Food Tank offers strategies on saving water

2013-05-07T00:00:00Z Food Tank offers strategies on saving waterPhil Wieland, (219) 548-4352

The United States suffered its worst drought in at least 25 years in 2012, in an event that affected 80 percent of the country's agricultural land.

Coupled with droughts in other parts of the world, it points up the need to protect what water we have.

This is the third in the series of stories for National Drinking Water Week. The observance was started more than 30 years ago by the American Water Works Association to raise awareness about the need to conserve the world's water supply.

The United Nations started its own program 20 years ago, called World Water Day to emphasize the important role water plays and its scarcity, especially as the world population grows.

"Nearly one billion people suffer from hunger, and more than 2.3 billion live in water-stressed areas," said Ellen Gustafson, co-founder of Food Tank. "Understanding the global food system and making smart, sustainable changes in the way we eat and produce food now can help prevent both famine and thirst in the future."

Food Tank is a think tank founded by Gustafson and Danielle Nierenberg. As part of World Water Day in March, the Food Tank offered 10 strategies for using water wisely for agriculture and general consumption.

The suggestions for farmers include diversifying by planting cover crops and trees; using drip irrigation systems, which are more expensive, but up to 40 percent more efficient; collecting rainwater for watering crops and reducing run-off and planting perennial crops rather than annual grain crops that lose five times as much water and 35 times as much nitrate.

Congress needs to provide more support for smaller, family-run farms rather than large-scale agribusinesses, Food Tank said, because they are more likely to engage in sustainable food production but are more susceptible to drought and price fluctuations. Governments also need to help farmers develop new crop varieties while preserving traditional crops and helping farmers improve production.

The general public can help by cutting down on meat consumption; steaming, rather than boiling vegetables or, if boiling is preferred, re-use the water for things like plants or making soup; reduce the amount of water used on lawns or plants by growing plants that require less water and reduce food waste, which accounts for about a third of the food produced.

While human and environmental pressures are increasing, so are opportunities to address those problems, Food Tank said. While droughts are a problem for farmers around the world, Nierenberg said "extraordinary water-saving innovations are being developed."

"The solutions are out there, but they need more attention, more research and ultimately more funding and investment," Nierenberg said.

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