Posts Tagged ‘Irrigation’

Aug29

Cities Can Work with Farmers to Meet Growing Need for Water

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By Sophie Wenzlau 

As world population grows, meeting the demand for clean freshwater can be a serious challenge, especially for arid and semi-arid cities such as Los Angeles and Dubai. According to a report published in Water Policy earlier this year, cities around the world are struggling to access the water they need to support continued growth.

Half of all cities with populations greater than 100,000 are located in water-scarce basins. (Photo Credit: Business Insider)

According to UN Water, world population is projected to grow from 6.9 billion in 2010 to 8.3 billion in 2030 and to 9.1 billion in 2050. At the same time, urban population will increase by 2.9 billion, to a total of 6.3 billion in 2050, as a result of urban population growth and movement into urban centers. Growth in cities has led to a dramatic increase in urban water use; since 1950, global water use in cities has increased five-fold as a result of increasing domestic and industrial demand.

To meet the growing demand for water, many cities—such as San Antonio, Adelaide, Phoenix, and San Diego—have had to supplement the use of local water resources with significant water imports from major rivers or aquifers. As a result, urban water use has contributed to the depletion of many important freshwater sources, such as the Colorado, Yellow, and Amu Darya rivers, and resulted in significant ecological damage.

In response to increasing water scarcity, some cities are promoting innovation, efficiency, and conservation in water use. For example, the city of San Diego—which is largely dependent on the depleted Colorado River—has taken steps to promote conservative use of local water resources and decrease reliance on imported water by diversifying local water supplies. In San Diego, these measures have included the development of a water recycling system, a desalinization system, urban conservation policy, and, most notably, an urban-rural water conservation partnership in which the city compensates farmers in surrounding areas for implementing agricultural water conservation measures.

According to Water Policy, San Diego’s agricultural conservation partnership is an innovative model worthy of consideration by other cities, for “half of all cities with populations greater than 100,000 are located in water-scarce basins, and in these basins agricultural water consumption accounts for more than 90 percent of all freshwater depletions.” San Diego’s model is innovative in that it frees up water for metropolitan consumption by addressing inefficiencies in the region’s most water-intensive sector. According to the San Diego County Water Authority, agricultural conservation measures are expected to provide 37 percent of city water supply by 2020.

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Feb28

To Combat Scarcity, Increase Water-Use Efficiency in Agriculture

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By Sophie Wenzlau

This blog was originally published as part of an online consultation organized by The Broker  on the role of water in the post-2015 development agenda. Click here to read the original post. 

Photo Credit: World Bank

The South Centre has argued that “as oil conflicts were central to 20th century history, the struggle over freshwater is set to shape a new turning point in the world order.” Water scarcity, which already affects one in three people on earth, is set to increase in magnitude and scope as the global population grows, increasing affluence drives up demand, and the climate changes. According to the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), “half the world’s population will be living in areas of high water stress by 2030, including 75 to 250 million people in Africa.” In the Sahel region of Africa, desertification caused by overgrazing, unsustainable farming, and the collection of wood for fuel is already responsible for systemic crop failure, soil erosion, and devastating famine. Failure to act on water scarcity will lead to more of the same.

Though water scarcity will surely play a defining role in the 21st century, the assumption that ‘water wars’ are inevitable is overly deterministic and assumes the worst of people. Historically, the need to manage trans-group or trans-boundary water basins has actually tended to facilitate cooperation between groups with competing interests. In the last fifty years, there have been only 37 incidents of acute conflict over water, while during the same period, approximately 295 international water agreements were negotiated and signed. According to Nidal Salim, director of the Global Institute for Water, Environment, and Health, the potential to peacefully overcome water scarcity does exist; it depends on political will, trust between nations, and real manifestations of cooperation.

To peacefully overcome water scarcity, leaders at all levels must prioritize efforts to cooperatively increase water-use efficiency, reduce water waste, and manage demand.

Increasing efficiency in irrigation—which is responsible for the consumption of 70 percent of the world’s total water withdrawal—would be a sensible place to start. Improved water management in agriculture could increase global water availability, catalyze development, reduce soil erosion, and lead to increased and diversified agricultural yields, augmenting our ability to feed a population projected to reach 9 billion by 2050.

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Dec04

Supporting Climate-Friendly Food Production

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By Laura Reynolds

This summer, record temperatures and limited rainfall parched vast areas of U.S. cropland, and with Earth’s surface air temperature projected to rise 0.69 degrees Celsius by 2030, global food production will be even more unpredictable. Although agriculture is a major driver of human-caused climate change, contributing an estimated 25 to 30 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, when done sustainably it can be an important key to mitigating climate change.

