During the North America World Food Day celebration, food systems advocates gathered to emphasize that water is central to discussions of food and agriculture. The event was co-hosted by Food Tank, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Driscoll’s, Wholechain, the University of British Columbia (UBC), and Simon Fraser University in collaboration with the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the University of Guelph, the Arrell Food Institute and Compass Group Canada.

“One third of the global population faces water stress,” says Tom Pesek, Senior Liaison Officer at the FAO. The FAO also reports that access to freshwater resources per person has declined by 20 percent in the last decade.

“If we don’t change our current practices,” Pesek continues, “those figures are going to increase exponentially.” The speakers say that this has concerning implications for human health and food security.

Agriculture, which relies on freshwater, is responsible for more than 70 percent of global withdrawals.

And Dana James, a Postdoctoral Fellow at UBC notes that “without clean drinking water, it’s pretty impossible to be food secure.” In British Columbia alone, she says, there are around 30 boil-water advisories, or no-drinking orders, for rural and remote communities.

Fortunately, the speakers say, there are many community leaders who are already pushing for better food and water systems, but they need support.

“Something I see time and time again is the lack of representation in leadership and the lack of funding to support the infrastructure and projects community members are leading to increase food security,” says Lizeth Ardila Ramírez, a Master’s student in the Faculty Integrated Studies in Land and Food Systems at UBC.

The speakers argue that these groups, who know their communities so intimately, need support and investment so that they can carry out their work effectively.

Collaboration is also critical, says Tiare Boyes, a commercial fish harvester. “It’s really important that we reach out across sectors and that we work together because the problems that we’re facing right now are not simple and the solutions are not simple,” she states.

And if these pathways allow for the creation of more sustainable food and agriculture systems, a brighter future is possible. “To have sustainable food and sustainable water means having a sustainable world for all of us to coexist with each other,” says Lisa Kenoras, Communications Coordinator for the Working Group on Indigenous Food Sovereignty.

Read the full article about role of water in food systems by Elena Seeley at Food Tank.