Society’s greatest use of water is in food production; a fact that puts farmers centre stage in global environmental management. However they are certainly not centre stage in determining the returns they get for their efforts at feeding us. In that regard they are the bottom of the food chain. Supermarkets dominate in the UK and developed countries, competing to provide food as cheaply as possible while capturing the added value. Governments round the world are often under pressure to ensure food is cheap as a political imperative. So it is not surprising that environmental management is often not high on Farmer’s agendas as they struggle to survive. So how can we reform this dysfunctional system? People do need to be able to afford food and we do need to maintain the environmental foundations of our food system.
Tony Allan, creator of the influential concept of virtual water and professor at SOAS and KCL, will set out the extent of the challenge and how current international political economy systems drive and sustain it. He will then explore directions for reform. Vicki Hird, author, expert and activist, will provide a practitioners perspective in response.
There will be time for extensive discussion followed by a networking reception with wine and snacks.
Tony Allan is based at King’s College London and SOAS London. He specialises in the analysis of water resources in semi-arid regions and on the role of global systems in ameliorating local and regional water deficits. In his early career he was concerned with hydrological and environmental issues but gradually turned his attention to the social and political when it became evident that environmental science could not explain why people manage water as they do. He pointed out that water short economies achieve water and food security not on the basis of their own water endowments but by importing water intensive food commodities – a concept which he found he had to call ‘virtual water’.
For the past decade he has been drawn more and more deeply into analysing the very politicised food system. He has shown the way the ‘broken’ food system operates determines how water is managed and mismanaged by farmers. He provides advice to governments and agencies especially in the Middle East on water policy and water policy reform. The critical situation of the water resources of the Middle East is set out in The Middle East water question: hydropolitics and the global economy . His most recent book is Virtual water: tackling the threat to the planet’s most precious resource . A recent edited book Food, Water and Society addresses the food-water and the food system theme.  In 2008 he was awarded the Stockholm Water Prize in recognition of his contribution to water science and water policy.
Vicki Hird MSc FRES is an award winning author, expert, strategist and senior manager who has been working on environment, food and farming issues for over 25 years. As part- time Sustainable Farm Campaign Coordinator at Sustain, Vicki manages the farm policy and related campaigning and provides comment and guidance on these issues.
Prior to this role, she was director of Campaigns and Policy At War on Want. Previously she was the Senior Campaigner heading up the Land use, Food and Water Programme for Friends of the Earth and Policy Director of Sustain. She was Policy Director of Sustain, 1999 – 2004 and has been an expert consultant for NGOs and institutions (including for RSPB, WSPA, The Sustainable Development Commission, Greenpeace, The Plunkett Foundation and HEAL).
She has launched many major food and environment campaigns, from local to global in scope, has blogged frequently and published numerous reports and articles on the sustainability of food systems and published Perfectly Safe to Eat? (Women’s Press 2000).
She has an academic background in pest management and is a Fellow of the Royal Entomological Society. Vicki is on the board of Pesticides Action Network, co-founded Hackney Food Partnership, was chair of the Eating Better Alliance and has sat on numerous government advisory groups over the years. She also runs an independent consultancy undertaking campaigning and research.