Agroforestry is one practice that can reduce greenhouse gas emissions while adapting to the effects of climate change. (Photo credit: Christensen Fund)

Because of its reliance on healthy soil, adequate water, and a delicate balance of gases such as carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere, farming is the human endeavor most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. But agriculture’s strong interrelationships with both climatic and environmental variables also make it a significant player in reducing climate-altering emissions as well as helping the world adapt to the realities of a warming planet.

The good news is that agriculture can hold an important key to mitigating climate change. Practices such as using animal manure rather than artificial fertilizer, planting trees on farms to reduce soil erosion and sequester carbon, and growing food in cities all hold huge potential for reducing agriculture’s environmental footprint.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that the global agricultural sector could potentially reduce and remove 80 to 88 percent of the carbon dioxide that it currently emits. By adopting more-sustainable approaches, small-scale agriculture in developing countries has the potential to contribute 70 percent of agriculture’s global mitigation of climate change. And many of these innovations have the potential to be replicated, adapted, and scaled up for application on larger farms, helping to improve water availability, increase diversity, and improve soil quality, as well as mitigate climate change. (more…)

Nov27

Global Irrigated Area at Record Levels, But Expansion Slowing

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By Judith Renner

In 2009, the most recent year for which global data are available from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), 311 million hectares in the world was equipped for irrigation but only 84 percent of that area was actually being irrigated, according to new research conducted for our Vital Signs Online service. As of 2010, the countries with the largest irrigated areas were India (39 million hectares), China (19 million), and the United States (17 million).

Water withdrawals for irrigation will need to rise by 11 percent in the next three decades to meet crop production demands. (Photo Credit: Julie Braun)

The irrigation sector claims about 70 percent of the freshwater withdrawals worldwide. Irrigation can offer crop yields that are two to four times greater than is possible with rainfed farming, and it currently provides 40 percent of the world’s food from approximately 20 percent of all agricultural land.

Since the late 1970s, irrigation expansion has experienced a marked slowdown. The FAO attributes the decline in investment to the unsatisfactory performances of formal large canal systems, corruption in the construction process, and acknowledgement of the environmental impact of irrigation projects.

The increasing availability of inexpensive individual pumps and well construction methods has led to a shift from public to private investment in irrigation, and from larger to smaller-scale systems. The takeoff in individual groundwater irrigation has been concentrated in India, China, and much of Southeast Asia. The idea of affordable and effective irrigation is attractive to poor farmers worldwide, with rewards of higher outputs and incomes and better diets.

The option is often made even more appealing with offers of government subsidies for energy costs of running groundwater pumps and support prices of irrigated products. In India’s Gujarat state, for example, energy subsidies are structured so that farmers pay a flat rate, no matter how much electricity they use. But with rising numbers of farmers tapping groundwater resources, more and more aquifers are in danger of overuse.

If groundwater resources are overexploited, aquifers will be unable to recharge fast enough to keep pace with water withdrawals. It should be noted that not all aquifers are being pumped at unsustainable levels—in fact, 80 percent of aquifers worldwide could handle additional water withdrawals. One troubling aspect of groundwater withdrawals is that the world’s major agricultural producers (particularly India, China, and the United States) are also the ones responsible for the highest levels of depletion.a

Another problem with pumping water from aquifers and redirecting flows for irrigation is the impact on delicate environmental balances. Salinization occurs when water moves past plant roots to the water table due to inefficient irrigation and drainage systems; as the water table rises, it brings salts to the base of plant roots. Plants take in the water, and the salts are left behind, degrading soil quality and therefore the potential for growth.

A potentially better alternative is drip irrigation, a form of micro-irrigation that waters plants slowly and in small amounts either on the soil surface or directly on roots. Using these techniques has the potential to reduce water use by as much as 70 percent while increasing output by 20–90 percent. Within the last two decades, the area irrigated using drip and other micro-irrigation methods has increased 6.4-fold, from 1.6 million hectares to over 10.3 million hectares.

With predictions of a global population exceeding 9 billion by 2050, demand for higher agricultural output will put more strain on already fragile water reserves. Even without the effects of climate change, water withdrawals for irrigation will need to rise by 11 percent in the next three decades to meet crop production demands. Reconciling increasing food demands with decreasing water security requires efficient systems that produce more food with less water and that minimize water waste. Intelligent water management is crucial especially in the face of climate change, which will force the agriculture industry to compete with the environment for water.

