On the 22nd March, people around the world celebrated World Water Day, an annual event held to celebrate freshwater. The initiative, which grew out of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, raises awareness worldwide of the need for sustainable management of water resources.
Agriculture accounts for 70% of freshwater withdrawn for human use and that figure will rise as the demand for irrigated land increases. In a recent report, ‘Charting Our Water Future’, by the 2030 Water Resources Group, estimates showed that in twenty years time our global water requirements will be 40 percent greater than the current supply, which necessitates that the agricultural sector takes steps to use water more efficiently.
The OECD has published a new study looking at the sustainable management of water resources in agriculture. The report highlights the increased pressures on already scarce water resources due to climate change, which has increased the incidence of drought and flood in some areas. Amidst growing urbanisation, industrialisation and more severe weather conditions, the report states that farmers will need to produce more food but with less water, and it offers the following policy recommendations for increasing water efficiency and improving water management in agriculture:
- Recognize the complexity and diversity of managing water resources in agriculture; water use is a complex issue, due to the variety of water resources and different allocations of water to agriculture amongst other consumptive uses in different countries. Policies must be country and region-specific accordingly.
- Strengthen institutions and property rights; simplify the network of organisations that manage water resources and create more flexibility in water property rights to meet environmental demands.
- Ensure charges for water supplied to agriculture reflect full supply costs; need to address the scarcity value of water by developing measures to ensure full cost recovery of water usage in agriculture, which will help to promote water use efficiency.
- Improve policy integration between agriculture, water, energy and environment policies; identifying the interrelationship between these sectors will help to encourage more efficient use of water and energy through, for example, the restoration of land in flood plains by planting of trees.
- Enhance agriculture’s resilience to climate change and climate variability; better land management practices will help to cope with a growing incidence of flood and drought.
- Address knowledge and information deficiencies to better guide water resource management; measuring water use, being transparent about water supply costs and monitoring water extractions will help to direct better policy decision making as well as providing the best technical advice to farmers.