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Agriculture todayuses most of global water supply and faces competition with urban

development, industrial use, and ecosystem requirements. In many places, water price is

increasing but the volume and quality is declining. By 2030, the demands of two billion

additional people on earth will require 50% more water for food production (Mueller, 2009).

Global annual demand for water, based on estimates from 154 water basins or regions, is 4,208

billion m3. Of that, 512 billion m3is for home use, 693 billionm3 for industry, and by far the

largest proportion, 3,003 billion m3, is for agriculture. In other words, 71% of water use goes for

producing food (Boccaletti, Merle, and Martin, 2010).

Assuming 2% compound annual growth (a conservative assumption) and no improvement in

technology or water efficiency, water demand will grow to 6,906 billion m3by 2030. That equals

to a rise of 65% between 2005 and 2030. The fastest growth will be in water demand by

industry, but agriculture will still capture two-thirds of water demand. Agricultural water demand

itself will rise by 50% to meet a projected need for 60% increase in food supply. Global surface

freshwater supplies will remain essentially constant in 2005-2030, at 4,222 billion m3. This will

be the world¶s existing reliable water supply in 2030. The shortfall in the year 2030 will be huge:

almost 2,700 billion m3 (Boccaletti, Merle, and Martin, 2010).

Irrigation is important for stable and increasing crop yields. The International Food Policy

Research Institute chart below shows why developing countries especially²since most of their
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income comes from agriculture²are likely to expand their irrigated area from 202 million ha to

242 million ha by 2030. With the enlarging population pressure, agriculture in developing

countries will need to produce more crops per liter of water, promote as well as guaranteed

equitable access to water, and conserve precious water resources (FAO, 2003).

Picture 1.The estimated reliable water supply in 2030.

At the same time, farmers in developing countries will face increasing competition for scarce

freshwater resources from industry and domestic users. Even though currently there is no

global water crisis, there are serious water and food security problems in some developing

countries and regions.

Without improved irrigation methods, water crisis will come sooner than later. In India, water

competition between local farmers and Pepsi Bottling and Coca-Cola caused the companies to

close down their plants in 2004. Generally, farmers in developing countries use up to twice as

much water as industrialized countries but obtain crop yields of one third in size. Often more

irrigation water is lost due to evaporation than what is being consumed by both industrial and

domestic sectors combined. Obviously, these countries are more vulnerable to conflicts

concerning adequate water supply and quality. One in five developing countries is likely to face

water shortages by 2030 (Kijne, 2003).

In Jakarta, Indonesia, the underground aquifers are so depleted that seawater has seeped 15

kilometers inland, making the water supply saline and not useable for agriculture or industrial

purposes. Mexico City, having depleted the Mexico Valley aquifer, is now forced to pump its

water supply at a distance of 180 kilometers and up 1,000 meters from Cutzamala River at a

much higher cost. Developed countries also face the same problem: the Aral Sea in Russia has

been reduced from 68,000 km2 declined to 10% of its original size in 2007. The Ogallala aquifer

in the central U.S. is being depleted in rate of 12 km3 per year. This is worrying since at the

current rates of recharge (in average 0.5 inch per year) the aquifer would take 6000 years to fill

it naturally (Scientific American).

In 1960, two rivers that fed the Aral Sea, the Amu Darya and the Syr Darya, were diverted to

irrigate desert in an attempt to grow rice and cotton. Riceneeds water on average 247 lb/acre-

inch and cotton needs 199 lb/acre-inch (Zwart and Bastiaanssen, 2004). At that time, water

was available for these thirsty crops. However, given the resulting loss of water, growing rice

and cotton was not a sustainable choice.

In addition to the choice of crops and high water demand, the canals in Amu Darya and Syr

Darya were poorly built so that large amount of water leaked and evaporated. Around 30 to

75% of the water went to waste (NewScientist). A dam project was completed in 2005 as a part
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of ongoing effort to save the North Aral Sea. In 2008, this project succeeded in increasing the

lake water level by 79 feet from its lowest level in 2007.

In United States, 27% of the irrigated land is on the Great Plains, east of the Rocky Mountains.

Agriculture in this area depends on the Ogallala Aquifer system, which yields about 30% of the

nation¶s groundwater use for irrigation. It is estimated that the aquifer will run dry in 25 years

(BBC), making irrigated agriculture products in this region that worth $20 billion vanish from the

world¶s market. Additionally, if the population in the United States grows to 500 million in 2050,

the water supply would be reduced to about 700 gallons per day per capita. Currently,

Americans use about 1450 gallons per day per capita. This means that Americans would be

forced to use less water which should not be a big problem with technology available in 2050

(showers and toilets would be far more efficient, for instance). Besides, Americans consume

water at twice of the rate of other industrialized countries, implying that their inefficiency in using


The effects of this consumption, besides water scarcity and environmental problems, will

indirectly impact food production. Continuous water depletion, water evaporation and water

leaks in transporting increases salinity level. When poor quality water is pumped to irrigate

crops, salt will disrupt the transport of water from root to the leaf, interrupting the process of

photosynthesis. As sequence, the food production declines by a significant amount. Agriculture

in Russia, near the Aral Sea, experienced this decline. During 1992 to 2002, the gross value of

agricultural production decreased 35 to 40 percent (Wegren, 2005).

The incremental loss of water quality in irrigation systems may create another conflict. The

positive feedback loop (see below) could lead to an early water crisis particularly for developing

countries. More efficient systems, such as in United States can delay the effects of salinization.
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Ogallala aquifer, for instance, even though seems to be affected by this cycle, turns out to have

a steady decline of depletion. This conveys that United States technology is efficient enough

that it does not have to withdraw more water to grow more crops. In fact, agricultural production

in United States has increased by 5% average every year since 1990. In addition, total water

use in the United States decreased by 1% from 2000 to 2005 and per capita water use in the

nation has dropped nearly 30% from its peak in 1975 (Kenny, 2009).

