Improving agricultural water use is essential to fight hunger and poverty

News and Press Release
Originally published
FAO Director-General: better water harvesting and irrigation could reduce Africa's dependence on food aid
21 March 2003, Kyoto/Japan -- Improving the sustainable development and management of water for agriculture is essential to meet the world's growing demand for food, enhance food security and alleviate poverty.

This statement was made today on the eve of World Water Day by a conference of more than 40 ministers and officials, responsible for water for food and agriculture.

The ministerial meeting took place during the Third World Water Forum in Kyoto and was jointly organized by the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The ministerial recommendations will be submitted to the World Water Forum as an input to the Forum's final declaration.

The ministers responsible for water for food and agriculture emphasized that "achieving the objectives of food security and poverty alleviation will require the mobilization of all sources of financing and increased investment in water-related infrastructure, research and development in order to create new opportunities for the sustainable development and integrated management of water resources."

In particular, the ministerial conference called for:

  • the sustainable development and management of water resources in rainfed and irrigated agriculture;

  • the modernization of irrigation schemes and the transition to a more demand-oriented water management;

  • a substantial increase of agricultural productivity through appropriate regulations and socially feasible cost-recovery meachanisms, capacity-building and institutional reforms, which are adapted to local conditions;

  • the improved governance of agricultural water use through integrated, efficient and equitable water resources management, involving the participation of all users, particularly women and the poor;

  • research and development, including traditional knowledge;

  • international cooperation, financial and technical assistance, and the public-private partnerships in agricultural water development and management.
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In his keynote address, FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf said: "Investment in small scale irrigation, rural infrastructure and market access will be vital for any success in the fight against hunger and poverty. The international community and the countries concerned need to make improved agricultural water management a political and financial priority."

"Over the past decades, the development of rural water has been neglected. We need massive investment in agriculture which is the biggest consumer of water," he said.

"If we do not support, for example, the African countries by investing in low-cost, small-scale water-harvesting, irrigation and drainage in the poor rural communities, we will be annually pouring, as this year, hundreds of millions of dollars in food aid to avoid starvation in Africa," Dr Diouf said.

In many developing countries, water is already scarce and the competition for water from industrial and domestic users is intensifying. FAO estimates that by 2030, one in five developing countries will be suffering actual or impending water scarcity.

"Efficient and effective water management in agriculture will generate the income for improved rural livelihood," Dr Diouf said. "It is only under such conditions, that the development of health and education, and also the protection of the environment, will be ensured sustainably."

The 3rd World Water Forum will end on Sunday, 23 March 2003.

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contact: John Riddle, FAO information officer, (+39) 06 570 53259