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Watery food

Producing our food requires a huge amount of water. But just how much water is needed became apparent during the game 'hat on, hat off' at the talk show Chewing on Water.

Professors, scholars and entrepreneurs explained what the problems are in the use of water for food production. Arjen Hoekstra, professor of water management at the University of Twente, said that 99% of water used does not come from the tap, but is bought in the supermarket; and 95% of that is imported from abroad. The Netherlands has enough water, but in countries where drought prevails, the scarce water resources are used to grow food for export. Asparagus come from Peru, tulips from Ethiopia. Hoekstra and the other speakers emphasised that this is unsustainable. One solution, he said, is to become vegetarian: a meat eater uses 3,600 litres per day, a vegetarian 2,300 litres per day.

There was much laughter when the winner of 'hat on, hat off' turned out to be one of the speakers. Geert Jan Veldwisch, from Wageningen UR, is an expert on 'water grabbing'. He painted a sad picture of water grabbing in Tanzania whereby traditional farming communities have been stripped of their water supply, while a valley of plastic greenhouses is sufficiently irrigated.

Frank van Steenbergen is the director of MetaMeta. Using various objects, he indicated problems and solutions. Like a jar of capers. The problem: consumers only want capers of certain sizes and the rest are thrown away. The solution: eliminate food waste. Henk Holtslag from Connect International showed a rope from a water pump. Since 17,000 water pumps were installed in Nicaragua, incomes have increased by $100,000. Eighty per cent of these pumps are installed near families and their income always increases when they have access to their own water.

The talk show ended with Marc van Rijsselberghe, a farmer on the island of Texel, and Willem Treep, cofounder of Willem&Drees. Van Rijsselberghe has seen with his own eyes the opportunities offered by the smart use of salt water in food production. Within two years he hopes to grow potatoes that are partly watered with salt water. Treep promotes local consumption by connecting farmers with local shops. He said: "Twenty years ago people thought you were crazy if you said you were going to sell kiwis from New Zealand in the supermarket. Now it seems you’re crazy if you want to sell apples from a local orchard in the supermarket. That has to change."

Chewing on Water was organised in collaboration with One World on World Water Day.

Text: Claire van der Hall

Photo: Mitchell van Voorbergen

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