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Improved water management and food production

Photo credit: SciDevNet

Copyright: Ray Witlin/World Bank

Improved irrigation backed to halve food gap

With improved water management, it’s theoretically possible to increase food production without expanding the area of land being farmed.” Peter McCornick, International Water Management Institute, Sri Lanka

by Paula Park

Speed read

  • Adopting well-known methods could boost food production by 41 per cent
  • This could provide half the calories needed to end hunger by 2050
  • The SDGs do not explicitly mention agricultural water management

If all farmers adopted well-known water management methods, global food production could expand as much as 41 per cent, scientists have shown.

Scientists modelled 35 “ambitious yet achievable” water management strategies and found that improved irrigation could halve the world’s food gap, researchers write in a paper published in the journal Environmental Research Letters. This means the potential increase in crop yields could provide half the calories needed to eradicate hunger worldwide by 2050, the paper says.

To gauge the impact of crop-water management techniques, the model considers rain and other climate data from 1901 to 2009 and simulates different scenarios of improvements in irrigation, conservation of soil moisture and rainwater harvesting
Under the most optimistic scenario, production could increase “by more than 55 per cent in many river basins between the Middle East, central Asia, China, Australia, southern Africa and North and South America”, the researchers say.

Peter McCornick, deputy director-general of the International Water Management Institute in Sri Lanka, who was not involved in the research, says: “The message I would take from this [paper] is that with improved water management, it’s theoretically possible to increase food production without expanding the area of land being farmed.”

Published by

Willem Van Cotthem

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