Debate

Should water be used for food or energy?

Agriculture, which today accounts for about 70% of the world's total water consumption, can be used to produce food or energy. The need for water and food will increase by 70-90% by the year 2050, while global demand for energy is expected to increase by 50%. The equation simply does not go together and the question is whether food or energy should be prioritized in agriculture, writes Terje Østigård at the Nordic Africa Institute (NAI)

The world today is facing three major crises that will most likely worsen in the future: the water crisis, the food crisis and the energy crisis. The global challenges in water, food and energy can only be solved to a limited extent at national level. When rich countries take on the challenges of securing their own welfare, the crises on the African continent risk worsening.

This year's theme for World Water Day is "Water and Energy". Energy is not just about electricity and hydropower, but there is also a strong connection to agriculture: agricultural land is increasingly used to grow crops that are to be converted into energy.

The big question is what the land's resources will be used for in the future: food or energy? Agriculture accounts for about 70 percent of the world's water consumption. By 2050, the world's population is expected to be 9 billion and the population of Africa has doubled from the current one billion to two billion. To meet population growth globally, 70-90 percent more water resources need to be utilized and 70-90 percent more food is produced if everyone is to have a good standard of living. At the same time, global energy demand is expected to increase by 50 percent. The equation simply does not add up.

But as Africa's own need for natural resources increases, so does the expectation that the African continent will solve the global water, food and energy crisis.

Africa is a continent that is thirsty for energy and needs more food. Despite the UN's goal of halving world poverty, the number of starving people in sub - Saharan Africa is increasing. Hydropower has been a prerequisite for growth and prosperity over the past century. In rich countries, more than 70 percent of water resources are used for electricity, while the corresponding proportion in Africa is only 5 percent. Water resources are also fundamental in agriculture. Paradoxically, farmers who grow food are the poorest and hungriest.

But as Africa's own need for natural resources increases, so does the expectation that the African continent will solve the global water, food and energy crisis.

Saudi Arabia is investing more and more in growing its food in Africa instead of importing it from the United States and Europe. The Western world, for its part, wants to reduce oil dependence on the Arab states and buy up agricultural land in Africa to grow energy crops. China, India and many other countries that invest in Africa behave similarly to secure their own needs.

In the last ten years, foreign investors have bought African agricultural land equivalent to twice the area of ​​France. This is mainly good agricultural land with a lot of water.

In the last ten years, foreign investors have bought African agricultural land equivalent to twice the area of ​​France. This is mainly good agricultural land with a lot of water. Foreign investors have different priorities. Some have mainly focused on crops that can produce biofuel, others on food production and many on sugar that can also be converted into energy. Common to all these investments is that they contribute to draining Africa of natural resources. Water, food and energy are taken from those who need it most. Foreign investors, on the other hand, claim that they contribute to economic growth and bring with them capital that otherwise would not have reached Africa. But despite an economic upswing in many African countries, the social divide is widening. Large-scale and industrial agriculture for export requires little labor and in several places unemployment, and thus, poverty has increased.

It takes as much water to produce a liter of biofuel as to produce enough food for one person in a day. In other words: an African can walk measured for a whole day or a Westerner can drive 15 kilometers by car.

Should one grow food or energy when water and land resources are limited? It takes as much water to produce a liter of biofuel as to produce enough food for one person in a day. In other words: an African can walk measured for a whole day or a Westerner can drive 15 kilometers by car. Globally, the price of food has never been higher. One of the reasons is that large agricultural areas are not used to produce food but to satisfy the world's energy needs. Increased food and energy security in the rich world can have a high social price in Africa.

This is a debate article. The author is responsible for analysis and opinions in the text.

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