Ir Arriba

The water footprint: an important calculation with major implications for agriculture

Christian Golcher, researcher at HIDROCEC-UNA; David Williams, Manager of IICA’s Agriculture, Natural Resources and Climate Change Program; and Andrea Suárez, coordinator of the HIDROCEC-UNA.

San Jose, Costa Rica, May 24, 2013 (IICA). The Latin American and Caribbean countries need to calculate how much water is used in their agricultural activities, from production through to final consumption, because the indicator provides accurate information that is useful for improving public food security policies and access to water, and contributing to the preservation of an ecologically balanced environment in the region.

In a technical forum held at the Headquarters of the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), water management specialists from Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico, and Spain presented details of an ongoing study in which their countries are involved together with Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Peru. The findings so far suggest that the trend in Latin America is toward the decentralization of water administration, with access to the resource recognized as a human right in the region.

Barring certain exceptions, water availability is not an issue in the region; the quality of the resource is a different matter, however. Furthermore, not all the countries possess sufficient information about water use, or the data is hard to come by and not rigorous enough.

The study, entitled Seguridad Hídrica, Alimentaria y Cuidado de la Naturaleza en Latinoamérica y España, is being promoted by the Fundación Botín, the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, and the Universidad Complutense de Madrid. The purpose is to estimate the water footprint of production systems, especially agricultural systems that consume large quantities of water. 

“Water is more than just an input; we need to study where and how it is collected and the uses to which it is put throughout the production chain. We cannot continue to think of the water used in agriculture as somehow separate from the rest of society’s activities, since it forms part of a watershed and must be used efficiently,” remarked IICA Director General Víctor M. Villalobos.

David Williams, Manager of IICA’s Agriculture, Natural Resources and Climate Change Program, pointed out that the Institute sought to provide technical assistance to its member countries to enable them to use water more efficiently in the production of food. “It is an increasingly valuable resource that we have to quantify in order to manage it responsibly,” he commented.

The technical forum was organized jointly by IICA and the Water Resources Center for Central America and the Caribbean of Costa Rica’s Universdad Nacional (HIDROCEC-UNA).

A comprehensive indicator

“The water footprint in general, and that of agricultural activities in particular, is a core indicator for sustainable development efforts,” observed Patricia Phumpiu, a specialist from the Instituto Tecnológico de Monterrey.

Alberto Garrido, a researcher at the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, explained that, according to the water footprint calculations performed by the authors of the study, Latin America and the Caribbean had sufficient water to meet the demand for food production, but weak institutional management meant that the poorest sectors had the most difficulty accessing the resource.

“The calculation of the water footprint should be viewed from a broad perspective, since water cuts across many social, environmental, and economic issues. It is necessary to place the indicator in context and understand the interactions among all the sectors, since it is a tool for integrating policies,” explained Andrea Suárez, coordinator of the HIDROCEC-UNA.

Promoting efficient use of water in agriculture will be the theme of the Meeting of Ministers of Agriculture of the Americas 2013, due to take place in Argentina in September. A meeting of the Inter-American Board of Agriculture, which is comprised of the ministers of the hemisphere and is IICA’s highest-level governing body, will also be held.

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