IFOAM: Water is a Lifeline in Agriculture

Severe droughts in Africa have left millions of people on the brink of famine. Unsustainable agricultural practices have rendered soils incapable of yielding enough food to feed the hungry. Yet we know that organic farming techniques increase the water-holding capacity of soils enabling farmers to still grow food in times of drought.

On World Water Day, we call for policies that facilitate the uptake of better water management practices in agriculture, contribute to food security and end high-emitting industrial farming practices that are accelerating climate change.

“No matter what people in the White House believe, there is wide scientific consensus that climate change is increasing the likelihood of more frequent and more severe heat waves,” warns Gabor Figeczky, Advocacy Manager at IFOAM – Organics International, “dealing with this challenge will require both efforts to combat climate change and, most importantly, strategies to enable farmers to adapt to its effects.”

Organic farmers are not as severely affected by water shortages as their conventional counterparts because they work with techniques such as crop rotations that allocate more carbon below ground. Carbon-rich soils are like sponges absorbing water during floods and releasing it during drought.

In addition, farming organically also reduces ground and surface water contamination by refraining from the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, particularly important in areas prone to water shortages.

“Water is a lifeline in agriculture. Its scarcity poses a major threat to food security,” says Gabor Figeczky, “if farmers could increase organic matter in soils by just 1%, their farmland would retain up to 16,000 more gallons of water reducing the likelihood of crop failure when rainfall is low.”

If we are to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals on zero hunger and clean water by 2030, we need to equip farmers with the knowledge and skills to consistently achieve yields in times of drought.

National policies should be created to incentivize producers to change the way they manage their farming systems and adopt natural water retention measures used in organic agriculture such as green cover and intercropping as well as diversifying farmers’ crop and income base so they have something to fall back on when drought strikes. Coordinated efforts are needed by government involving all stakeholders to develop short and long-term drought mitigation plans.

Source: Notification IFOAM, 21.03.2017