Water Resources the Link to Food Security – Jan Lundqvist

Water Resources the Link to Food Security

Group conference via Skype 2/12/2014

Jan Lundqvist of Stockholm International Water Institute talked with the class via skype on the topic of food security from the perspective of water resource not only on a global scale but also on a local scale. He opened up the conversation with a quote from British poet, Wystan H. Auden, “Thoudands have lived without love, not one without water.”

Database around the world often look at water through an average value. Average rainfall, average water consumption, average water price. But there is no such thing as average when it comes to water. Water is uncertain and uneven. The value can be high or low. And water unlike other resources, has no substitute. There is no such thing as alternative water source or renewable water.

Globally, average availability is 6,000 m3 per capita per year for water. But again average is not the way to go about this topic. World Bank data shows that Canada and Norway has over 75,000 m3 per capita per year while Egypt and Libya has less than 100m3 per capita per year. Water can also fluctuate in the same region over years. For example Zimbabwe often show 7-10 years of drought and 7-10 years of flood. This fluctuation and variation is another sign of how not “average” water can be.

Globally, water resource is an extreme socio-economic and environmental hazards. In the past 100 years, population increase by about 3.5 times while GDP increased by 18 times. Water withdraw has also increased by 7 times. Most people believe that water consumption will continue to increase in an exponential speed. But data have shown that the water consumption will increase but more at a steady rate. Now what would happen when there are an additional 3 billion people in the world? How would we go about with water?

With population growth in the urban system. Water allocation would shift toward urban and financial centers in the world compare to water going to agriculture. But then again, increase in population will also mean there needs to be more food.

Now for food, how much is consider full, how much is hungry?  How much water is required for a plant? Is it interesting to say that there are almost double number of individuals who are overweight compared to malnutrition and hungry people? Individuals can live on average between 2,000-2,200 kcal/person. But since the 1960’s average consumption of food in the US per person per day was already pass 3,000 and grew to now almost 4,000 kcal per day per person.

The key link here it seems would be between the optimal production of food with a healthy diet. If everyone consumes 2,000 kcal/person/day and food production is also optimized to get this value, how much food can be saved? It is not just wasted food. The entire food and agriculture process also waste a lot of water. 1/2 of water is wasted prior to food is picked by the farmers. But furthermore, the food waste also means lost in land use, and land management that may potentially help retain water. Food waste can also bring about contamination of other food source and there are energy waste as well as greenhouse gas emission that is associated with food waste.

At the end of the conversation, Jan gave few values for us to wrap our head into in China.

–          19% grains lost and wasted in supply chain from field to fork.

–          Water footprint on meat has increased dramatically in china since the mid 1990’s.

–          26 million hectares of cropland produced food that went to waste

–          135 billion m3 of water were used on food that no one ate.

–          $1 in the US can buy you 1,200 kcal of potato chips but only 170 kcal of fresh fruit.


Professor Jan Lundqvist is a globally recognised expert who specialises on the water, food, land-use, human resources and policy nexus. He currently works at the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) as a Senior Scientific Advisor and project leader for international applied research projects, such as From Field to Fork: Curbing Losses and Wastage in the Food Chain.


About t5huang

Masters in Environmental Science at UPenn Candidate
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