Picture 2.The vicious cycle in irrigation (positive feedback loop with underlined outcome).

An obvious solution to an approaching water crisis is to improve irrigation systems. An efficient

irrigation system is a system that properly applies water to a field while minimizing water losses,

and ideally it only extracts an amount of water that can be recharged in a short time. In the

Western U.S. water use from the Colorado River has exceeded the rates of recharge and

resulted in drought since 1999. It should be noted that in a certain type of soil, surface irrigation

(flood irrigation in which water is turned into a field without control or furrow irrigation in which

the water is confined to furrows or ditches between rows of crops)²which is known for its

significant amount of water loss²appears to be affordable and efficient (low capital cost) in the

short to medium term.

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Developing countries are renowned of its furrow irrigation, in which water is wasted because of

soil absorption, water evaporation, and water logging. Lining canals, replacing or improving the

structures and closing the reservoir can result in significant water savings with decent costs.

Lining canals would prevent seepage and improving its structures would result in boosting the

ability to control water and reduce spillage. Covering a reservoir will repress water evaporation

greatly. The technology to cover reservoirs and line canals is unquestionably available in

developing countries. Lining canals has been done in industrialized countries and proven to

profit. A proposal to line canals in the Lost Hill Water District(California), states that by lining 1.1

miles of existing unlined canals, 95 acre-feet water are conserved per year. With cost of water

$66.52 per acre-foot, this project gives water savings benefit of $6,319 per year. The total

benefits to the district included the water conservation benefit, drainage benefit and

maintenance reduction benefit are estimated approximately $7,810 per year. The land owners

desire to see a 10-year payback. Using 6% discount rate, the present worth of $7,810 per year

in benefits over the next ten years is approximately 20% of the total project cost or $61,440.

Therefore the land owners are willing to cost share in the amount of $61,440 (J. Day, 2005).

Continued investments would also proceed into even better systems such as sprinkler and drip

irrigation (pressurized systems) which industrialized countries currently use. The good news is

that simple, low cost drip and sprinkler irrigation have been used in India successfully. IDE

(International Development Enterprises) offered to install a drip system for $600 per hectare and

micro-sprinkler system for $250 per hectare. IDE claimed that their system could save water

30-70% with resulting yield up to 30%.

Possible solutions should relay not only in investments, developing countries¶ farmers also need

to be educated on farm water conservation methods. The simplest goal is to increase water-

use and impending water crisis awareness. Agricultural practices such as avoiding over-
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fertilizing crops, controlling weeds that compete for water, and timing-planting to take

advantages of natural precipitation should be a general knowledge. Along with that, subsidies

and investment from developed economies and private foundations would help farmers to afford

the necessary technology. In 2009, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation made grants of $120

million for investments in better seeds, training, market access, and policies that support small


Several farm water conservation methods that have proven to be working efficiently are in use

in California.These methods include using a schedule when to irrigate crops based on soil

moisture and atmosphere measurements. It has been proved scientifically that scheduling has

generally saved 15 to 30% of the water normally pumped without reducing yield with minimum

monitoring costs (Evans, Sneed, Cassel).

To avoid wasted water runoff, Californian farmers put a system in the low end of the field that

collects the runoff and pumps the water back to the top of the field for reuse. Californian

farmers also produce less thirsty crops, such as dates, artichokes, almonds, and raisins.

Almonds, for example, only use 12 gallon of water per pound to grow. By all means, these

Californian farmers¶ methods could be adapted not only in developing countries but also

industrialized countries.

It is a fact that any solution to prevent water crisis is to address the water use become more

efficient. FAO stated that if developing countries farmers improve water efficiency on average

by 1%, they would gain around 200,000 liters of freshwater per hectare each year. This amount

of water could be released in other sectors for drinking water and sanitation. In addition, since

the price of water in developing countries is the same asin industrialized countries, water takes
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a greater part of income in poor countries. Water efficiency absolutely would save farmers

income which could also be spent in other areas.

Developing countries are not the only ones with this pressure. In industrialized countries such

as United States, population growth and greater awareness of environmental water use has

forced them to use water more efficiently. However, decreasing agricultural water use is difficult

for several reasons. First, considering the scale of farm and technology used, the water use is

efficient, far more efficient than developing countries. Secondly, at this scale, decrease in

applied water will often directly decrease the yield.

In these industrialized countries, what federal government could do is to make policies asking a

certain field size or more to use water-efficient technology in irrigating; or subsidize them so that

they could afford such water-efficient technology. In addition, policies to grow the right crops are

also required, for example a policy not to grow beef in Mexico (a ton of beef needs 37,762 m3 of

water). Globally, irrigation should be managed such as by permit from the government to keep

track of irrigated land and water use in a country.

Developed countries and foundations can also help developing economies in research into crop

choices. Experiments should be done to develop less water-intensive crops²which would

benefit everyone, not only poor-water countries. Genetically-altered crops may allow more

tolerance to saline water.Individually, people can choose food that wasted less water, consume

local products, or make their own foods.

It should be noted that improvements in irrigation technology and methods could take years.

Water available for irrigation will still decrease in quantity and quality, hopefully at a slower rate.

Increased competition for water, caused by population growth (affecting food demand and water
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demand) is inevitable. This means the price of water will increase; affecting price and

availability of agricultural products (because it determines profitability of irrigated crops).

Governments could favor only larger, diversified farms in the future and home-gardening for it is

certainly more efficient. Investments for better irrigation systems, genetically-altered crops, and

educating farmers in developing countries, would also become important efforts to use water

efficiently, and prevent, or at least slow, the impending water crises.

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