GRIPP Coordinator Karen Villholth presents at the Global Forum for Food and Agriculture (GFFA) in Berlin, Germany


Groundwater Expert Panel at GFFA

Prof Jinxia Wang from Peking University giving a presentation at the GFFA. Other panel members (from left): Prof. Petra Döll, University Frankfurt am Main, Dr. Karen Villholth, Principal Researcher, IWMI, Mr. Guillaume Gruère, Senior Policy Analysts, OECD, and Dr. Claudia Ringler, Deputy Division Director, IFPRI, Prof Joachim Von Braun, Director, Center for Development Research (ZEF), University of Bonn (Moderator) (Copyright: BMEL / Thomas Trutschel /

What part can agriculture, as a large user of water, play worldwide in the sustainable stewardship of water as well as the protection of water quality and ecosystems? After all, the production of agricultural commodities for human consumption accounts for approximately 70 percent of the freshwater used worldwide. On January 19-21, politicians, business people, and scientists convened at the 9th Global Forum for Food and Agriculture (GFFA) in Berlin to try and answer this and other questions about the future of the global agri-food industry.

On January 20th, GRIPP Coordinator Karen Villholth participated in the expert panel “Agriculture and Groundwater – Feeding Billions from the Ground Up.” Overused in some regions, and underused in others—groundwater, if used intelligently, could support global food security for a burgeoning population. This expert panel discussion was organized by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

A post published recently in the WLE Thrive Blog highlights the challenges of coordinating effective groundwater management. “Water footprints from food production and consumption have not only local, but also regional and global dimensions that need to be better understood and used to frame international policies on food trade and consumer awareness-raising strategies. Footprints from groundwater irrigation may be felt locally in production areas, but generated from food demand in distant areas,” said Villholth during her presentation on Groundwater in Global Food Security—Current Knowledge and Outlook. “The link to nutrition also needs to be considered. Our research shows that a lot of unsustainable groundwater use in the world is going into producing little nutritious food crops, like sugar.”

Following the panel presentations, there was a lively question-and-answer session, which identified key measures to improve groundwater sustainability.  Gathering data on the status of current trends in groundwater resources is an important step in tackling current over-draft and associated issues. A successful management system will involve a combination of policy measures, such as investments in information systems, capacity development at all levels, and employing regulatory, economic and collective approaches in regions with intensive groundwater use.  It will be critical to address pervasive incentives for over-use, economic or otherwise, especially in agricultural groundwater use. Subsidies for energy and micro-irrigation may perpetuate groundwater depletion problems if not framed properly and monitored for effectiveness in terms of groundwater sustainability.

Estimates by the UN suggest that the global demand for water in agriculture will increase by about 20 percent by 2050. The future of agriculture and water use will be decisive for global food security. To reduce water scarcity risks and secure groundwater for future generations will require the concerted efforts of politicians, business people and scientists. Partnerships like GRIPP can be agents for information exchange and implementation.

To read the GFFA 2017 Communique by 83 agricultural ministers on the forum and their call to action for the future of agricultural water use and sustainability, click here.

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