Home' Partners : Partners: Water management and impact on food security Contents Food security has dominated debate about
development assistance ever since the
food crisis of 2008. That crisis reminded the
world that progress to eradicate hunger and
extreme poverty can be easily undone.
A number of factors---drought, low
reserves of food, high energy prices and
changing emphases on crops sown for
biofuels rather than food---converged to
create the crisis. In the debate and responses
that followed much was achieved to avert the
Responses from the global community
included emergency measures and longer-
term initiatives to boost food stocks and
refocus on the importance of increasing
agricultural research and development (R&D)
after a prolonged period of expenditure
reduction. Much is still to be done to lift more
than a billion people out of poverty.
Of all the factors that created the crisis one
is likely to present the greatest challenges in
the future---water management.
About 70% of the world's extracted
freshwater resources are used to grow food.
Demand for this resource is growing. Pressures
from industry, urbanisation and environmental
management are forcing farmers to compete
for water. Changing climate conditions and
prolonged periods of dry or drought are
reducing water availability. Population growth
over the next 40 years, with another two billion
mouths to feed, will only amplify the pressures
in this complex mix.
By 2025 global water use is expected to
double. Demand for water is not isolated
to regions or countries either. Where
water courses and basins cross national
boundaries---such as the Mekong River, which
flows through half a dozen countries---water
management becomes crucial.
Saving water and better managing its
use have never been more important for
agriculture. Diminishing agricultural R&D
expenditure over the past two decades shows
how easily food production can be taken for
granted. As competition for water increases
agriculture will face more pressure to further
cut water use.
This presents a challenge for farmers and
scientists, who will be expected to continue
to produce more food, even as competition
Water management and food security
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Published by the Australian Centre for International
Agricultural Research (ACIAR)
GPO Box 1571, Canberra ACT 2601, Australia
NOVEMBER 2009 FEBRUARY 2010 PARTNERS
for water intensifies. Agricultural R&D is already
responding to this challenge, learning how to
better manage crops in dryland conditions, and
how to manage and preserve water resources.
Australia has significant scientific expertise
in managing drought and water shortages.
ACIAR is sharing this expertise with a number
of partner countries where water management
is needed to combat dry or drought conditions
and to ensure that available resources are not
depleted. The flow-on benefits from ACIAR-
funded research have saved an estimated
1,000 billion litres of water each year, with the
potential to save another 2,000 billion litres a
year in Australia.
Conflicts over water distribution in India are
not new. Water allocations from the Krishna
River, which flows through three states, have
previously been determined by a disputes
tribunal. The reconvening of a tribunal for
water management has been supported by
an ACIAR-funded project that has helped
demonstrate the need for a holistic approach to
managing the river system.
Water and irrigation management in China
has also been advanced through ACIAR research.
Two projects, one on irrigation management
and the other on policy approaches to
increasing the value of water, are now linking
with AusAID projects on water management.
These are helping farmers understand the value
of water, which is supplied freely in many areas,
and manage irrigation to their crops in a more
Changes to traditional irrigation-
management approaches in southern Vietnam
are also being made through ACIAR-funded
research. Poor farmers in the area had linked
irrigation needs to rules and dates, such as
the Tet holiday, that were experience-based.
Research has shown that using less water,
with applications guided by simple on-farm
management devices, provides improved yields.
In China too, changes in fertiliser and water
management resulting from ACIAR-funded
research have resulted in less water being used,
reduced greenhouse gases and increased yields.
These and other projects covered in this
edition of Partners demonstrate that water
management need not result in reduced yields,
and that saving water is a vital component of
long-term food security.
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