Navigating the Nexus of Food and Water Challenges in Urban Areas

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Climate adaptation When food and water problems collide

The world’s population is growing, which means more demand for food. Growing food accounts for 70% of global water use. But climate change effects can threaten water supplies resulting in water scarcity in many parts of the world.

An article by Robert Brears, Exploring the Water-Food Nexus: Addressing Water Scarcity, Water and Food-Secure Cities, and Sustainable Agriculture, presents these three intersecting and related issues to ensure a sustainable and resilient food system for generations to come while protecting our environment.

Water scarcity

Climate models predict that the warming planet will intensify the earth’s water cycle, increasing evaporation, resulting in less rainfall, increased drying, and intensifying droughts and water scarcity. A way to address water scarcity is through sustainable water management practices such as efficient irrigation systems, rainwater harvesting, water recycling, and adopting crops that require less water.

Brears cites Queensland’s water recycling for non-potable uses as an example of good water management practices. Its many benefits include reducing demand for drinking water supplies, postponing the development of costly new drinking water sources, enhancing the landscape through irrigation, and saving potable water bills.

Water and Food-Secure Cities

Encouraging food growing in cities, also known as urban agriculture, can produce enormous amounts of food for the residents annually, offer ecosystem services like reducing stormwater runoffs and sequestering nitrogen and carbon emissions, and contribute massively to the economy of up to $160 billion annually.

Brears cites two cities successfully implementing urban agriculture and leading by example – San Francisco’s water-efficient urban farms and Vancouver’s urban food strategy.

San Francisco Public Utilities Commission has developed a range of programmes that support the efficient use of water throughout local urban agricultural, demonstration, and community gardens. In addition, grants are provided to help these projects better track and manage their irrigation water use.

Vancouver’s Urban Food Strategy helps the city address its food challenges and align the food system with the city’s broader plans through the five goals of supporting food-friendly neighbourhoods:

  • ensuring residents have access to healthy foods;
  • helping increase capacity and knowledge on developing local food systems;
  • providing ease of access to food, especially for vulnerable populations;
  • emphasising skills-building and job creation opportunities that support green food sectors; and
  • advocating for preserving and enhancing agricultural land and protecting sustainable food production.

Sustainable Agriculture

Sustainable agriculture is an approach to food production that minimises the impacts on the environment, according to Brears. Achieving sustainable agriculture means governments provide incentives for farming practices that prevent or minimise environmental harm, including adopting organic farming practices, crop diversification, and integrated pest management. Incentives can take the form of tax breaks, grants, or subsidies.

The Thames Water’s Smarter Water Catchment initiative is an example. Its pilot Evenlode Catchment Fund provides infrastructure and farm management grants to reduce the amount of phosphorus lost from fields and farmyards to its waterways.

Cities have an essential role to play in improving the resilience of communities to the threats of climate change.

Food and water systems are vulnerable to the effects of climate change. But cities have the tools and technology to address this. Some of them, as cited by Brears in his article, are leading by example for other cities to follow.


Brears, R. (2023 March 7). Exploring the Water-Food Nexus: Addressing Water Scarcity, Water and Food-Secure Cities, and Sustainable Agriculture. Linked in. Retrieved from

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