On ‘Women, Water and Food’


In celebration of World Water Day and International Women’s Month


March 2012

Mr. President, today I rise on a matter of individual and collective privilege, as a woman, a member of the Philippine Senate, and the Chairperson of the Senate Committee on Youth, Women and Family Relations and the Joint Oversight Committee on the Clean Water Act.

It is with honor and pleasure that I speak on two matters close to my heart and on the same occasion, given the intertwining themes of International World Water Day, which is celebrated every March 22, and International Women’s Month, which is celebrated in the whole month of March.

I. World Water Day 2012

Mr. President, can anyone live without water? Can there be life as we know it without water? The answer is no. Water is essential to life. To bring focus on the importance of fresh and clean water and to advocate for the sustainable management of freshwater resources, the United Nations General Assembly declared every 22nd of March as International World Water Day. For this year, the theme is Water and Food Security. The aim is to produce more food using less water, reduce food wastage and losses, and move towards more sustainable diets.

a. Water and Food Security

Unknown to many, there is a big water requirement to produce food. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, the daily water requirement per person is 2 to 4 litres, but it takes 2,000 to 5,000 litres of water to produce one person’s daily food intake. It takes 13,000 to 15,000 litres of water to produce one kilo of grain-fed beef. And depending on variety, rice requires 1,000–5,000 liters of water to produce a kilogram of grains. These are just some staggering statistics to show just how much water is embedded in food.

In 1998, the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) stated that in many parts of the world, water is becoming the single most important constraint to increased food production. With much of the world’s water becoming scarce, a major problem to be resolved by 2025 is producing enough food for the anticipated population of 8 billion people.[i]

Food production requires water, may it be from crop or livestock production, inland fisheries or aquaculture, and forests. To have food security, we need water security, in sufficient quantity and adequate quality. There is broad agreement on the need to improve water management and to invest in water for food as these are critical to meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), specifically to end poverty and hunger and achieve environmental sustainability.

To date, there are two ways in which water supports farming practices – through rainfall and irrigation. Though rainfed agriculture constitutes 80% of global agriculture and plays a crucial role in achieving food security, increasing water scarcity and climate change threaten to affect rainfed areas and their peoples.[ii] Irrigated agriculture represents 20% of the total cultivated land but it contributes 40% of the total food produced worldwide. Without irrigation, increases in agricultural yields and outputs that have fed the world’s growing population would not have been possible. Irrigation has also stabilized food production and prices by enabling greater production control and scope for crop diversification.[iii] However, irrigation investments are getting more costly and certain problems have arisen such as competition for water, depletion of underground aquifers, soil salinity, and waterlogging which directly affects the sustainability of agricultural development.

b. Philippine Situation

Water is in abundance in the Philippines, but ironically, 250 out of 1,600 communities, mostly in 5th class municipalities, do not have access to clean water.

According to United Nations Children’s Fund or UNICEF, the number of Filipinos with no access to safe drinking water is approximately 17 million. Over 15% of the rural communities in the Philippines do not have access to potable water due to limited income.[iv]

According to the United Nations World Water Development Report (2001), competing water use (world): agricultural – 70%; industrial – 22% domestic 8%. In the Philippines, agriculture has the highest demand of all water use with 85 percent while the other sectors – industry and domestic – have a combined demand of only 15 percent.

Most municipal water systems do not meet the standards set by World Health Organization (WHO) and the National Government. As a result, waterborne diseases remain a severe public health concern. More than 5,000 people die every year (1 death per hour) due to contaminated drinking water. The lack of safe drinking water also stunts the growth of thousands of children per year.

Mr. President, water is an important element in growing rice. Rice is a staple in the Philippines with the national daily consumption of the grain at 33,000 tonnes, accounting for 20% of the daily household budget, on an average. The demand for rice is projected to grow to about 16 million tons by the year 2025 or about 60% more than the present supply. However, the country will not be able to meet the rapidly increasing rice demand in the present irrigation conditions. Efforts at increasing the total irrigated area to meet the increasing food demand are impeded by the shortage in water supply.[v]

Food security in the Philippines is also greatly affected by other important factors such as the occurrence of the El Nino phenomenon, soil degradation, inappropriate agricultural policies and population growth.

