The role of water in sustainable agriculture

Source: Ph. (Phil) Hogan i, published on Friday, February 24 2017.

Water is one of the most precious resources we have on this earth and it is under increasing stress. All of us have a responsibility to provide leadership in preserving it for future generations. The EU has a particular role to play in this regard and takes its responsibility very seriously.

I made this point in Italy earlier in the week during my visit to the Mediterranean Agronomic Institute of Bari.

This impressive institution focuses on a broad range of research areas relating to modern farming and sustainable food production, including how to maintain a safe and sustainable water supply. Understandably, this is a pressing issue for Italy and all Mediterranean farming communities, given their weather norms and the additional burden of climate change.

Farming and food production are water-intensive industries, so if we want to meet the global demand for more and better food while also meeting our environmental and climate targets, we must do better. We must also tackle the issue of food waste, which contributes enormously to water wastage, given that, as we now know, it takes 15 000 litres of water to produce just one kilo of meat

But it must equally be remembered that in helping to maintain water quality and supply, farmers are delivering an essential public good, as well as continued food security for the people of Europe. Therefore I believe farmers must be adequately rewarded for this crucially important role.

Policy action is needed to strengthen the ability of farmers to do this vital work.

The Commission has recognised that policy initiatives cannot work in isolation in an area as wide and fundamental as water policy. For this reason, I am working closely with my colleagues Commissioner Katainen, Commissioner Moedas and Commissioner Vella through a Task Force on Water to develop a long-term alliance between different Commission services.

Joint work will be initiated to boost necessary investment and spread best practice with a view to foster transition to water sustainability in EU agriculture.

Numerous EU research and innovation funds are already supporting projects to improve both the quantity and quality of our water supply. We have compiled a detailed report outlining farm level adaptation strategies which already exist or can be developed to deal with water scarcity.

We have invested in new technologies such as robots measuring water consumption in wine production, 3D sensors to measure plant growth, and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) for precision agriculture applications such as water stress monitoring, detection of nutrient deficiencies and crop diseases.

And this year we are backing new projects to tackle the pollution of water sources from the pesticides and fertilisers used in farming systems.

Adequate financial support for investments is crucial, and EFSI could be an opportunity in this respect. The Commission and the EIB are reviewing how to promote innovative projects in the water sector under EFSI, focusing on innovative projects and supporting the circular economy and resource efficiency.

Solving the water challenge will only happen if all parties work together.


Delivering a speech at the CIHEAM institute in Bari, Italy