Four ways to reduce water use in agriculture

wwd imageToday is World Water Day 2013, celebrating the International Year of water cooperation. A paradigm of the world’s water challenges is that although agriculture accounts for approximately 70% of global water resources, around one billion people are chronically hungry.

As water for irrigation and food production constitutes one of the greatest threats to the sustainability of the world’s freshwater resources, we discuss four methods of reducing water use in agriculture, methods that can reduce water use without limiting, and sometimes increasing, food production.

Grow crops that use less water. This can mean either crops that due to their physiology require less water. For example growing grapes and olives requires significantly less water than tomatoes or bananas. Or it can mean crops bred to require less water such as the Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) project.  Of course the choice of crops grown is also dependent on environmental and socio-economic conditions.

Precision use of irrigation either by scheduling irrigation for times when the crops needs it or using irrigation only in areas needed. Methods can include direct measurement of soil water content to inform on timing and placement, sprinkler or drip irrigation. But issues of access to and management of water supplies can limit the feasibility of some of these techniques in some areas.

Use methods alternative to irrigation such as rainwater harvesting and treated wastewater.

Enhance water retention in the soil through farming methods and systems such as residue management, conservation tillage, zai, bunds, contouring and field levelling. This will reduce the amount of water that needs to be applied to the field.

For the future new technologies such as micro-scale solar desalination units or nanotechnology hold some potential. But whether at the frontiers of technology or tried and tested, many of the solutions to agriculture’s dependence on water require knowledge, research and access to forms of innovation. Investing in participatory research that meets the water and production needs of local farmers is therefore critical to reducing water use in agriculture and building the sector’s sustainability.

For a wider analysis of global water security click here.

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Comments

  1. This was a very interesting article. We have several coconut seedling farms in India. Maybe someone can post a few water saving tips now and then to our facebook page. http://www.facebook.com/pages/Deejay-Farm-Coconut-Seedling-Farm/137167996461059?ref=hl

  2. Reblogged this on drbausman's Blog.

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