Can we have water scarcity and improved agricultural productivity?
Oslo, February 04, 2014
Agriculture currently accounts for about 70% of global freshwater use and increasingly competes with industrial and household water demands. Many regions of the world already face severe water scarcity today. Meeting a growing world population's increased demand for food requires a sustainable intensification of agricultural production, which in turn will further increase agricultural water requirements. Therefore, any increase in agricultural productivity will have to go hand in hand with improvements in agricultural water use efficiency.
According to a report by the “2030 Water Resource Group”, water withdrawals for agriculture were about 3,100 billion m3 in 2010. Without any increase in water use efficiency withdrawals for agriculture are estimated to reach 4,500 billion m3 in 2030. The existing sustainable global supply of water is calculated to be about 4,200 billion m3.
In a business-as-usual scenario, agriculture alone, without taking into account the growing demand for industry and households, would require more water by 2030 than is sustainably available. It is therefore not possible that agricultural crop production in 2030 can operate at the current level of water use efficiency.
The agriculture sector is the key to finding the solution
As a global fertilizer company Yara is engaged in improving agricultural productivity. “Improvements in crop productivity due to fertilizer application also influence water productivity, i.e. yield per liter transpired by crops,” says Head of Yara Downstream, Egil Hogna. “We firmly believe that the increase in agricultural productivity that is needed to meet the growing demand for food can be achieved with almost the same amount of water withdrawal that is currently used,” Hogna says.
Water use efficient agriculture is crucial for sustainable food production, in rain fed areas to ensure maximum replenishment of fresh water levels, and in dry areas to ensure minimum requirements for irrigation water. “With agriculture accounting for 70% of global freshwater use, this is the sector where we need to look for solutions. In the debate about water use and scarcity, attention is mainly on issues such as irrigation technology, water retention of the soil and drought tolerant varieties,” Egil Hogna concludes.
What does your water footprint look like?
Hans Goossens works with New Business within the Yara Downstream segment and leads the investigation of improved agricultural practices. “We believe that it is important to remember the fundamental relationship between crop nutrition and water consumption by crops, and explore new knowledge and innovative technologies to further improve nutrient and water use efficiency,” Goossens says. Yara has launched research projects aimed at further investigating this relationship and developing innovative solutions for crop nutrition and water management under conditions of water scarcity.
“We engage in promoting full transparency on water use efficiency for agricultural purposes and raising awareness at the consumer level. There is need for an agreed calculation method of the environmental footprint of food products, and this calculation should also take into account the effect of proper crop nutrition and its effect on water use efficiency,” Hans Goossens says.
Read our position paper about Water Use Efficiency here: