Elevating the role of water resilience in food system dialogues

Source(s): Climate and Development Knowledge Network

Ensuring resilient food systems and sustainable healthy diets for all requires much higher water use, however, water resources are finite, geographically dispersed and volatile under climate change. A greater understanding of the role of working with nature and good governance for resilient water resources is necessary to reduce future water insecurity in food systems. A new paper co-authored by CDKN CEO Shehnaaz Moosa highlights the role of water use in the food system and how good governance is central to achieving water resilient food systems. 

Our food systems are in crisis

Since the middle of the last century, significant progress has been made globally in the production of food to meet growing demand. This progress in our ability to feed the population has led to a significant decline in food prices (until recently), but this has come at the cost of detrimental environmental, economic, and social impacts. Climate shocks, conflict, and other disruptions are also reversing years of progress and increasing the number of countries facing growing levels of acute food insecurity.

Maintaining resilient food systems requires high water use, however, water resources are finite, geographically dispersed, and unstable under climate change. Good governance for resilient water resources is a necessary precursor to deciding on solutio­ns, sourcing finance and delivering infrastructure.

Six attributes for good governance to reduce current and future water risks to food systems

This paper proposes six attributes that together provide a foundation for good governance to reduce current and future water insecurity in food systems. These attributes dovetail in their dual focus on incorporating adaptive learning and new knowledge, and adopting the types of governance systems required for water resilient food systems. 

The six attributes are listed below and are grounded in scientific evidence and the diverse collective experience and expertise of stakeholders working across the science-policy interface.

Treat the food system as a system

  • Adopt interconnected systems thinking that embraces the complexity of how we produce, distribute and add value to food.

Adopt multi-level inclusive governance and participation

  • Adopt multi-level inclusive governance with well-defined responsibilities and communication, fostering resilience across the interconnected social ecological systems that constitute water and food systems.
  • Foster systems that encapsulate elements of responsiveness, flexibility and equitable water sharing and distribution mechanisms.

Enable continual innovation, new knowledge, learning and dissemination

  • Incorporate the attributes of continual learning and associated feedback mechanisms that allow for improvements and course adjustment.
  • Support innovations in incentive-based approaches that include payment for ecosystem services (PES) and conditional transfer approaches.

Incorporate diversity and redundancy-living resilience

  • Encourage and embrace diversity and social ecological complexity in agricultural production techniques that incorporate broad and nimble adaptive capacity and build resilience.

Ensure system preparedness

  • Prioritise preparedness, a fundamental shift away from the current reactionary responses.
  • Understand and predict how risks will cascade across water systems between regions and economies.

Plan for the long term

  • Proactively plan for and adapt to system changes over both short and long timescales.
  • Natural cycles and systems must be maintained to promote resilience.

Transformation to water resilient food systems

Instilling resilience will require building adaptive capacity across stakeholders and new ways of managing water and food systems. As uncertainty increases with changes in climatic and hydrological patterns, a well-prepared, robust and flexible water management will assist in reducing risks to a wide range of possible futures. Multi-level inclusive governance offers one model to deliver ways of building adaptive capacity through organise collective capacity and coalition building. Achieving the transformation to water resilient food systems will require food and water systems to pro-actively work together toward a socially and environmentally just space that considers the water and food needs of people, the ecosystems that underpin our food systems, and broader energy and equity concerns.

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