Farmers must play their part to stop 'water crisis'

AS the world’s largest users and wasters of water, farmers must improve operations in the battle against water scarcity, leading food experts said.

Speaking at the annual City Food Lecture in London last night (Monday), Nestle CEO Paul Bulcke and champion for the UK’s Global Food Security Programme, Prof Tim Benton, said poor irrigation techniques and biofuel production were two of the main drivers of the ‘water crisis’.

Mr Bulcke said first generation biofuels (those made from food crops including wheat, oilseed rape, and sugar beet), caused ‘collateral damage’ as they competed for water against crops grown for food.

Prof Benton said agriculture used 70 per cent of the world’s abstracted water, adding 5 per cent of the world would be ‘water insecure’ by 2050.

Prof Benton said: “That coupled with climate change, we have to get a lot smarter about using water and using it in the right way and using it efficiently.”

Mr Bulcke said it was possible to avert the imminent water ‘disaster’, but ‘intervention is needed on several fronts’.

“We are going to have to increase water efficiency in the supply chain,” he said.

“Freshwater withdrawals must be brought back. We could produce what we produce today with half the water we use.”

The Nestle boss said his company had cut its water use by a third, with 1,200 agronomists working alongside the firm to manage its water use.

Research and development was also vital, said Mr Bulcke, commenting on the work the organisation had carried out to develop non-genetically modified (GM) coffee plants which are disease resistant and water efficient.

Food wastage was also major contributor to water wastage, he said.  

It comes after a recent study revealed a third of food produced, equivalent to 1 billion tonnes, was lost globally.

Better infrastructure, storage, cooling facilities and an acceptance of misshapen fruit and vegetables by retailers and consumers are all required to cut the amount of waste, Mr Bulcke added.

Head of research and consultancy at agri-business consultancy KinnAgri, Carl Atkin, said the majority of irrigation techniques used across the globe were ‘very unspecific’, adding ‘investment in precision technology will help’.

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