The brief authored by the Stockholm International Water Institute, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, and the International Water Management Institute shows that the current food crisis is less a crisis of production than a crisis of waste. Tossing food away is like leaving the tap running, the authors say.
"More than enough food is produced to feed a healthy global population. Distribution and access to food is a problem - many are hungry, while at the same time many overeat," the brief states. But, it says, "we are providing food to take care of not only our necessary consumption but also our wasteful habits."
A traditional Arab irrigation system in the United Arab Emirates where every drop is precious. (Photo by Zat3OoOr!)
"As much as half of the water used to grow food globally may be lost or wasted," says Dr. Charlotte de Fraiture, a researcher at IWMI. "Curbing these losses and improving water productivity provides win-win opportunities for farmers, business, ecosystems, and the global hungry."
"An effective water-saving strategy requires that minimizing food wastage is firmly placed on the political agenda," she said.
In the United States, for instance, as much as 30 percent of food, worth some US$48.3 billion, is thrown away. "That's like leaving the tap running and pouring 40 trillion liters of water into the garbage can - enough water to meet the household needs of 500 million people," says the report.
The policy brief, "Saving Water: From Field to Fork - Curbing Losses and Wastage in the Food Chain," calls on governments to reduce by half, by 2025, the amount of food that is wasted after it is grown and outlines attainable steps for this be achieved.
Through international trade, for instance, savings in one country might benefit communities in other parts of the world.
"Unless we change our practices, water will be a key constraint to food production in the future," said Dr. Pasquale Steduto of FAO.
Water losses accumulate as food is wasted before and after it reaches the consumer.
In poorer countries, a majority of uneaten food is lost before it has a chance to be consumed. Depending on the crop, an estimated 15 to 35 percent of food may be lost in the field. Another 10 to15 percent is discarded during processing, transport and storage, the brief states.
Wasted food on the garbage line at a U.S. college (Photo by Jonathan Bloom)
As this wasted food rots in landfills it generates methane, a gas that causes climate change and is 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
The report stresses that the magnitude of current food losses presents both challenges and opportunities.
"Improving water productivity and reducing the quantity of food that is wasted can enable us to provide a better diet for the poor and enough food for growing populations," says Professor Jan Lundqvist of the Stockholm International Water Institute.
"Reaching the target we propose, a 50 percent reduction of losses and wastage in the production and consumption chain is a necessary and achievable goal," said Lundqvist.
World Water Week is hosted by the Stockholm International Water Institute, a policy institute that contributes to international efforts to combat the world's escalating water crisis.
The annual event features the award of the 2008 Stockholm Water Prize, which this year was bestowed upon Professor John Anthony Allan from King's College London, who introduced the "virtual water" concept.
Virtual water is a measurement of how water is embedded in the production and trade of food and consumer products and is the concept on which the policy brief, "Saving Water: From Field to Fork - Curbing Losses and Wastage in the Food Chain," is based.
While studying water scarcity in the Middle East, Professor Allan developed the theory of using virtual water import, via food, as an alternative water "source" to reduce pressure on the scarcely available domestic water resources there and in other water-short regions.
Professor John Anthony Allen (Photo courtesy SIWI)
By explaining how and why nations such as the United States, Argentina and Brazil export billions of liters of water each year, while others like Japan, Egypt and Italy import billions, the virtual water concept has opened the door to more productive water use, said the Water Prize Nominating Committee.
National, regional and global water and food security, for example, can be enhanced when water intensive commodities are traded from places where they are economically viable to produce to places where they are not.
"The improved understanding of trade and water management issues on local, regional and global scales are of the highest relevance for the successful and sustainable use of water resources," the committee said.
The Stockholm Water Prize is a global award founded in 1990 and presented annually by the Stockholm Water Foundation to an individual, organization or institution for outstanding water-related activities. The activities can be within fields like education and awareness-raising, human and international relations, research, water management and water-related aid.
The Stockholm Water Prize Laureate receives US$150,000 and a crystal sculpture. H.M. King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden is the Patron of the Stockholm Water Prize.
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2008. All rights reserved.