Asia needs to produce more food with less water


Asia’s ageing irrigation systems must be revitalised to produce more crops with less water in the face of the region’s surging demand for food (a 70–90% increase to 2030), a rising population and stressed water resources, say researchers at the Water: Crisis and Choices (Asian Development Bank and Partners) Conference 2010.

The 5-day event brought together over 600 water professionals and policy makers from around the world to examine the critical water challenges facing Asia, and the measures needed to overcome them.

Asia accounts for 70% of the world's irrigated land and is home to some of the oldest and largest irrigation schemes. It also draws 80% of its available freshwater resources. Most systems were built before the 1970s, however; they therefore function poorly and often fail to match the needs of farmers.

'Asia's population will reach 5 billion by 2050 and feeding 1.5 billion additional people will require irrigation systems that generate more value per drop of water', according to the study ‘Growing More Food With Less Water: How Can Revitalizing Asia's Irrigation Help?'

The study - authored by Aditi Mukherji, David Molden and Colin Chartres of the International Water Management Institute and Thierry Facon of the Food and Agriculture Organization - notes that while the total area under irrigation continues to rise in most parts of Asia, systems are irrigating less land than originally intended, water productivity is low, crop output has stagnated and many farmers are exiting formal schemes. With water resources pressured by urbanisation, industrialisation, pollution, climate change and competing demands from other sectors, Asia needs to find ways to make its irrigation systems more efficient and productive without tapping more water.

The study suggests that new technologies, such as those that use surface water more efficiently and improve water storage, need to be looked at closely. Reforms which strengthen the management of irrigation schemes are also crucial. Strategies must incorporate the specific needs of different parts of the region, including Central Asia with its ageing Soviet-era infrastructure, South Asia with its underperforming surface schemes and Southeast Asia where the rapid expansion of hydropower schemes presents a challenge.

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