Irrigation Management Transfer
Worldwide efforts and results
FAO Water Reports 32
by Carlos Garces-Restrepo
and Giovanni Muñoz
FAO Land and Water Division
and Douglas Vermillion
Former International Water Management Institute (IWMI) Senior Researcher
Agriculture is by far the largest user of the world’s water, soil and biodiversity. Today,
it finds itself at the centre of the debate on how to conserve the world’s environments.
It accounts for 70 percent of the total water withdrawals of the globe, a percentage
that is close to 85 percent when considering only the developing countries. As the
world’s welfare improves, demands from other water subsectors are increasing.
Domestic water supply, industry and manufacturing, and the environment itself, are
now in direct competition with the agriculture sector for increasingly scarce water
Thus, competition for water resources can only lead to the agriculture sector having
to review, and adjust accordingly, its share of water. The international community is
increasingly scrutinizing and monitoring water consumption patterns in agriculture
and its corresponding water-use allocation and efficiencies. The approximately
1 260 million ha under rainfed agriculture (corresponding to 80 percent of the world’s
total cultivated land) supply 60 percent of the world’s food; while the 277 million ha
under irrigation (the remaining 20 percent of land under cultivation) contribute the
other 40 percent of the food supplies. On average, crop yields per hectare under
irrigated agriculture are 2.3 times higher than those from rainfed areas. Together with
the figures from the previous paragraph, these numbers demonstrate that irrigated
agriculture has had, and will continue to have, an important role to play both in the
provision of the world’s food supply and beyond.
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