Growing more food with less water - Improving water usage in agriculture



Expectations for the population to grow by 40 per cent to more than 9 billion by the year 2050 have raised the global question of how to grow more food with less water. With agriculture responsible for 70 per cent of all freshwater withdrawals, efficient and sustainable water use is needed for our own generation and future generations.

With our global water crisis in mind, we have created this resource to provide factual water news and information.


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Growing more food with less water - Improving water usage in agriculture
Blue WaterBlue Fresh surface and ground water, for example, the water in aquifers, streams and rivers
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Green WaterGreen The precipitation on land that does not run off or recharge the groundwater but is stored in the soil or temporarily stays on top of the soil or vegetation.

Eventually, this part of precipitation evaporates or transpires through plants. Green water can be made productive for crop growth.
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Grey WaterGrey Waste water from bathroom sinks, showers, tubs, and washing machines. It is not water that has come into contact with feces, either from the toilet or from washing diapers.

Greywater may contain traces of dirt, food, grease, hair, and certain household cleaning products. While greywater may look "dirty," it is a safe and even beneficial source of irrigation water in a yard.

If released into rivers, lakes, or estuaries, the nutrients in greywater become pollutants, but to plants, they are valuable fertilizer.
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Black Water Black Waste water than has come into contact with fecal matter. It includes sewage and other contaminated water sources, including all forms of flooding from seawater, ground surface water, and rising water from rivers and streamsthey are valuable fertilizer.
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Uses The world population tripled during the 20th century and water use for human purposes multiplied six-fold.

The main uses of water are for domestic use – drinking, cooking, bathing, cleaning, but this area, while important is a per cent of water. Industrial use is about twice that of domestic use, mostly for energy production. The biggest user is agriculture – producing food and fiber to feed and clothe our growing population.

Threats Human activity is increasing the threat to our global fresh water supply.

Climate change, pollution, biodiversity loss and our growing population are immediate threats. Mountain glaciers are shrinking at ever-faster rates, threatening water supplies for millions of people and plant and animal species.

Availability Without question, the world's freshwater resources are unevenly distributed. One person in five does not have access to safe and affordable drinking water. And by 2025, an estimated 3 billion people will be living below the water threshold. Densely populated and developing regions of the world, such as Asia and Africa, are expected to face the maximum water stress.

Solutions While there is no easy solution to a problem as big as global water use, new technology is helping to reduce use in some areas. Drip irrigation and drought-resistant crops are examples of agricultural technology that is being adopted in parts of the world that can help reduce water use while not limiting yields.
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Global and Economic Water Scarity
Definitions and Indicators
  • Little or no water scarcity. Abundant water resources relative to use, with less that 25% of water from rivers withdrawn for human purposes
  • Physical water scarcity (water resources development is approaching or has exeeded sustainable limits). More that 75% of river flows are withdrawn for agriculture, industry, and domestic purposes (accounting for recycling of return flows). This definition - relating water availability to water demand - implies that dry areas are not necessarily water scarce.
  • Approaching physical water scarcity. More than 60% of river flows are withdrawn. These basins will experience physical water scarcity in the near future.
  • Economic water scarcity (human, institutional, and financial capital limit access to water even though water in nature is available locally to meet human demands). water resources are abundant relative to water use, with less than 25% of water from rivers withdrawn for human purposes, but malnutrition exists.

  • Source: International Water management Institute analysis done for the Comprehensive Assessment of Water Management in Agriculture using the Watersim model; chapter 2.


Keep a close eye on the most recent technical articles about water use, scarcity and solutions.

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