Why do small farmers need our support and how do they fit into the global conversation about water and food security? Smallholder farms are small plots of land typically supported by a single family growing a mix of cash and subsistence crops. These farmers make up 40% of the word’s population, and in sub-Saharan Africa smallholder farms make up more than 90% of agricultural production. In a world where 70% of freshwater withdrawal is used for agriculture, smallholder farmers in both developed and developing countries play a key role in water management and food security. Most smallholder farmers are women, live in rural areas, and when water and weather crises occur, are the first victims of malnutrition. The Women’s Collective of Tamilnadu, India organizes women at the village level to create self help groups around socio-economic issues. Seeing a need for more climate friendly approaches to agriculture and water use, the Women’s Collective gathered local women farmers and reintroduced the practice of using traditional seeds for agriculture. Traditional seeds were replaced during India’s green revolution with high-yield seeds and increased use of irrigation and fertilizer. The widespread switch from millet (which has a high nutritional value) to rice during this time also led to a decrease in nutrition.
According to Dr. William Cosgrove, the keynote speaker from the special focus session, Water and the Future of Humankind, we have entered a new time era — the Anthropocene, . The Anthropocene is a term that reflects the extent to which humans have altered the planet and environment. The discussion addressed the importance of imagining the future that we would like to have with water. Using this imagined future, we should then “backcast” instead of forecast to determine the actions we should do today to get to the future we have planned for ourselves, a model developed by the Portuguese Gulbenkian Think Tank. The panel was made up of five elderly gentlemen: the fact that no women were part of the panel was disappointing. It was acknowledged by Dr. Cosgrove that men have made most of the water decisions in history that have led us to water scarcity and overuse. He also said, however, that women are finally being recognized as being an important part of water use decisions.
When else can you find yourself in the same room as the French Minister of Agriculture, the Director of the International Seed Foundation, the President of the Food Security Council, the Assistant Director General for Natural Resources Management and Environment at the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, and a host of other international movers and shakers? It’s only at the High Level Session on Water and Food Security at the sixth World Water Forum. Food security is defined by FAO as “when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.” Target 1.C of the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals (MDG) is to halve, by 2015, the number of people who suffer from hunger. We were, arguably, making some progress toward reaching that goal until the financial crisis of 2008 led to a spike in hunger in 2009, in both developing and developed countries. The theme for the sixth World Water Forum is “Time for Solutions”, and what better time than now to brainstorm ways to get back on track with the food security MDG. These high level sessions bring together representatives from the agricultural, governmental, and financial sectors, along with heads of international NGOs, to redefine objectives for worldwide mobilization.
By the second day of the World Water Forum 6, in Marseilles, France, talks were already starting to heat up! Taking advantage of my Press badge, I decided to attend a closed-for-the-public session on “Transboundary Waters”. Never had I imagined before that representatives of countries, international organizations, and private and public sectors would agree on unifyng and synchronizing their efforts under the threat of a common enemy: Water Scarcity. The meeting was chaired by Germany andco-chaired by Oman. Attendees included representatives of Austria, Botswana, France, Kyrgystan, Morocco, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Uzbekistan, the European Commission, the IUCN, the World Energy Council, the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Business Action for Water, the International Water Association, the World Water Council, theFood and Agriculture Organization, the WIWP, the UN Habitat, the UNCCD, the UN Industrial Development Organization and the WWF.
Have you ever imagined yourself eating a worm-burger, a grasshopper-taco or an insect-cookie? Probably not. For many people, it is hard to think of insects as a sumptuous source of food. This might change in the future. According to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, the world will have to produce 70 percent more food in order to feed a projected extra 2.3 billion people in 2050.