Further highlights from the report:

  1. The share of the area equipped for irrigation that is actually under irrigation ranges from 77 to 87 percent in Asia, Africa, the Americas, and in Oceania, but is only 59 percent in Europe. More reliable rainfall allows farmers in northern and eastern Europe to rely less on existing irrigation infrastructure than is the case in drier or more variable climates.
  2. Worldwide, the most commonly used irrigation technique is flood irrigation, even though plants often use only about half the amount of water applied in that system.
  3. India claims the lead in irrigated area worldwide, irrigating almost 2 million hectares of its land using drip and micro-irrigation techniques.

Judith Renner is a senior at Fordham University in New York.

Aug02

12 Innovations to Combat Drought, Improve Food Security, and Stabilize Food Prices

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By Seyyada A. Burney

Soaring temperatures and low precipitation could not occur at a worse time for many farmers in the United States. Intensifying drought conditions are affecting corn and soybean crops throughout the Midwest, raising grain prices as well as concerns about future food prices. The U.S. Drought Monitor reports that 88 percent of this year’s corn crop and 77 percent of the soybean crop are now affected by the most severe drought since 1988. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is providing drought assistance to 1,584 counties across 32 states and warns of increased food prices in 2013 as a result of corn and soybean yield losses.

Drought is plaguing the United States, driving up food prices. (Photo credit: KPBS San Diego)

Corn is currently selling at around $9 a bushel, a 50 percent increase from June, while soybeans are selling at a record high of $17 a bushel as a result of drought-related losses in crop yields. The increased prices may benefit farmers in the short run, but consumers will experience the aftermath of price increases in the form of more money spent on poultry, beef, pork, and dairy products.

Nearly half of all domestic corn production is used as livestock feed, a trend that is now encouraging larger livestock producers to import corn from Brazil while smaller farmers must reduce herd sizes by sending more animals to the market. Most immediately, poultry prices are expected to rise 3.5 to 4.5 percent due to the animals’ more rapid growth and therefore more sudden response to higher feed prices. The price of beef is projected to rise the highest—4 to 5 percent by November—but at a slower rate, reflecting the longer growth period and higher feed requirements of beef cattle.

Higher U.S. grain prices could have an even greater impact worldwide. The United States is the world’s largest corn producer as well as a major exporter of crop-derived agricultural products. Declining domestic production could translate into exacerbated food security problems abroad. Countries that import corn and soybean byproducts or animal feed, such as Japan and Mexico, will be affected the most.

Climate change is making it increasingly important to protect local agriculture in the United States and address the issues underlying its vulnerability to natural disasters, such as drought.

The Nourishing the Planet (www.NourishingthePlanet.org) project highlights 12 agricultural innovations that can help make U.S. and global agriculture more drought resilient, as well as sustainable.

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May16

John Foley’s TED Talk Calls Agriculture “The Other Inconvenient Truth”

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By Cameron Scherer

When asked to identify the greatest threats to our 21st century lifestyle, most of us would likely choose war or economic crisis over farming. But according to Jonathan Foley, Director of the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota, agriculture is in fact the “single most powerful force unleashed on this planet since the end of the Ice Age.”

The Aral Sea used to be a source of irrigation and fish. Today, as a result of intensive agriculture, only a fraction of its original volume remains. (Photo credit: http://www.mirutadelaseda.com/)

In an online video of his recent TED Talk “The Other Inconvenient Truth,” Foley speaks in depth about the havoc modern agriculture is wreaking on our global environment. He says the Earth is running out of available land for farming. Today, we devote 16 million square kilometers – an area the size of South America – to croplands, and 30 million square kilometers – an area the size of Africa – to pasture for livestock. Together, this acreage comprises 40 percent of Earth’s land surface, an area 60 times greater than urban and suburban land combined.

As agriculture expands into deserts and other arid climates, our global demand for crops is putting a huge strain on our fresh-water resources as well. Seventy percent of the water we consume goes towards agriculture. Looking at it a different way, we use enough water to fill 7,305 Empire State Buildings every day.

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Mar19

Knowing is Saving: a Water Impact Calculator to Help Indian Farmers Conserve Water

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By Jerome Bossuet

Jerome Bossuet is a Marketing Communication and Multi-media Specialist with the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT). Bossuet is a specialist in international agriculture development and development communications with 15 years experience in Europe, Asia, and Africa. He is interested in agricultural innovations to help smallholder farmers in the South. Click here to read more articles in his blog “Innovation contre la faim (Innovation against hunger).

