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.”

A new success story in India

Photo credit: IWMI-CGIAR

Adjusting a sprinkler, India. Photo: Alexis Liu, IWMI


Irrigation for the nation

How one Indian state is leading the way on farm water supply

India’s farmers have often struggled to secure reliable water supplies. For much of the country, rainfall is concentrated during the monsoon, leaving the rest of the year dry. If the monsoon fails, destitution can threaten many millions. The country’s media regularly highlights the tragic numbers of farmer suicides as a graphic illustration of just how precarious agriculture can be.

So the Indian Prime Minister’s recent promise of “har khet ko pani” (water to every farm) must have been welcomed by many. But just how realistic is this? Can publicly funded irrigation policy really give every smallholder a guaranteed supply of water?

In response to the new announcement, the IWMI-Tata Water Policy Research Program had undertaken an analysis of irrigation reform in several Indian states. A synthesis of their findings has just been published and cautions that money needs to be carefully targeted if farmers are to truly benefit.

“Spending billions of rupees on grand irrigation projects is risky,” says IWMI’s Tushaar Shah, one of the report’s authors. “But some states have managed to invest effectively in irrigation improvements, and it is important that those lessons are shared.”


Power to the farmers

Firstly a distinction needs to be made between large public canal irrigation, and smaller on-farm investments such as tube wells and pump sets. Farmers want as much control over their water supply as possible, which generally makes wells and ponds preferable to big canal schemes, which have often been poorly managed. The downside is that on-farm irrigation usually requires power to run water pumps – a commodity that can be in short supply in India’s chaotic electricity supply network.

Read the full article: IWMI

A reduced early season irrigation schedule

Photo credit: Nature World News

A pecan orchard used in a research study demonstrated pecan trees can tolerate a 38 percent reduction in irrigation water use with no significant effect on nut yield or quality. (Photo : Lenny Wells.)

New Irrigation Strategies Combat Georgia Water Shortages And Aid Pecan Farmers

Researchers from the University of Georgia have developed water-saving protocols for farmers looking to supply their pecan orchards with the ample amounts of water they require during their kernel-filling stage, which generally falls between August or September. Georgia is considered the largest pecan-producing state in the U.S. However, the state only receives an average rainfall of about 127 cm annually.
Even given the rain shortfall, Dr. Lenny Wells, author of the recent study from the Department of Horticulture at the University of Georgia, says current irrigation schedules are extremely outdated. In fact, he’s noted that procedures used today are based on a 1985 study related to plant water stress, evapotranspiration and soil water depletion generated in more arid climates.
Read the full story: Nature World News

Ethiopia homes in on household irrigation

Photo credit: IWMI-CGIAR

A woman tends to crops. She belongs to a self-sustaining women’s cooperative which has helped her and many others build a secure livelihood through funding small scale agricultural projects. Photo: Petterik Wiggers/Panos Pictures

Ambitious strategy aims to improve the lives of millions

Research conducted by the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) has been highlighted as influential in an ambitious initiative of the Ethiopian government to boost food production and the incomes of five million farmers.

Realizing the potential of household irrigation in Ethiopia, a working strategy document from the Ministry of Agriculture and Ethiopian Agricultural Transformation Agency, outlines specific plans for agricultural development to complement the government’s vision of achieving middle-income status by 2025.

Agriculture in Ethiopia accounts for half of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) and 85% of employment. However, around 95% of smallholder farms rely solely on rainfall. According to the report, household irrigation involving simple water-lifting and water-saving technologies, together with the cultivation of high-value horticultural crops, could more than double farmers’ incomes where implementation is possible.

The strategy proposes “27 independent systemic interventions to increase the adoption and effectiveness of household irrigation technologies and build a vibrant and self-sustaining household irrigation sector.”

These measures take into account every step of the value chain, including research and policy development, technology access and adoption, input production and distribution for the cultivation of high-value crops, on-farm production, post-harvest handling, and market links.

Furthermore, they will “take into account the continuing challenges of gender sensitivity, water resource management and sustainable impact.”

Read the full article: IWMI

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