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Facing up to the future

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Water for agriculture in an era of climate uncertainty

Globally, the negative impacts of future climate change on freshwater systems are expected to outweigh the benefits

As negotiators in Paris finalize the latest global treaty to tackle climate change, a timely new book explores the likely future for water in agriculture. Under current trends, the demand for food will double over the next half century. About 70% of all freshwater withdrawals are used to produce food, so the impacts of climate change on rainfall, river flow and groundwater will translate into impacts on agricultural production. As a result, say the book’s editors, significant improvements are necessary in agricultural water management now to reduce the vulnerability of the world’s poorest people.

“Globally, the negative impacts of future climate change on freshwater systems are expected to outweigh the benefits,” says IWMI’s Vladimir Smakhtin, one of the books editors. “By the 2050s, the area of land subject to increasing water stress is projected to be more than double that with decreasing water stress. In particular, the frequency of short droughts is likely to increase in the presently dry regions.”

The amount of land suitable for farming will also be hit. Under some computer models, the area deemed ‘highly suitable’ for crops is likely to shrink by a fifth. Similarly, more land will be classified as ‘marginally suitable’ or ‘moderately suitable’, with increases of 3.8 million km2 and 1.6 million km2, respectively.

Resources are sufficient – if managed smartly

The prospects sound alarming, but with careful resource management, say the editors, many of the worst effects of climate change can be mitigated.

Read the full article: IWMI

Published by

Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.