SLU news

Reasons small farms are running out of water – and how we can fix it

Published: 04 February 2019

What happens if the world's smallholder farmers run out of water? Future global food crisis and collapse of resilient livelihoods is to be expected. Experts share their insights on how to ensure enough water for everyone in a new book, co-authored by SLU researcher Professor Jennie Barron, on the 6th of February. The book is published by FAO.

The world’s food and agriculture systems are at a crossroads. While 821 million people are already hungry, 2 billion suffer from micronutrient deficiencies, and 40 percent of the population above 18 years of age is overweight. The world would need 50 percent more food than in 2013 to feed a more urbanized and affluent population of 9.73 billion by 2050.

Agriculture uses 70 percent of all water withdrawal

The natural resources that underpin the food and agriculture sector are already under pressure: one-third of agricultural land is degraded, agriculture uses 70 percent of all water withdrawal, food production is responsible for 75 percent of the loss in agrobiodiversity, and the sector is a major contributor to the global greenhouse gas emissions. At the same time, one-third of today’s produced and processed food is lost or wasted.

Daunting challenges with opportunities

As daunting as these challenges are, they also present many opportunities. In recent years, productivity and sustainability of agriculture and food systems have received increased attention at the global level. World leaders adopted 17 Sustainable Development Goals, 16 of which have strong linkages with the sector. The challenges are also reasonably well understood and agricultural R&D offers options to tackle most of them.

A lack of coordinated efforts to align national with global goals

What is lacking, however, is policy coherence and coordinated efforts at the country level, accompanied by a holistic and integrated approach that aligns national development goals with global goals. Particularly necessary are policies and actions that enhance on- and off-farm employment and income opportunities, raise investment in food and agriculture, maximize resource use efficiency, reduce food loss and waste, convert waste to wealth through reuse, and protect, conserve, and sustainably use key natural resources that underpin the food system. A holistic and integrated approach must maximize synergies and minimize negative externalities among actions across the entire food chain.

A book with details on challenges and opportunities

This book provides more details on these challenges and opportunities so that communities, countries and the world, can design food and agriculture systems to meet today’s needs in a way which ensures that future generations can also meet their needs. It is a product of experience, knowledge, and the life work of 78 scientists, leaders and experts from many organizations around the world. Its content should be useful to and stimulate the interest of readers (e.g. students, teachers, research leaders, policy makers, development workers, etc.) involved in designing today’s, and tomorrow’s, productive and sustainable food and agriculture systems.

Professor Jennie Barron from the Department of soil and environment is co-author to the chapter "Water scarcity and challenges for smallholder agriculture".