12 March 2003, Rome -- Agriculture
in developing countries will need to produce more crop per litre
of water, promote equitable access to water and conserve
precious water resources, FAO said today.
At the same time, farmers in developing countries will
face increasing competition for scarce freshwater resources from
industry and domestic users, FAO said in a new study
(Unlocking the water potential of
agriculture) published on the eve of the World Water
Forum in Kyoto (16-23 March 2003).
"While there is no global water crisis, the
serious water and food security problems in some developing
countries and regions need to be urgently addressed,"
"If we want to avoid a
future food crisis, we need more investments to achieve
productivity gains in agriculture in developing countries using
existing and new technologies. Political will is needed to
create the enabling environment for increasing water
One in five
developing countries will face water shortages by 2030. The Near
East, North Africa and parts of Asia are subject to water
scarcity and stress.
Agriculture is by
far the biggest water user, accounting for some 70 percent of
all water withdrawals (industry: 20%, domestic: 10%). While the
daily drinking water needs of humans are very small - four
litres per person - the water required to produce a
person's daily food is much higher: it varies between 2000
and 5000 litres.
the international debate on water problems tends to overlook the
important role of agriculture, the biggest water user,"
said Kenji Yoshinaga, Director of the FAO Land and Water
farmer in an arid developing country improves water efficiency
on average by 1%, he or she will gain around 200 000 litres of
freshwater per hectare and year. This amount of water would be
sufficient to provide drinking water for more than 150
people," Yoshinaga said.
"If agriculture manages to increase water
productivity, the pressure on precious water resources can be
reduced and water can be released to other sectors. It is our
hope that the World Water Forum in Kyoto will move the
discussion on agriculture and water management up on the
political and development agenda."
Growing needs and water use
FAO projects that world food production
needs to be increased by around 60% to feed an additional 2
billion people by 2030. Agricultural water use will be a key
element for increasing food production, especially in many
developing countries, where currently around 800 million people
are suffering from chronic hunger.
expected that in 2030 agricultural water withdrawal for
irrigation will be some 14 % higher than today, to meet food
production needs. This represents an annual growth rate of 0.6%,
down from 1.9% over the last 40 years. The developing countries
are likely to expand their irrigated area from 202 million ha to
242 million ha by 2030.
Africa alone has a
potential of 40 million ha for irrigation agriculture, it uses
currently only 12 million ha.
percent of the developing countries food crops are grown under
agriculture relying on rain, which takes place on 80 percent of
the arable land. Irrigation agriculture produces 40 percent of
the food crops on 20 percent of arable land. Much of the future
food production increase in developing countries will come from
flexible water supply
national or state irrigation agencies have been able to irrigate
extensive agricultural land. However, decision processes were
rather top-down and bureaucratic, giving little flexibility to
farmers and their needs, the report said.
Unreliable water deliveries have often been the main
reason for farmers to turn to groundwater, leading in many
regions to overexploitation. In many areas, over-abstraction of
groundwater is severe and water levels are declining atrates of
1-3 metres per year.
One of the first
priorities of modernizing water services should therefore be
more reliable and flexible water delivery to respond to farmers
demands, FAO said. "Ultimately, it is the users who
must decide on the kind of service they require and partly pay
Irrigation technology needs
to be upgraded, irrigation institutions need to become more
service oriented and water users need to participate. In
addition, water-saving technologies should be promoted. Drip
irrigation, for example, which puts water where it is needed,
when correctly applied, is more efficient than flooding fields
and using sprinklers.
pro-poor technologies, like treadle or mechanical pumps for
small-scale irrigation projects have proved to be successful in
helping poor farmers to increase crop production and increase
income, according to FAO.
Investments urgently needed
FAO pointed out that despite the need for
more investments, current investment in water development and
research has sharply declined. Investments would be needed to
develop more productive crops, to improve agricultural practices
and to support capacity building for farmers and water users. In
addition, investments in roads and storage are required to make
local markets for agricultural produce more effective. Here,
private investment should play a bigger role, FAO said.
Farmers and households need stable land
tenure and water use rights that must be matched by access to
rural credit and finance and the dissemination of technology and
good practices in water use.
shoulder its environmental responsibilities much more
effectively by minimizing the negative environmental impacts of
irrigated production. It should seek to restore the productivity
of natural ecosystems.
no single solution for maintaining food security when water is
scarce," the FAO report said. "All sources of
water (rainwater, canal water, groundwater and wastewater) are
important. They can all be developed under the right
conditions." The best combination of land, crop and
water should respond to the characteristics of each
Information Officer, FAO
(+39) 06 570 53105
In Kyoto: (+81) 90 6797 0148