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Driving new changes in Asian irrigation

Aug 19, 2009

Without major reforms and innovations in the way water is used in agriculture, many developing countries will face severe food shortages in future, warns a new report Revitalizing Asia’s Irrigation: To Sustainably Meet Tomorrow’s Food Needs. It suggests the shift to a more economically viable approach.

Revitalizing Asia’s Irrigation: To Sustainably Meet Tomorrow’s Food Needs

Publisher: International Water Management Institute, August 2009

By 2050, one and a half billion more people will live in Asia as the regions population swells to five billion.

Resource irrigation

Asia’s food and feed demand is expected to double. Relying on trade to meet a large part of this demand will impose a huge and politically untenable burden on the economies of many developing countries.

With land for agricultural and irrigation expansion limited in most parts of the continent, Asian countries urgently need to boost productivity from existing farmlands.

The new comprehensive document released by the IWMI-FAO and partner researchers point out that the need for dramatic increases in water productivity to reduce the risk prospect of having to import more than a quarter of the rice, wheat and maize.

The report helps to examine difficult tradeoffs between food security and the environment, specifically in relation to water supplies.

Asia has one of the most extensive irrigation infrastructures in the world but it is not being used to its full potential.

Asian agriculture registered dramatic advances during the 1960s and 1970s through a combination of irrigation, improved crop varieties and fertilisers.

The resulting Green Revolution made it possible to avert widespread hunger and raise living standards. From 1970 to 1995, the area under irrigation in Asia more than doubled.

Today, the option of expanding irrigated land area in Asia to feed a growing population is becoming increasingly problematic due to land or water constraints.

The best bet for Asia lies in revitalising its vast irrigation systems, which account for 70% of the world’s total irrigated land.

The potential for improvement is particularly great in South Asia, where more than half of the harvested area is irrigated yet yields are low. Asia as a whole could obtain as much as three-quarters of the additional food it will need by improving the performance of irrigated crop production, and South Asia could satisfy all of its additional demand.

The study outlines three options for meeting the food needs of Asia’s population.

  • Firstly, to import large quantities of cereals from other regions;
  • Secondly, to improve and expand rainfed agriculture; and
  • Thirdly, to focus on irrigated farmlands.

The report proposes a comprehensive and innovative strategy to improve the performance of Asia’s irrigated agriculture.

This involves a comprehensive transition from outdated models, technologies and institutions to a more economically sustainable, service-oriented approach.

Five strategies have been laid out for helping irrigation perform to its full potential and deliver our future food demands, while safeguarding our environment:

  • To modernise existing large-scale schemes to meet modern farming needs;
  • Emulate farmer’s initiatives where they have successfully employed their own irrigation methods;
  • Improve on existing reforms by engaging the private sector in irrigation;
  • Boost knowledge through training; and,
  • Invest in other sectors where such funds may indirectly influence irrigation.

The document stresses that future irrigation systems will need to be efficient and flexible to meet the demands of many sectors including farming, fishing, domestic use and energy supply.

Source : IWMI
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