Forum puts focus on farming and ecosystems

Posted: 1 April 2003

Jacques Diouf, Director General of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), has called for massive investments in agriculture to improve the way it uses water. His comments at the Third World Water Forum in March echoed those of the Dutch Crown Prince, who told the opening session that agriculture is where the real world water crisis is taking place.

Wim van Vierssen of Wageningen university commented: "Finding water management solutions that save both our agriculture and our ecosystems is not something we can postpone a little longer. There's no such thing as doing either one or the other. Agriculture needs ecosystems and ecosystems need sufficient water. Of all the water used, 70 per cent is taken up by agriculture. This will have to become less in order to save our ecosystems. We need to act now otherwise we will face unsolvable problems later." Ministers of more than 150 countries met in Kyoto to agree upon a Ministerial Declaration, following the 3rd World Water Forum. Many ministers agreed that the war against water problems - floods, droughts and pollution - will prove to be much more important to the world than the war currently taking place in Iraq. Nevertheless the World Water Forum and the Ministerial Declaration were largely overshadowed by the events in Iraq. During the Ministerial meeting, Louis Fresco of the FAO stated: "The water crisis cannot be solved without changes in agricultural sector and the food crisis cannot be solved without changes in water management."

However Frits Thissen of the Netherlands Ministry of Agriculture, Nature Management and Fisheries was pleased with the results of the Forum. "The awareness is growing that much more has to be done to avert water shortage disasters with regards to food security and ecosystems...The way forward is to focus on new integrated programmes like water for food and ecosystems with local scale projects." This integrated approach is now being developed by Wageningen University and Research Centre - Wageningen UR - with Dutch and foreign partners. Since the Second Water Forum in the Hague, Wageningen UR has developed over 23 projects with international partners to research the problems of food, ecosystems and integrated water resources management. Already very positive outcomes have been reached, the researchers say. For example the amount of water needed for rice production has been reduced by up to 50 per cent.

Wim van Vierssen of Wageningen UR is happy that based on the results of WWF3 - hopefully - more will be done. "We hope that other countries and institutes will develop activities on a similar scale as we did over the last years, otherwise a problem of this magnitude cannot be tackled in time. Also it should be realised that the water sector will not be able to develop adequate solutions alone. Experts on agriculture, climate, environment, nature, education and other sectors will need to be involved." A clear example of the increased attention for water, food and ecosystems is that the conservation of wetlands and forests to help to safeguard a healthy supply of water to agriculture and other users, is specifically mentioned in the Ministerial Declaration. This supports the call of the Dutch Crown Prince during his opening address to make wetlands the central focus of the next World Water Forum in 2006, and make 2006 the international year of wetlands.