Water Resilient Food Systems for Future Climates

To mark the 2021 United Nations Food Systems Summit (UNFSS) a group of 31 globally diverse practitioners and researchers, sound a clarion call for water resilience to be brought to the forefront of building resilient and sustainable food systems that can provision communities, economies and ecosystems into a rapidly changing world.

They propose six critical focus areas that together provide a foundation for water resilient food systems:

  1. Treating the food system as a system – adopting interconnected systems thinking that embraces the complexity of how we produce, distribute, and add value to food: New and innovative platforms and partnerships across the agricultural, environment, energy and land-use sectors are required for interconnected water and food systems thinking. As water and food systems are constantly co-evolving, there is a need for continual assessment of decisions and adaptation that can be achieved through interconnected systems thinking.

  2. Adopting multi-level inclusive governance and supporting inclusive participation: Localized governance and participatory approaches enable better adaptability and rapid and inclusive responses to local threats to water security that could rapidly escalate across agricultural supply chains. The emergence of different governance institutions necessitates effective platforms for negotiation that build capacity for cooperation across the system as well as supporting robust conflict resolution mechanisms.

  3. Enabling continual innovation, new knowledge and learning: A range of innovations are required in knowledge and technology, incentive systems, and financial instruments to facilitate behaviour change. To make use of new knowledge, there is a need for continual learning, capacity building and associated feedback mechanisms that allow for improvements, learning, flexibility and course adjustment.

  4. Incorporating diversity and redundancy—living resilience: Embracing diversity and socio-ecological complexity in agricultural production techniques for more flexible, better adaptive capacity and systemic resilience provides a range of options to respond and adapt to changing circumstances, over both the short-term and long-term.

  5. Ensuring system preparedness: Focus on preparedness and capacity building, transparency in data availability, accountability in data collection and management. In a changing world where future shocks and stresses cannot be perfectly predicted, resilience can be built by focusing more on preparedness and increasing the range of adaptive capacities that are available.

  6. Plan for the long term:   Water resilient food systems must proactively plan for and adapt to system changes over both short and long timescales built on a strong evidence base. Hard and soft infrastructure and governance systems should be designed to meet tests to resilience over a long time-horizon rather than focusing on present day stresses.

Transforming to a water resilient food system is a challenge we must meet. It requires significant investments across the food systems, applying existing research, and surfacing new knowledge. Governments, communities, and the private sector need to work together with women, youth, and communities, including smallholder farmers.  

Full Statement