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Irrigation area visualizations

Irrigation is a crucial component to food security. While irrigated agriculture represents 20 percent of the total cultivated land in the world, it contributes 40 percent of the total food produced. In order to better understand irrigation at a global scale, AQUASTAT is pleased to present the following visualizations:

  1. Area equipped for irrigation (Figure 1)
  2. Irrigation technologies (Figure 2, with a pop-up for each of the three technologies, and Figure 3)
  3. Sources of water for irrigation (Figure 4, with a pop-up for each of the three sources, and Figure 5)

Note that the unit for all figures is thousand hectares (not irrigation water volume).

1. Area equipped for irrigation

In AQUASTAT, the area equipped for irrigation consists of three types of irrigation:

  • Full control irrigation: Is the sum of (i) surface irrigation, (ii) sprinkler irrigation and (iii) localized irrigation. In section 2 below these three technologies are explained more in detail and displayed in a treemap in Figure 2 and its three pop-ups.
  • Equipped lowland areas: Includes: (i) cultivated wetland and inland valley bottoms that have been equipped with water control structures for irrigation and drainage; (ii) areas along rivers where cultivation occurs making use of structures built to retain receding flood water; (iii) developed mangroves and equipped delta areas.
  • Spate irrigation: Is an irrigation practice that uses the floodwaters of ephemeral streams (wadi) and channels it through short steep canals to bunded basins where cropping takes place. A dam is often built in the wadi to be able to divert the water whenever it arrives.

The area equipped for full control irrigation accounts for almost 99 percent of the total area equipped for irrigation. Equipped lowland areas represent only 0.3 percent of the total area equipped for irrigation and almost three-quarters of the equipped lowland area is located in Sub-Saharan Africa. Spate irrigation refers to 0.7 percent of the total area equipped for irrigation and occurs mainly in Northern Africa and the Near East, as well as Kazakhstan and Pakistan. In fact, more than two-thirds of the spate irrigation area is located in just these two countries.

Figure 1 shows that more than 40 percent of the area equipped for irrigation globally is located in two countries only: China and India.

FIGURE 1
Area equipped for irrigation

Click on the Figure to obtain the underlying data


2. Area equipped using full control irrigation technologies

Full control irrigation is by far the largest type of irrigation accounting for almost 99 percent of the total area equipped for irrigation.

Three different full control irrigation technologies can be distinguished:

  1. Surface irrigation: Is based on the principle of moving water over the land by simple gravity in order to moisten the soil. It can be subdivided into furrow, borderstrip and basin irrigation (including submersion irrigation of rice).
  2. Sprinkler irrigation: Consists of a pipe network, through which water moves under pressure before being delivered to the crop via sprinkler nozzles. The system basically simulates rainfall in that water is applied through overhead spraying.
  3. Localized irrigation: Consists of water being distributed under low pressure through a piped network, in a pre-determined pattern, and applied as a small discharge to each plant or adjacent to it.

The prevalence of each technology is displayed in a treemap in Figure 2. The area under each irrigation technology in each country is converted to a rectangle and plotted by technology: green is surface irrigation, blue is sprinkler irrigation and red is localized irrigation.

Globally, around 86 percent of the area equipped for full control irrigation is surface irrigation, 11 percent is sprinkler irrigation and 3 percent is localized irrigation.

Clicking on each colour block in the figure below (i.e. on the green block for surface irrigation, on the blue block for sprinkler irrigation, on the red block for localized irrigation) brings up new maps showing the distribution of that specific technology by country in Figure 2A, 2B and 2C.

FIGURE 2
Full control irrigation technologies

Click on coloured blocks for more information on the global distribution of the specific technology

Globally speaking, the overwhelming prevalence of surface irrigation (86 percent) can obscure the national reality and lead to the incorrect assumption that "all irrigation is surface irrigation". In order to combat that perception, Figure 3 shows the relative utilization of each technology, by country.

FIGURE 3
Distribution of area equipped for full control irrigation by technology within each country and globally

Click on the Figure to obtain the underlying data

3. Area equipped for irrigation by source of water

Globally, around 60 percent of the area equipped for irrigation is irrigated using surface water from rivers, lakes and reservoirs (pumping or diversion), 38 percent uses groundwater (shallow wells or deep tube wells) and 2 percent relies on direct use (i.e. with no or little prior dilution with freshwater during most of the year) of municipal wastewater. Figure 4 shows what this looks like at a global level.

Clicking on each colour block in the figure below (i.e. on the red block for surface water, on the blue block for groundwater, on the pink block for direct used of municipal wastewater) brings up new maps showing the distribution of that specific source by country in Figure 4A, 4B and 4C.

FIGURE 4
Area equipped for irrigation by source of water

Click on coloured blocks for more information on the global distribution of the specific source

Figure 5 shows the relative utilization of each source of water, by country. While most countries rely mainly on surface water for irrigation, in about 25 countries more than 50 percent of their area equipped for irrigation relies on groundwater.

FIGURE 5
Distribution of area equipped for irrigation by source of water within each country and globally

Click on the Figure to obtain the underlying data

[Date of preparation: February 2015]

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       Quote as: FAO. 2016. AQUASTAT website. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Website accessed on [yyyy/mm/dd].
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       Your access to AQUASTAT and use of any of its information or data is subject to the terms and conditions laid down in the User Agreement.