The world is in crisis-a food crisis with prices rising, one out of seven people go to bed hungry, and our water resources continue to deplete. This year’s World Water Day (22 March 2012) theme,  “Water and Food Security”,  debates both these issues and highlights the importance of agriculture and food in the water debate, given agriculture is the main water user.

Photo credit: ICRISAT

Every 3 years since 1997, the World Water Forum has been bringing together water experts and policymakers, private sector and civil society actors, and farmer organisations, interested in the future of our precious and limited freshwater resources. Until now the forum has raised the key problems of water scarcity, water pollution, and water usage conflicts around the world.

But this year, the forum organisers in Marseille claim that it is time for action-it is time to find solutions, to fight this looming water crisis.

One important challenge in the coming years is to invent new ways of farming, able to produce more with less water, as explained in my previous post on green water.

But how do we make this happen rapidly, in particular for the resource-poor farmers in the Global South?

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Mar15

A Little Green Water Rain Can Go a Long Way and Feed Many More

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By Jerome Bossuet

Jerome Bossuet is a Marketing Communication and Multi-media Specialist with the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics. Bossuet is a specialist in international agriculture development and development communications with 15 years experience in Europe, Asia, and Africa. He is interested in agricultural innovations to help smallholder farmers in the South. Click here to read more articles in his blog “Innovation contre la faim (Innovation against hunger).

Our bread, meat, milk and bananas, whatever we eat demands water—more or less depending on the type of food. Agriculture is the primary water user reaching up to 90 percent of water used in some regions.

Photo credit: ICRISAT

With a rapidly growing population (already more than 7 billion people), water availability per capita reduces drastically. For instance, in India, water availability per inhabitant dropped from 5,177 m3 in 1951 (for 361 million inhabitants) to 1,820 m3 in 2001. It will drop further to 1,140 m3 in 2050 with a total estimated population of 1.64 billion.

There is a correlation between poverty, hunger, and water stress. The UN Millennium Project has identified the “hot spot” countries in the world with the highest number of malnourished people. These countries coincide closely with semi-arid and dry sub humid hydroclimates in the world, savannahs and steppe ecosystems, where rainfed agriculture is the dominating source of food, and where water constitutes a key limiting factor to crop growth.

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Jan11

Nourishing the Planet TV: World Neighbors, Communities, and Sustainable Agriculture

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In this week’s episode, we discuss World Neighbors, a non-profit that works in farming communities around the world to teach sustainable agricultural practices, including drip irrigation and terracing techniques. With help from World Neighbors, these farmers are learning how to overcome challenges, including drought and poor soil, to feed their families, while conserving valuable natural resources.

Video: http://youtu.be/vhtMtOWmttw

To read more about World Neighbors work, see: Innovation of the Week: World Neighbors Relies on Community Participation for Sustainable Agriculture.

To purchase your own copy of State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet, please click HERE. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.

Dec14

Farmer Heroes: Making a Difference

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By Jenny Beth Dyess 

Groundswell International, founded in 2009, is a non-profit organization working in seven countries to support farmers and agroecological farming practices from the bottom up. Determined to strengthen rural communities, the organization works mainly with smallholder farmers giving them the opportunity to learn from one another and spread successful farming practices. They also have various other projects aimed at promoting women’s leadership, managing natural resources, and promoting community health.

Jacques Jille, leader of the Peasant Organization of La Victoire (OPLD). (Photo Credit: Groundswell International)

By giving farmers a safe space to learn, try new techniques on a small scale, share results, and organize themselves, Groundswell is helping achieve their mission of overcoming poverty, inequality and ecological destruction around the world.

The Farmer Hero series highlights farmers who have come alongside Groundswell’s mission and are working hard to make an impact on their community by working directly with other farmers for the benefit of all. Here are a couple modern day farmer heroes:

Jacques Jille, head of community-based Peasant Organization of La Victoire (OPLD) in northern Haiti, is passionate about his country and his people. He is  helping Haitian farm families obtain equitable living standards. OPLD teaches farmers about soil erosion and how to increase their yields  by using practices such as Farmer-Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR) . Jacques is also working with OPLD to reforest the community and has already helped save 1,160 hectares from soil erosion. To read more about agriculture on the island of Hispaniola see: Looking to Agriculture to Help Rebuild in Haiti, Alleviating Hunger in Haiti with the Help of Ancient Amazonians, and Earth Sangha announces “Rising Forests Coffee.” 

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