Water management in agriculture faces a number of challenges that will affect the availability and reliability of future water resources. Improving water use efficiency is paramount. Energy consumption in irrigated agriculture results primarily from water pumping requirements. Estimates suggest that by the end of the 20th Century, as much as 20 percent of energy worldwide was used by pumps of various types. This high energy use highlighted the need to improve the efficiency of the pumps and pump motors. While there is no breakdown of what percentage was used to pump groundwater, it is possible that it was one or two percent, and almost certain that at least 75 percent of this usage was for pumping groundwater for irrigation.

Efficiency of irrigation systems

The implementation of effective solutions for saving energy and water requires an understanding of the relationship between water application and energy use and the trade-offs of using one particular irrigation method over another. The Water Programme at FAO maintains a strong technical expertise in water management, with special focus on agricultural productivity, poverty alleviation and environmental sustainability. It offers technical assistance to Members States in a variety of areas, including the design and implementation of on-farm irrigation systems; the identification and adaptation of irrigation techniques; the development of water resources through small-scale irrigation and appropriate water control technologies; and best practices for sustainable water use and conservation (including dryland management) water harvesting.

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Assessing energy performance with MASSCOTE

Agriculture is in constant evolution, and irrigation needs to adapt to new, more stringent requirements. The supply of water within large irrigated systems needs to become much more reliable and flexible. To respond to this need, FAO has developed a multi-language training package for modernization and rehabilitation of large-scale irrigation schemes. The Mapping Systems and Services for Canal Operation Techniques (MASSCOTE) approach has been applied in 20 countries. MASSCOTE is a step-by-step methodology for evaluating and analysing different components of an irrigation system and develop a modernization plan.

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Water and energy production

Water is used to generate hydroelectricity and grow feedstock for the production of biofuels. Water for energy currently amounts to about eight percent of global water withdrawal. The recent surge in liquid biofuel production has been driven by a number of factors, including, national goals for achieving energy autonomy, concerns over the impacts of greenhouse gas emissions and high fossil fuel prices.

In the framework of the Bioenergy and Food Security Project (BEFS) and the Environmental Impact Analysis Programme (BIAS), FAO studies the potential impact of biofuel production on water resources and water quality to help countries develop fair and sustainable bioenergy production policies.

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last updated:  Tuesday, February 5, 2013