Food insecurity can be caused by a variety of factors, including poverty, lack of infrastructure, natural disasters, and conflict. It can have serious consequences, including malnutrition, poor health, and even death. Ensuring food security is a major challenge for many countries, and it requires a combination of efforts, including improving agricultural production, reducing food waste, and providing support to vulnerable populations.
The figures, and the footage are heart wrenching but lurking behind them lies another closely related threat – that of water insecurity. Water insecurity refers to a lack of access to clean, safe drinking water. It is a global problem that affects millions of people, particularly in developing countries. Water insecurity can have serious consequences, including disease, malnutrition, and economic disruption. It can also impact a person’s ability to grow food, wash their hands, and access clean water for other household needs. Water insecurity is often caused by factors such as drought, lack of infrastructure, and pollution. Ensuring water security is a major challenge, and it requires efforts to improve water management, increase access to clean water, and reduce water waste.
Unknown to most, the agricultural sector is by far the largest consumer of water, needing about 70% of freshwater to survive but supplies are dwindling fast. Agriculture requires large amounts of water for irrigation, which is the process of providing water to crops to help them grow. Irrigation is essential for many crops, especially in dry or arid regions where there is not enough rainfall to support plant growth. However, irrigation can also be a major source of water waste if it is not managed properly. Improving water management in the agricultural sector is important for ensuring water security and supporting sustainable food production. Thanks to climate change, more parts of the world, including the likes of South Africa, are experiencing prolonged droughts and less predictable access to water.
On the flip side, global meat production has almost doubled since 1980, and we know that requires about twenty times more water than the production of cereals, vegetables, or fruits. It is estimated that producing 1 pound of beef requires approximately 1,800 gallons of water, while producing 1 pound of wheat requires only about 132 gallons of water. This is because raising animals for meat requires a lot of resources, including water for drinking, cleaning, and growing feed crops. In addition, animal waste can contaminate water sources, leading to water pollution. Therefore, reducing meat consumption and increasing plant-based food sources can help to conserve water and improve water security. Added to this is the world population keeps increasing, which in turn increases the demand for meat, fresh fruits, vegetables, and off course clean water.
“Consumers, especially those in developing countries, are the first to be hit by a crisis of any kind, but the scale and magnitude of water insecurity, and the corresponding affects to hunger and poverty is likely to be colossal,” warns Mannie Ramos Jnr, a champion of water as the most important currency in Africa and the COO of Abeco.
The dichotomy is definitely disturbing but there is light at the end of the tunnel. Some countries have already started to adopt new irrigation technologies to help save water that would otherwise evaporate, divert water that would otherwise be used downstream, and induce increased water use by improving the profitability of irrigation. Many countries are adopting new irrigation technologies including drip irrigation, which delivers water directly to the roots of plants, and sprinkler irrigation, which uses sprinklers to spray water over the crops. These methods are more efficient than traditional flood irrigation, which involves flooding fields with water, and they can help to reduce water waste and improve crop yields.
In addition, some countries are also using sensors and other technologies to monitor soil moisture and adjust irrigation accordingly. These measures can help to improve water security and support sustainable food production. As a pioneer in water storage solutions, Abeco have been working hard to do their bit, considerably increasing water productivity in the agriculture sector by storing plenty more green and blue water.
Water continuity through water storage can close the risk gap
According to Ramos, storing water in tanks for agricultural purposes is not new, nor is it an option but simply a necessity. As previous water crises in South Africa have shown us, the need to plan and track water consumption and save for continuity of service is essential. Water storage is almost an insurance plan, safeguarding, farmers, retailers, and everyday consumers from the risks of potential water interruption.
“Water is not only essential for agriculture but can also improve a farmer’s ability to grow food, raise livestock and produce cash crops. Hens especially detest changes to their routine and a sudden interruption to their daily water consumption can stop them laying eggs for up to two weeks, which can be devasting for an egg farmer,” explains Ramos.
Although rainfall in South Africa has always been unpredictable, by using a combination of rainwater harvesting and innovative water storage solutions, farmers can benefit from year-round supply and reduce their reliance on other water sources. Innovative reverse osmosis, UV systems, fine filters and agitator systems ensures that the water storage tanks are clean and safe to re-use when cleaning machinery or feeding livestock.
These water saving interventions can be costly for sure but the return on investment is a small price to pay, in comparison to the potentially devasting effects of doing nothing. “More research and investment into these technology solutions needs to be a high priority for every agricultural industry or the gap between demand for water, and the supply thereof will continue to widen, ultimately affecting food security,” he adds.
Failure to plan, is planning to fail
With the right water policies, the world can successfully meet the challenges posed by increasing water scarcity, not only improving water and food security, but also making a large dent in the 4.7 billion people currently at risk of hunger. Abeco is already encouraging positive action, working with some of South Africa’s biggest companies like Jumbo Brands, Nestle, Tiger Brands, RCL Foods, Spar and Distell to ensure long term food and water security in South Africa.
It is a monumental task for sure, but the risk of not doing anything is far worse, effectively thwarting the United Nations Sustainable Development goal of ending global hunger by 2030. Ending global hunger by 2030 is one of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and it is indeed a challenging task. According to the United Nations, approximately 795 million people, or one in nine people, are currently undernourished. This means they do not have access to enough food to meet their basic needs.
Achieving the goal of ending global hunger by 2030 will require a concerted effort from governments, international organizations, and other stakeholders. This will involve improving food production, reducing food waste, and providing support to vulnerable populations. It will also require addressing other factors that contribute to hunger, such as poverty, conflict, and natural disasters.
Despite the challenges, the United Nations and its partners are committed to achieving this goal and making progress towards a more sustainable and equitable future for all. Instead, an estimated 530 million people will be at immediate risk of hunger by 2050, including 155 million in sub-Saharan Africa and 140 million in South Asia.
“Water insecurity could also affect nutritional quality, which is a subcategory of food insecurity. Without water to cook healthier foods like grains and beans, people are left with no option than to rely on unhealthy, and often more expensive ready-to-eat processed foods,” warns Ramos.
The case for improved water supply and sanitation and better management of water resources is unambiguous in its significance. Not only can it boost the economic growth of a country but more importantly, it can contribute greatly to reducing hunger and poverty. And it simply starts with a water storage tank!