Water and agriculture

Water is vital. No one doubts the importance of having access to safe drinking water in one’s immediate vicinity. But water is so much more than just drinking water.

Testing ground for growing vegetables in Belladère, Haiti © Dieter Telemans

For example, 70% of all fresh water temporarily stored on earth, diverted or pumped is destined for agriculture. In quite a few dry or arid countries (large parts of Africa, Asia, Southern Europe, North and Latin America the percentage rises to about 90%. Still, only irrigation agriculture is included in this, not the water used in rain dependent agriculture.

Agriculture is a water glutton. According to the UN food organization FAO, despite the high world food production 860 million people worldwide still suffer from malnutrition. By 2030, the FAO expects a 55% increase in food demand, and a 70% increase by 2050. To be able to feed 9 billion people and more in the decades to come, the current grain production of 2.1 billion tons will have to increase to at least 3 billion tons, according to the food organization. The current meat production of 200 million tons will have to double in that stretch of time . About 20% more fresh water would be needed for this by 2030 – any actions against the consequences of global warming left aside. 

Will there still be enough water for agriculture in the near future? After all, the industry also demands more water to meet the needs of more and more people. And nature itself also has its rights: it also needs sufficient water.

Water resources are becoming ever more scarce because they need to be shared and divided among an increasing number of people and applications.