Event objective

The objective of the event is to examine the role of water in securing world food supply.


Worldwide, the application of water and its managed use has been an essential factor in raising productivity of agriculture and ensuring predictability in outputs. Water is essential to bring forth the potential of the land and to enable improved varieties of both plants and animals to make full use of other yield-enhancing production factors. By raising productivity, sustainable water management (especially when combined with adequate soil husbandry) helps to ensure better production both for direct consumption and for commercial disposal, so enhancing the generation of necessary economic surpluses for uplifting rural economies.

Since the 1960s, global food production has at least kept pace with world population growth, providing more food per capita at generally declining prices, but at a cost to water resources. At the close of the 20th century, agriculture used a global average of 70% of all water withdrawals, and FAO estimates that global abstractions for irrigation will grow by some 14% by 2030.While this is a much slower rate than experienced in the 1990's, water scarcity stress is projected to grow locally and, in some cases, regionally, constraining local food production.

Improved agricultural water use in irrigated and rainfed agriculture will play a key-role in coping with the expected water scarcity stress. Improving water use or water productivity is often understood in terms of obtaining as much crop as possible per volume of water - "more crop for the drop". Money-wise farmers may prefer to target a maximum income per unit of water - "more dollars for the drop", while community leaders and policy makers may aim for maximum employment and income generated through the agricultural sector - "more jobs for the drop". Thus in a broad sense, increasing productivity in agriculture can result in more benefit for every unit of water withdrawn from natural water sources. However, the resulting shifts in agricultural water use require responses by governments to ensure the productive and sustainable use of the land and water resources upon which agriculture depends.

Points for discussion

The event will allow participants to discuss how to:

1. Ensure water supply for a secure and economically viable agriculture
Agricultural water use is consumptive and irrigated agriculture will by necessity claim large quantities of water to produce food. However, water-saving technologies are available and can significantly reduce waste. Desalinized and waste water are recognised as non conventional water sources. Solutions for sustainable allocation of water among users have to be secured.

2. Develop new approaches in agricultural water management
Huge investments have been made to develop existing irrigation systems. However operation/maintenance and rehabilitation are under-funded in the public and private sectors. Reforming efforts include the institutional changes with the transfer of operation and maintenance responsibilities to water users' associations, and new cost-recovery approaches.

3. Develop pro-poor and affordable agricultural water management
Low cost and small scale options in water harvesting, irrigation and drainage are necessary for small rural communities, who may have to rely only on manual and animal power (e.g. treadle pumps).

4. Mitigation of environmental and health impacts of new and existing systems
Poor irrigation and drainage have led to water loss and also to the spread of water borne diseases, waterlogging and salinization of nearly 10% of the world's irrigation land, thereby reducing productivity. Improved design and management of irrigation and drainage systems is a priority.


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FAO, 2002