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Water: inefficient use not shortage the problem in food production

Water scarcity is not affecting our ability to grow enough food (© CPWF)
Water scarcity is not affecting our ability to grow enough food
© CPWF

The world's major river systems have enough water to double food production by 2050 if the resource - a potential source of conflict - is used efficiently and distributed fairly through the breadbaskets of ten river basins, says a worldwide study released in Brazil at the XIV World Water Congress. The study, from the Challenge Program on Water and Food (CPWF) of the CGIAR, finds that inefficient use and inequitable distribution of water are the problem, not water scarcity. With a 50 per cent increase in water productivity in rain-fed agriculture, the authors argue that the world can be easily fed if farmers have access to the proper inputs, technology and markets.

Water scarcity is not affecting our ability to grow enough food today," says Alain Vidal, director of the CPWF. "Yes, there is scarcity in certain areas, but our findings show that the problem overall is a failure to make efficient and fair use of the water available in these river basins. This is ultimately a political challenge, not a resource concern." He adds, "Huge volumes of rainwater are lost or never used, particularly in the rain-fed regions of sub-Saharan Africa. With modest improvements, we can generate two to three times more food than we are producing today."

In large areas of Africa, where 96 per cent of cropland is rain-fed, researchers found that only about four per cent of available water is captured for crops and livestock. They show that in the Nile basin water used in irrigated agriculture is less than a third of what flows through nearby rain-fed areas - and an even smaller fraction of what moves through pasture lands. But while the study found that Africa has the biggest potential to increase food production, it identified large areas of arable land in Asia and Latin America where production is at least ten per cent below its potential. For example, in the Indus and Ganges basins, researchers found 23 per cent of rice systems are producing about half of what they could sustainably yield.

The study, a result of five years of research by scientists in 30 countries, is the most comprehensive effort to date to assess how, over vast regions, people are coping with the growing need for water. The ten river basins that were studied are: the Andes and São Francisco in South America; the Limpopo, Niger, Nile and Volta basins in Africa; and the Indus-Ganges, Karkheh, Mekong, and Yellow in Asia.

Written by: Busani Bafana

Date published: September 2011

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