaling up innovations in water-use for food security

Jan 22, 2017

Statement by Shenggen Fan
Director General, IFPRI

G20 Agriculture Ministers' Meeting, Berlin, Germany

22 January 2017

Distinguished guests,

Ladies and gentlemen,

First, allow me to commend the G20 Agriculture Ministers for committing to support the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, as well as the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Paris Agreement.

IFPRI remains committed to supporting the G20 with data, knowledge, tools, and evidence-based research. We worked with partners to develop the Agricultural Market Information System (AMIS).  We supported the G20’s initiative to address food loss and waste by launching the Technical Platform on the Measurement and Reduction of Food Loss and Waste, in partnership with FAO. Most recently in China, IFPRI provided knowledge support to the G20 to map ICT initiatives in agriculture. IFPRI will continue to support the G20 and other initiatives on their ongoing work to end hunger and malnutrition for all.

Achieving SDG 2 on ending hunger and malnutrition will require efficient and sustainable use of natural resources, especially water. More efficient water-use in agriculture is needed as agriculture is the world’s main user of water—irrigation accounts for 70 percent of global freshwater withdrawals and 85 percent of global water consumption. Moreover, current water use in agriculture is unsustainable: an estimated 7 percent of cereals are irrigated with groundwater resources that are not being replenished. Agricultural water pollution is rapidly growing and under business as usual, almost half of all cereals will be grown in areas of great water stress by 2050 putting food security and rural livelihoods at risk.

Innovations in technology, institutions, policy, and financing are crucial for achieving win-win solutions that improve water-use efficiency and agricultural productivity, with greatest gains needed in Africa south of the Sahara and South Asia.

Technological innovations can open up new doors for greater water-use efficiency. For example, water storage reservoirs that serve multiple functions, such as those that support hydropower, fisheries and irrigation, need to be prioritized over single function. Moreover, digitization and remote sensing tools for water resource management, and solar panels to power water supply show promise if linked with appropriate governance systems.

Institutional innovations are critical for improving access to water by smallholders, especially women farmers, and for strengthening governance for sustainable agricultural water management. For example, water property rights and governance systems can be strengthened by supporting communal management of water. IFPRI research shows that water user associations are effective for improving governance of water management especially in water-scarce areas, and can also result in increased agricultural productivity. Ensuring that such associations are inclusive, especially of women, is important to reflect all users’ needs and priorities.  

Policy reforms are also crucial. Increasing investments in agricultural water management is critical, as research shows that investing in irrigation expansion and increased water-use efficiency can lower food prices and can help millions of people leave hunger behind. Water brokerage and market systems should be piloted to promote water-use efficiency and to compensate those who lose access to water. Policies that indirectly affect water-use must be reformed with sustainable water use in mind, including those on agricultural trade and subsidies.

Innovations in finance can help propel projects that improve water-use efficiency and other green goals. Green funds and green bonds that include water and land conservation as key environmental services are promising financing models for raising capital specifically to support environmental projects.

Finally, IFPRI is working with partners in the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH) on antimicrobial resistance (AMR), which will contribute to the G20 commitment to combat AMR.  

IFPRI will continue to support the G20 and others by providing research to identify and promote innovations for sustainable and efficient water-use in agriculture. Doing so can help to achieve food, water, and nutrition security for all. But to make even faster progress, we should work together more closely. Partnerships across sectors and with multiple stakeholders will be key to find synergies across the agri-food and water sectors. Compact2025 is one such initiative that works at the global and country levels to accelerate the end of hunger and undernutrition.