English | Bahasa Malaysia
Food for Thought
Text Size A A A

Dear friends, welcome to my piara.com.my. You are invited to give comments on the blog enteries below.

World Water Day Celebration: The World is Thirsty because We are Hungry




World Water Day is celebrated every 22nd March. It is to mark the importance of water in our survival which is part of Decade for Water (2005 - 2015) activity by United Nations. This year the theme of the celebration is 'Water and Food Security' and resembles the importance of water to feed the world's ever growing population.

How does feeding the humans make the world thirsty? The answer is on how much water we use in producing our food.

Where is water consumed?

There are many processes involved in agriculture and it uses water. For plantation, water consumption can be in the form of irrigation or 'rain fed'. Processing the raw product also requires a lot of water. Then, the food manufacturing process to produce semi or finished goods for both local and international market also uses water. For example, we use 140 liter of water to produce 1 cup of coffee, 184 liter of water for 1kg of tomato and 1000 liter of water for 1 liter of cow's milk.

When food is imported or exported, we actually import and export the 'water footprint' of each product. Water Footprint is amount of water used to produce a product in certain quantity. This can be obtained via Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) process. Such importation and exportation of water footprint will also impose water stress in the country of origin. For example, cereals use a lot of water via irrigation. With many Multi National Companies marketing cereals to the world, the demand for water to grow these products will increase. This in return makes that part of the world THIRSTY. If your food travel a long distance, then you are not only imposing the water footprint stress, you are also increasing other environmental impacts.

This is the question of Profit for businesses versus Feeding and providing water for the poor.

Monocrop and Large Farming Practice

For tropical and tropical rainforest climate, our biggest water catchment is the forest. Monocrop practice needs a vast piece of land planted with one type of plant for commercial purpose. This is one of the contributing factors for loss of water catchment areas. This will also induce mass pollution to both surface water and groundwater resources due to high consumption of chemicals such as fertilisers and pesticides. While monocrop allows cheaper production cost, its impact on environment is still huge and measurable.

Equally, large scale farming is imposing huge risk to the environment and increase water consumption demand. Caged fish rearing and introduction of alien species to local ecosystem is slowly killing the nature as well. As for cattle and pig rearing industry, the wastewater management is still in infant stage. In Malaysia, the new agriculture inclined policies are being implemented. This will pose immediate stress to our water systems and we need to better manage its impacts.

Irrigation Management

In Malaysia, water is a politically sensitive sector. Due to this nature, the management of water resources up to consumption and disposal is still very much segmented. There is no integration and monitoring of agricultural water consumption.

Water consumption in Malaysia is basically divided into domestic, industry (including commercial) and agriculture use which uses 17%, 21% and 62% of water respectively. According to Malaysia Water Industry Guide 2011, 2.07 billion cubic meters of treated water (1 cubic meter is equivalent to 1000 liter) was consumed by domestic consumers in year 2010. Based on this, AWER estimates that agricultural sector uses around 7.56 billion cubic meter of water. That’s a huge amount of water that is not monitored directly or indirectly in Malaysia.

Climate Change and Its Impact

All the problems related to water still exist and real. Climate change only made it worst. In recent years, we can observe that the extreme weather has reduced agriculture yield and give impact to the supply chain.

Climate change directly impacts the equilibrium of water cycle. In Malaysia, rain is the most reliable source of water which fills up our surface water (rivers, lakes and springs) and groundwater. The recent droughts have proven that the groundwater resources are worst affected. This only proves that we need to better manage the surface water resources and minimise the impact of water usage for agricultural activities (which is almost 62%) to water stress.

If the situation continues to severe, we will meet the cross road when we have to decide between providing water for drinking or feeding.

What should we be doing?

Reduction or optimisation of water consumption for a particular process for industry (related to agriculture activities) and agriculture sector must be put in place. This can be effectively measured via water consumption rate or better known as water footprint. For irrigated agriculture activities, 'effective irrigation' must be put in place. Over watering to wet the entire soil might not result in higher yield. Studies have proven that, wetting the root areas via 'drip method' have reduced water usage significantly and increased yield substantially. Revolution in agriculture activities is a must.

Discharge of wastewater from small and large scale agriculture activities must be monitored and regulated. Increase in agriculture activities will only increase pollution and contaminate to both surface water and groundwater resources. This in return will increase potable water treatment cost and in some cases, it permanently destroy the water source. Currently, Department of Environment is developing new regulations to monitor animal farming activities. This regulation is vital to ensure pollution monitoring and improving the operation standard of farming in Malaysia.

Wastewater reuse is a good mechanism that can be put in place too. Production of recycled water and natural fertilisers will reduce wastewater management cost for agriculture activities effectively. This means also the agencies involved have to relook into the available policies and implementations to prepare an integrated policy framework in order to protect our water systems.

Last but not least, every time you throw away unfinished meal, remember that you are throwing away hundreds litres of water as well. Only buy and consume what you need. Do your part in preventing wastage of resources. This is the only planet we have to live in, but now the world is THIRSTY because we are HUNGRY. WATER IS LIFE!

Piarapakaran S.
Association of Water and Energy Research Malaysia (AWER)



How Much Water we use to produce what we eat?

How much water it takes for…

1 cup of tea 35 liters
1 cup of coffee 140 liters
1 glass of orange juice 170 liters
1 tomato 13 liters
1 apple 70 liters
1 egg 135 liters
1 glass of milk 200 liters
1 orange 50 liters
1 potato 25 liters
1 slice of bread 40 liters
1 hamburger 2400 liters
1 bag of potato chips 185 liters
1 beef steak 7000 liters

Source: Food and Agriculture Organisation, United Nations (FAO)

Comments (0 Posted)

No Record Found!

Records Per Page
Displaying Page of

Leave your comment or suggestion

Email (will not be shared, required)
Comment / Suggestion
  Please enter word in the below image:

Not readable? Change text.


Copyright © 2010 - 2011 piara.com.my. All Rights Reserved.