II. 2012 International Women’s Month theme: Empower Rural Women – End Hunger and Poverty

In celebration of this year’s International Women’s Month, the spotlight is on Rural Women, their contributions and their concerns. The goal is to empower rural women to end hunger and poverty. Women farmers are too often invisible and under-supported when it comes to policies, programs and even investments. This scenario directly affects the lives of rural women and their families, and thus hinders their contribution to world food security. It should be noted that my colleague Senator Loren Legarda also delivered a speech which focused on this theme.

a. Role of Women in Food Production

Women play a major role in food production. In developing countries, 43% of the farmers are women.[vi] In the Philippines, rural women produce half of the country’s food. Often, men are responsible for preparing the land while women do the seeding, weeding, transplanting, harvesting and post-harvest work.[vii] Given their key role as food producers and providers, it is unfortunate that their critical contribution to household food security is only being recognized now.

The importance of gender sensitivity in food security cannot be overemphasized. Across the globe, a gender bias among rural women exists. Women often lack access to agricultural services. Their access to credit is also limited since they are not usually owners of land, which is often used as collateral. Membership in cooperatives, usually based on land ownership or “head of household” criteria, tends to exclude women. Moreover, training and extension services have been usually geared towards men. According to Marcela Villarreal, Director of FAO’s Gender, Equity and Rural Employment Division, “This gender bias makes agriculture less productive than it could be, and undermines the world’s ability to reduce hunger and poverty, and to support economic development. Given the same support as men farmers, women farmers would increase their production of food by 25%, according to projections made by the Food and Agriculture Organization.” Closing this gender gap would lift 150 million people out of hunger.

This is why, Mr. President, in 2009, when Republic Act 9700 or the CARPER Law was being deliberated in the Senate, I introduced amendments which institutionalize reforms recognizing the rights of rural women to be beneficiaries of the CARP, identifies them in agrarian reform communities and recognizes their productive and reproductive labor. These amendments have been approved.

III. Conclusion and Call to Action

Mr. President, last year, in celebration of World Water Day, the members of the Executive and Legislative branches of government, local government units and stakeholders from the private sector and others came together to work on the Declaration of Commitment to Policy Action on Water and Sanitation. To show my commitment and support, I signed the said Declaration. This year, I reiterate the call to action

As such, existing legislations pertaining to water shall be strictly implemented. For this to take place, the institutional capacity of the agency in charge of water resources shall be strengthened and the overlapping functions of involved agencies must be streamlined. A sustainable budget allocation must be ensured and legislative support to pending legislations in advocating improvements in this sector must be provided. Public accountability of water service providers and involved agencies must also be ensured.

Mr. President, as global citizens, individually, we have a responsibility to this cause. We should also try to conserve water in any small way we can. We should tap and access the available technology for this. We should maximize the use of water by reusing it in different ways – what you used to wash your clothes can be used to clean the bathroom or to flush your toilet, rainwater can be harvested and stored for future use. There is much available technology and programs. It simply needs to be accessed and simply needs to be put in action.

Mr. President, let me end by saying that as policymakers, we should pursue this measure with this goal in mind. The fight against hunger requires targeted and deliberate action not just in the agriculture sector. It cuts across health and sanitation, education and training, and a special regard for the poor and the women who are the most vulnerable. It requires a conscious choice to pursue sustainability in the way we eat and in the way we use our resources.

Thank you, Mr. President.#

[i] Asian Development Bank (ADB) , Water in the 21st Century : Elements of a Water Strategy


[ii] Rainfed Agriculture: Unlocking the Potential, Integrated Water Management Institute (Foreword) http://www.iwmi.cgiar.org/Publications/CABI_Publications/CA_CABI_Series/Rainfed_Agriculture/Protected/Rainfed_Agriculture_Unlocking_the_Potential.pdf

[iii] Mark W. Rosegrant, Ximing Cai, and Sarah A. Cline , World Water and Food to 2025: Dealing with Scarcity,
International Food Policy Research Institute, Washington, D.C.

[iv] Sustainability of Water Resources for the Poor. Consilience: The Journal of Sustainable Development Vol. 4, Iss. 1 (2010), Pp. 155–166

[v] Hector Dayrit, THE PHILIPPINES: FORMULATION OF A NATIONAL WATER VISION, National Water Resources Board


[vi] http://www.fao.org/gender/infographic/en/

[vii] Karl, Marilee., Inseparable: The Crucial Role of Women in Food Security Revisited., http://www.isiswomen.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1368&Itemid=200

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