Asia Heading For Chronic Food Shortages Without Better Water Management, Report Says

rice paddy photo

photo: David Wiley via flickr

Last week we learned that India has some got some serious groundwater problems due to extensive irrigation of agriculture. Now, scientists meeting at World Water Week in Sweden are reinforcing and broadening that point, saying that without serious reforms to the way many Asian countries manage water chronic food shortages may result -- even without the impact of climate change on water supplies:Food & Feed Demand to Double by 2050
In Revitalizing Asia's Irrigation, the International Water Management Institute and the UN Food and Agricultural Organization say that food and animal feed demand in Asia is expected to double by 2050 and that relying on trade to supply this will "impose a huge and politically untenable burden on the economies of many developing countries."

The BBC quotes report co-author Tushaar Shah:

Without water productivity gains, South Asia would need 57% more water for irrigated agriculture and East Asia 70% more. Given the scarcity of land and water, and growing water needs for cities, such a scenario is untenable.

Changing Dietary Habits Increasing Water Usage
Part of the problem is increasing demand for meat, the report says:
Providing the foods that people now demand requires shifts in agriculture. In many places, such as China, the demand for meat is increasing. Producing food for a meat or milk-based diet requires more water than for a vegetarian one. Meanwhile, growing a range of crops requires a different irrigation regime than that needed to supply water to large areas planted with one or two cereals.

Irrigation Methods Need Complete Overhaul
The solution to all this the report says is 1) modernizing irrigation systems that in many areas are 30-40 years old; 2) support farmers initiatives using locally-adapted and appropriate irrigation technologies; 3) tap into public-private partnerships to provide incentives to improve water delivery efficiency (though it is admitted that this is "largely untested"; 4) expand education through engineering programs, workshops for farmers, etc.; 5) invest outside the irrigation sector in areas which influence it.

Read the whole report: Revitalizing Asia's Irrigation
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