Internationella vattendagen – 22 mars

Svenska FAO-kommittén uppmärksammar internationella vattendagen med ett inlägg av professor Jennie Barron på temat Water for food security in global and local climate change

Water for food security in global and local climate change

Water is essential in our food production systems, – to ensure biomass and to sustain essential ecosystem services in agricultural landscapes. Globally, 95% of food production is land-based (e.g. FAO SOLAW 2022), meaning it is fundamentally reliant on the weather conditions and soil-water interactions for crops and livestock at the field and landscape level. To manage variable rainfall conditions for crop production, we globally irrigate 25 % of cropland to alleviate dry spells and droughts, and maintain drainage systems to cope with floods and soil health on about almost 20 % of cropland. These are essential water management practises to secure food supplies globally in current and potential future variable rainfall, but also a cause for controversy and potential adverse environmental impacts.

In early 2024, the news remind us on the sensitivity of food production systems. Already, in Southern Africa (e.g., Zambia, Zimbabwe) reported the lowest rainfall in 40 years affecting local and regional food supplies, , whereas Eastern /Horn of Africa are facing extreme excess of rainfall and floods for a second season in a row.

In Sweden, we are increasingly seeing signs of water challenges in crop production and food supplies. Firstly, Swedish food consumption is reliant of food imports for 50% of supplies, especially year-round fresh supplies of fruit, vegetables, and animal and vegetable protein sources. A large share of this is today produced in water-scarce regions such as Spain, Italy, US, and e.g. China. Secondly, the Swedish production of food and feed for livestock, is increasingly affected by rainfall and temperature changes. In the last five years, – i.e., 2018 and 2023, rainfall distribution as too little and too much , resulted in overall national cereal yield reductions of – 30-to near -50% of longterm yield levels. At the local level, variations are higher. In addition, the quality of yields were severely affected, reducing nutrition content and value for farmers.

The dilemma here is that irrespective of geography, water is becoming too much or too little for the needs of agriculture and food production systems, alongside other needs in landscapes. We need to improve our agricultural water management alongside the overall landscape water management, as uncertainty in rainfall and water access increase.

However, there are many initiatives emerging. We recently documented various initiatives showing how knowledge, investments and collaboration can contribute to climate resilient rainfed systems I with examples from semiarid India, Ethiopia, Brazil, and Central America. FAO has developed the concept of National Water Roadmaps with member states, in recognition of the multiple necessities of water towards all SDGs of Agenda 2030. The Federation of Swedish Farmers have made their own assessment of investment needs for a climate resilient and water secure production, showing and investment need for agricultural water management, both irrigation and drainage, in the order of USD 5 billion. Globally, the Commission of Economics of Water and OECD have shown similar levels of investment for regions with existing well-developed irrigations such as East and Southeast Asia. These initiatives show how knowledge and global and national policy initiatives can support forward towards better informed action, but there is a need to better understand the context needs and investment opportunities.

The World Water Day 2024 is themed “Water for Peace ” and speaks of the need to safeguard human rights for water as competition increases in landscapes and across borders. It is a human right to have clean water and access to affordable and nutritious food. To safeguard our climate-resilient food systems, the agricultural water management, can contribute to solutions of clean and sustainable water in landscapes, whilst providing human necessities of clean water and food and nutrition security.

Jennie Barron, professor i jordbrukets vattenhushållning vid SLU


Källor och länkar för vidare läsning:

FAO. 2022. The State of Land and Water Resources for Food and Agriculture in the Near East and North Africa region. Cairo.

Mehta, P., Siebert, S., Kummu, M. et al. Half of twenty-first century global irrigation expansion has been in water-stressed regions. Nat Water (2024).

Castellano, M.J., Archontoulis, S.V., Helmers, M.J. et al. Sustainable intensification of agricultural drainage. Nat Sustain 2, 914–921 (2019).

policy-highlights-financing-a-water-secure-future.pdf (

‘Water for Peace’ – World Water Day 2024 campaign launches | UN-Water (

Kostnader för lantbrukets gröna omställning – Greppa

An untapped potential – rainfed agriculture requires attention and investment | Externwebben (

Sveriges utrikeshandel med jordbruksvaror och livsmedel 2020–2022 – Jo (

El Nino Operations, 2024 | Kenya Red Cross

Southern Africa: El Niño, Positive Indian Ocean Dipole Forecast and Humanitarian Impact (February 2024) – Madagascar | ReliefWeb