Anything but the Mieliepap: Global food security crisis?

As a South African that comes from a farming community, family and friends continue to voice their concerns about the future of both our water and food security.

The global population will soon be too large for the Earth to sustain. With a current population of 7.1 billion people, we already put immense pressure on the available natural resources. According to the UN Economic and Social Affairs report the population will increase to 8.5 billion people within the next 13 years. To put things in perspective, that would mean that a fifth of the current population would be added by 2030.

Furthermore, the report states that the African continent will see the largest increase in the projected birth rate with 675,8 million new mouths to feed before 2030. The region already has 10 million people that require urgent food aid. With this being said, major challenges lie ahead in terms of global food security, especially in developing countries. However, the problem doesn’t stop here, as the demand for food increase, so does the demand for fresh water.

The global agricultural sector finds itself in the middle of a battle between increased production to supply the food demand and being responsible for the overexploitation of our freshwater resources. Currently, agriculture is responsible for consuming 70% of the world’s fresh water withdrawn from aquifers, rivers and dams. It is estimated that 43% of total agricultural water use is directly from groundwater resources. Of the total 43%, sub-Saharan Africa is responsible for 7% of the global groundwater abstraction for agriculture.

It is evident that the availability of fresh groundwater plays an essential role in ensuring that the global agricultural demands are met and therefore sustaining the global population’s food security. However, the total global groundwater volumes are mostly unknown and at the rate of current abstraction we are unaware of the harm that we might be causing. It is a common misconception that over-exploiting
a groundwater resource will only decrease the quantity of groundwater but it also results in the deterioration of the groundwater’s quality.

In order to ensure future food security, sustainable water management plans for global agriculture will be imperative. Scientists have predicted that some areas within the agricultural sectors of America, Europe, India and Pakistan may deplete their sustainable groundwater resources completely between 2030 and 2060, leaving 1.8 billion people without access to fresh water.

Considering that southern Africa is one of the largest producers and consumers of maize, if we continue to deplete our water resources, millions of our people may not get their ‘Mieliepap’ for breakfast in the near future.

By Jani van Gend, MSc Earth Science Student

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