According to UN data, water pollution was in 2015. cause of death for 1.5 million people worldwide. Agriculture, whose rapid growth involves the use of fertilizers and pesticides, is partly to blame. On the other hand, agriculture is a victim of pollution that enters the circulation from municipal and industrial wastewater. What steps should be taken to improve the quality of water used for food production? How to reconcile the needs of farmers with the well-being of society and ecosystems?
Water pollution and the need to monitor it
United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), in cooperation with the International Water Institute (IMWI), has prepared a comprehensive guide on the importance of water in sustainable agriculture. The guidance is aimed at government institutions, farmers, consultants and engineers. The report titled. “Water quality in agriculture – risks and ways to mitigate them”. discusses issues such as pathogen and chemical pollution, interactions within catchments and riverbeds, and the impact of water quality on different agricultural sectors.
One of the Sustainable Development Goals postulates the need to ensure that all people have access to water and adequate sanitation. According to the FAO report, it is necessary to improve the methodologies and technologies involved in collecting reliable water quality data in order to implement it.
Standards for water reuse in agriculture
The report presents the basic parameters that should be considered when deciding whether to reuse water in agricultural operations. They are aimed at protecting human and animal health, protecting the environment and guaranteeing high quality agricultural products. The postulated standards have been set over the decades by the World Health Organization (WHO), FAO and regional institutions and include specific microbiological, chemical and physical indicators.
Water quality: pathogens and chemical hazards
The report’s authors place particular emphasis on the danger of pathogens contained in water penetrating food produced by the agricultural sector. The negative health effects affect farmers and their families, as well as consumers, who are often unaware of the consequences of consuming raw or undercooked products. Water quality depends not only on the presence of pathogens, but also on the chemical composition, which can favor crop growth or negatively affect crop quality and soil health. The talk includes. of salinity, ions from fertilizers, heavy metals, and newly emerging organic contaminants (CECs) from, for example, pharmaceuticals.
The FAO guide suggests how to assess the risks of irrigation water contamination, how to choose species that are resistant to particular chemical compounds, and how to conduct irrigation to reduce the scale of the risk. The authors also identify good practices in seeding, soil improvement and phytoremediation.
Aquaculture and animal husbandry
The quality of water used in agriculture affects not only crop yields, but also fish and livestock farming. In the case of aquaculture, the discharge of wastewater into water bodies threatens to reduce oxygen resources, increase levels of ammonia, which is toxic to fish, dangerously alter the pH of the water, and accumulate heavy metals in the meat. The report suggests steps to be taken to ensure the safety of fish farm workers and end consumers. These include. Cleaning and proper processing of fish after harvesting. At the same time, the authors suggest strategies to reduce river pollution through responsible farming practices.
Livestock, on the one hand, is a source of huge amounts of nitrogen, which enters watercourses. On the other hand, the quality of water used for watering and irrigation of pastures affects the health of cattle and the nutritional qualities of meat and milk. Thus, the FAO guide includes guidelines for the implementation of water resource analysis, welfare monitoring and preventive measures, including reducing the flow of pollutants from livestock farms to the environment.
Water quality in a broader ecological context
The report also focuses on minimizing the risks associated with the impact of agricultural activities on the condition of rivers, streams and wetlands. These include eutrophication, siltation or disruption of the natural water cycle due to excessive sedimentation. Specific indicators for assessing the health of aquatic ecosystems are proposed, as well as good practices to mitigate risks in this regard.
In the report’s conclusion, the authors stress the importance of a comprehensive approach to water management – from source to tap. Adaptive management systems are intended to respond to uncertainty and dynamics, while modern monitoring and data collection technologies should facilitate sound decision-making, especially in the context of agricultural use of lower-quality water.