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CropLife International Calls for Holistic Approach to Address Water Scarcity

Access to plant science technologies and knowledge of best practices help conserve and protect water resources in agriculture


Brussels, 21 March 2010 – With estimates of a 40% increase in global water requirements by 2030, agriculture needs to maximize the crop per drop and help close the gap in future water demands. On World Water Day, CropLife International calls for a holistic, four-pillar approach to address water scarcity.

World Water Day is a reminder that global efforts to better manage our water resources must continue, says Howard Minigh, CEO and President of CropLife International. While researchers develop more water-efficient practices across the food production process, farmers need access to existing tools and practices that make efficient use of water if they are to produce enough food for our growing population in the face of water scarcity.

It takes 3,000 litres of water to feed one person for one day. With the population projected to increase by over two billion by 2050, water consumption will rise correspondingly. Yet water resources are finite 1.2 billion people already live in water scarcity today. Climate change means changing rainfall patterns and longer, more frequent dry spells in drought-prone areas. Water availability also needs to contend with rising urbanisation and a consequent growth in demand for water for domestic and industrial use, resulting in less water for agricultural use.

Agriculture consumes 70% of blue water[1] globally and therefore must be a big part of the solution to tackling water scarcity. However, effective action requires combining multiple solutions, as well as positive collaboration and partnerships between food value chain stakeholders, farming, and research communities. CropLife International believes that four key principles must be addressed if there is to be enough water of sufficient quality to meet the needs of the growing population.

Optimise agricultural productivity. In many parts of the world, crop production only reaches 20% of the yields achieved in the developed world. Optimising the yields from existing crop production would enable farmers to grow more food with a similar water footprint. To achieve this, we need effective dissemination of agronomic knowledge, as well as farmer access to inputs such as good quality seed and crop protection to reduce pre- and post-harvest losses to pests and disease.

Increase water efficiency in agriculture. Beyond improving crop yields, we need to reduce the water used to produce food. The most effective way to increase water efficiency is through a step-by-step approach, from the source of water to the eventual plant biomass or animal produced. Efficiency-improving measures include repairing leakages along canals and pipes; improving or upgrading irrigation systems; and promoting plant canopy growth to reduce water evaporation from soil. Plant science technologies also help. Herbicide use with biotech crops enables conservation tillage, which increases the moisture retention in soil and reduces erosion. Biotechnology holds significant promise for improving the water efficiency of agriculture through drought tolerant or water efficient crop varieties.

Invest in research to mitigate and adapt to water scarcity. Further research and improved knowledge is required to identify more water-efficient practices across the food production process. Further innovation into adaptation measures will also be key, such as the use of desalinisation technologies, which remain capital- and energy-intensive. Biotechnologies have potential beyond food production their use in wastewater treatment and remediation of contaminated soils are also being studied.

Disseminate knowledge and technologies. Collaborations across sectors and across the agricultural commodity chain help ensure that helpful technologies and knowledge reach those who need them most. Public-private partnerships have an important role to play. For example, the Water Efficient Maize for Africa partnership brings together African public sector institutions and several private sector companies and foundations to develop drought-tolerant African maize. Many more collaborative projects between the public and private sector are already bringing benefits to farmers and their communities around the world.

The plant science industry is committed to providing farmers with the technology they need to optimise yields and increase water efficiency, while recognising that effectively addressing water scarcity requires action on each of the above principles. CropLife International calls for policies that reflect and support these priorities, as well as encouraging water efficiency measures in other sectors.

For more information and for industry case studies, visit CropLife Internationals water page of our website. For further information on public-private partnerships in agriculture, please consult the brochure Advancing agricultural innovation through public-private partnerships

[1] Blue water is defined as stored rainwater

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