The announcement was made at the opening session of the 2012 World Water Week in Stockholm, as politicians, CEOs and leaders of international organisations from more than 100 nations discuss water and food security issues.

Executive director of the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), Torgny Holmgren, said: “More than one-fourth of all the water we use worldwide is taken to grow over one billion tons of food that nobody eats. That water, together with the billions of dollars spent to grow, ship, package and purchase the food, is sent down the drain.”

“Reducing the waste of food is the smartest and most direct route to relieve pressure on water and land resources. It’s an opportunity we cannot afford to overlook,” he added.

According to SIWI, demand for food and fibre is expected to increase by 70% by mid-century and, without intervention, untenable pressure on water resources in many regions in the world will threaten food and water security.

Director-general of the food and agriculture organisation of the United Nations (FAO), José Graziano da Silva, said: “The numbers show that agriculture is a thirsty activity. But that also means that agriculture holds the key to sustainable water use”.

He added that investment in smallholder farmers is critical to achieve food and water security for all people.

“Throughout the world, 2.6bn small-scale producers till the land, raise animals and fish. They are the main providers of food in the developing world. If we want them to produce more sustainably, preserving natural resources, adapting to and contributing to the mitigation of climate change, we need to help them. We cannot expect them to do it alone.”

Water and food security issues have never been so significant with over 900m people suffering from hunger each day and 2bn more facing serious health risks from undernourishment. At the same time, 1.5bn people overeat and over one-third of all food is lost or wasted.

Director-general of the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), Dr. Colin Chartres, said: “Feeding over 9bn people by 2050 is possible, but we have to reflect on the cost to the environment in terms of water withdrawals and land resources.

“Furthermore it will put phenomenal pressure on ecosystem services on which our society depends. Saving water by reducing food waste, increasing productivity, plant breeding and waste water recycling are critical to all of us.”

Leigh Stringer

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