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Ag, Food Waste In The Sights Of Ag Leaders -- World Food Forum

When food and agricultural stakeholders gather from across the globe with their American counterparts at the World Food Prize Symposium in Des Moines, Iowa, the topic of water can be expected to bubble up to the surface.

A recent report finds that if no action is taken by 2030, projected population and economic growth will lead to global water demand that’s 40% in excess of current supply. This means that one-third of the world’s population would have access to only half the water they need.

Wasteful irrigation practices and inefficient water use management threaten to turn off the spigot on future agricultural and household water needs. In India, for example, one third of the groundwater aquifers are in jeopardy. With today’s shrinking monsoon season rainfall amounts, 13 major river basins in India are being impacted.

Thursday’s World Food Prize events highlighted the international initiatives of three private corporate stakeholders who discussed their roles as change agents with moderator Margaret Catley-Carlson, a member of the UN Secretary General’s Advisory Board on Water.

Dan Bena, sustainable development & operations outreach for PepsiCo Global Operations, outlined the severity of the issue. “About 4.8 billion people and 45% of the global GDP is at risk,” he says. “It’s estimated there will be a 40% gap in supply and demand of water by 2030. Most of the focus is on water scarcity, but there needs to be more focus on flooding events as well, and preventing contamination from nitrogen fertilizers.”

Dilip Kulkarni, president, AgriFood Division Jain Irrigation, agrees. “More than 60% of land isn’t irrigated in India,” he says. “There needs to be more water stored on farms. It could be used to irrigate three or four times during the growth of the crop.”

Paul Bakus, president of Nestle Corporate Affairs, made the point that water scarcity needs to be higher on the agenda of local governments. “It’s a threat to food security in the future,” he says. “It needs to be addressed at the local watershed level.”

The panel also tackled the related topic of global food waste. In developing countries the pattern of food waste occurs most often on the way from the field to the retailers.

“Food waste is intimately connected to the amount of water available to use,” Catley-Carlson points out.

Transportation is a big issue, Dilip says. “Often farmers are not harvesting at the proper stage,” he says. “It would prevent 10% of loss during transportation.”

Dilip also is president of Agriculture and Food Processing. “Many countries lack infrastructure, and the problem is a lack of access to markets,” he says. “We buy this food waste from farmers, and process it. We recycle it and produce electricity. Bio-waste also makes very good fertilizer.”

Bakus emphasizes the importance of corporate partnerships to finding solutions. “As we have worked to help farmers cool milk and put it on trucks, we’ve seen waste in milk go from 20% to 1%,” he says. “That means more milk on the market with the same amount of water.”

Sometimes these partnerships means working with competitors, he says. “Technology is important, but we also have to rely on getting education and best practices to farmers,” he says. “There are multiple solutions.”

“Ultimately, there’s a need for good public policy,” Catley-Carlson says.

Complicating the public policy is the fact that water quantity and water flow is a closely-guarded secret in many countries. “It’s difficult to get governments to do the right thing about water,” she says. “Spending money on a new water infrastructure beneath ground isn’t highly visible.”

The core of the problem may boil down to the fact that water is regarded as a social good, not an economic good.

“We have to talk about water in terms of economics,” Bakus says. “We need to talk about how to treat water after we use it in facilities, and re-purpose it. Once you look at water in economic terms, then you change the entire dynamic of the conversation. We’re making progress, but water scarcity isn’t going to go away, and climate change will make it worse.”

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