Water Productivity Improvement in Practice

The Need for Water Productivity

The coming 10-40 years will see major challenges in meeting food demand in a sustainable manner. Food demand will rise by 60% by 2050 and fiber by 80-95%. This occurs at a time of increasing pressure on water quantity and quality. Agriculture is by far the world’s largest water user and competition between water use sectors is increasing rapidly, not only in semi-arid and arid zones. This competition with industry, energy and urban development, demand more water to be ‘freed up’ from the agricultural sector. At the same time, climate change and extreme weather events affect the available water resources for food production: unreliable rainfall and higher temperatures that increase crop water consumption.

The withdrawals of water from rivers and aquifers to irrigated land and enhance crop production is generally speaking not efficient, and there is ample room for improvement, if one knows where and when processes are inefficient. To secure sufficient water for multiple users in river basins, water resources requires a better planning process. The allocation, consumption, and return flow of water needs to be related to the benefits and services (food, calories, incomes, jobs, ecosystem services). Sustainable use of scarce water requires new concepts and monitoring systems for planning and compliance.
Against this background, the international debate pleas for improved crop water productivity. Production in agriculture should not be considered per unit of land (kg/ha). The ultimate indicator to express efficient use of water resources in the agricultural sector is the production per unit of water consumed, or in short Water Productivity (WP). The latter is great value to support ‘evidence based’ discussions and decisions on water use in agriculture. This key indicator is similar to the number of households connected to drinking water in WASH.

The key policy priority in the Dutch Development Cooperation official DGIS policy is to enhance Water Productivity (WP) in the agricultural sector by 25%. As such it intends to contribute directly to Sustainable Development Goal 6.4 on improved water use efficiency. The Kingdom of the Nederlands together with FAO will showcase a proper political and economic environment where new local solutions are developed that respond to a sustainable, longer-term food and water policy where more food is produced from less water. A concerted effort to improve agricultural water management and increase WP leads to more benefits:

  • Higher food security by more crop production and better import and export strategies. Cultivation of export crops enhances rural developments and boosts job opportunities, although certain minimum amounts of staple foods should be produced locally
  • More water can be allocated for drinking, industries and the conservation or restoration of wetlands
  • Less risk of droughts in rain-fed arid areas due to proper crop choice and adapted farming practices that require lower volumes of water. Water harvesting and supplementary irrigation makes certain agro-ecosystem less vulnerable to climate change
  • Increased attractiveness and higher return of farming for women and young people and transform farming into agri-business. This makes agriculture more attractive for young people and helps to reverse the trend of outmigration of the most dynamic and educated part of the rural population

The main objective of WaterPIP is to guide DGIS partner countries and Dutch funded water projects in WP concepts to reach 25% WP improvement in the agricultural sector using WaPOR. An agricultural system should be developed that is more productive, sustainable and less vulnerable to climate change. WP and related information should be used for fact based decision making to create more benefits and services from water used in agriculture.