Nairobi -- A shift in agricultural policy to encourage crop diversification and use of new water and energy saving technologies could save millions of hectare-metres (ha m) of water annually, as well as millions of dollars in energy costs, finds a new United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and partner food security study.
The study, which was conducted in India and Uganda, finds that in the Indian state of Punjab, shifting the dominant cropping pattern from rice, to a mix of maize, cotton, sugarcane, pulses, fodder, fruits, vegetables and agro-forestry can bring a reduction in agricultural water use of 1.58 million ha m a year.
When water saving technologies and practices such as laser leveling of the fields, direct seeding of rice, use of tensiometers and zero tillage are also adopted, the savings to the state of Punjab could potentially amount to 2.3 million ha m of water in agriculture annually.
The findings from the project titled Capacity-building in national planning for food security, examined three different scenarios in the Punjab state in India and Hoima District in Uganda to analyse the implications of the trade-off and synergies between ecosystem inputs and agricultural yields and farm incomes.
Experts from Uganda's National Planning Authority and the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) will also discuss the findings of the Ugandan pilot, including the financial returns in terms of natural assets and carbon trading from sparing land through agricultural intensification.
Uganda's agricultural sector produces only a quarter to half of potential crop and livestock yields due to poor production methods, despite favourable climatic conditions for food production.
The study finds that only one-third of households in Uganda reported being food secure throughout the year, with one-tenth of these families facing food deficits for over six months per year.
The study also finds that gender inequality in food production is growing in the area under study. Women play a critical role in food production in Hoima District, however around one-fifth of households reported that only men are receiving weather-related information.
The findings from the Ugandan pilot will help to address the problem of low agricultural and livestock yields.
The UNEP- and partner-led event is an opportunity to examine in depth the drivers of food insecurity, which include, pest and diseases on crops, environmental degradation caused by soil erosion, climate variability and change, population increase and low adaptation capacities to climate change effects by communities.
Faced with an increasing world population, governments are challenged with finding more efficient ways to produce more food, without putting significant pressure on water, land, oceans and other ecosystems.
The global production of food is responsible for more than 70 per cent of freshwater consumption and for 80 per cent of deforestation, and is the largest single cause of species and biodiversity loss.
More than 20 per cent of all cultivated land and 30 per cent of forests are undergoing degradation due to unsustainable agriculture, and globally, the agro-food system accounts for nearly 30 per cent of end-user available energy.
The production of food is entirely dependent upon well-functioning ecosystems and resilient biodiversity, in the form of healthy arable land, healthy, plentiful water and wide crop diversity.
Ministers, policy makers and food security and biodiversity experts will identify appropriate policy responses to avert further food security aggravation, including sustainable agricultural practices and new technology adoption.
The event will be attended by representatives from Green Indian States Trust Advisory, Punjab Agricultural University and Indian Institute of Forest Management, Kenya's National Environment Management Authority and UNEP's Division of Environmental Policy Implementation, as well as representatives of the scientific community, international organisations, NGOs and donor agencies.
The event provides a rare opportunity for African and Indian policy-makers and food security experts to share vital findings that can feed into national food production strategies and policies, for better balancing of food production needs and ecosystem management.