While the earth has 1.4 billion cubic kilometres of water, only 0.001% of it is accessible for human use. And 70% is used for agricultural purposes. Today, 2 billion people use a source of drinking water contaminated with faeces, putting them at risk of contracting cholera, dysentery, typhoid and polio.
The Sustainable Development Goals, launched in 2015, include a target to ensure everyone has access to safe water by 2030, making water a key issue in the fight to eradicate extreme poverty. In 1993, the United Nations General Assembly officially designated March 22 as World Water Day. World Water Day is coordinated by UN-Water in collaboration with governments and partners.
With many countries, experiencing some of the worst droughts on record, never been more urgent a time to safeguard our precious water supplies, and help strengthen our water wealth for the generations ahead. The Food Tank shares with us their seven strategies for reducing water waste in the food system:
1. Eating Less Meat
According to Sandra Postel of the Global Water Policy Project, it takes roughly 3,000 litres of water to meet one person’s daily dietary need. The amount of water needed to produce one kilogram of red meat can range from 13,000 to 43,000 litres of water; poultry requires about 3,500 litres of water; and pork needs about 6,000 litres. Eating more meat-free meals, even one or two days a week, can help conserve water resources.
2. Using intercropping, agroforestry, and cover crops
Soil health is critical to water conservation. Diversifying farms by including cover crops, planting trees on farms, and intercropping can help keep nutrients and water in the soil, protecting plants from drought and making sure that every drop of water delivered by rainfall or irrigation can be utilised.
3. Implementing micro-irrigation
Approximately 60% of water used for irrigation is wasted. Drip irrigation methods can be more expensive to install, but can also be 33 per cent to 40 per cent more efficient, carrying water or fertilisers directly to plants and roots.
4. Improving Rainwater Harvesting
Since the 1980s, according to the International Food Policy Research Institute, farmers in Burkina Faso have been modifying traditional planting pits known as zai, making them deeper and wider and adding organic materials. As a result, the pits retain rainwater longer, helping farmers to increase yields even in years of low rainfall.
5. Using mobile technology to save water
Santosh Ostwal is an innovator and entrepreneur in India who has developed a system that allows farmers to use mobile phones to turn their irrigation systems on and off remotely. This helps reduce the amount of water and electricity wasted on watering fields that are already saturated.
6. Planting perennial crops
Perennial crops protect the soil for a greater length of time than annual crops, which reduces water loss from runoff. According to a report from the Land Institute, “annual grain crops can lose five times as much water and 35 times as much nitrate as perennial crops.”
7. Practicing Soil Conservation
Soil conservation techniques, including no-till farming, can help farmers to better utilise the water they have available. According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), studies have shown that no-till techniques improve water-retention capacity and improve water use efficiency in crops.
Be sure to visit the official World Water Day website for more details about the day’s events, including activities in your community and tips for reducing your water footprint. You can also learn more about water issues from the Barilla Centre for Food and Nutrition, the Global Water Policy Project, Food and Water Watch, and the Natural Resources Defence Council (NRDC).