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Water Productivity

The coming 10-40 years will see major challenges in sustainably meeting demand for food, fiber and fodder. Food demand will rise by 60% by 2050; fiber by 80-95%, at a time of increasing pressure on water quality and quantity and on productive soils. Agriculture is by far the world’s largest water user (70% of total water withdrawn each year), but the limits to using new water appear to have been largely reached, and competition between uses and users is increasing. Moreover, other sectors (industry, energy and urban development) demand more water to be ‘freed up’ from the agricultural sector.

At the same time climate change, including extreme weather events, will impact food production in several ways: unreliable rainfall, higher weed growth due to rising CO2 levels, and a larger incidence of pests may slow down agricultural productivity. At the same time, greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture – already 14% of the global total – are likely to increase unless farming is transformed. Hence Water productivity is a much discussed topic in the water and agricultural sector, especially in water-scarce countries. Water productivity relates to the amount of yield per unit of water used. Freeing up water now, locked in current low productivity uses, will ensure that water will remain available in the future to meet the increased demand for food, fodder and fiber as well as other uses and will reduce the risk of conflict. In accordance to this, the UN sustainable development goals SDG 6.4 aims to substantially increase water-use efficiency across all sectors and ensure sustainable withdrawals and supply of freshwater to address water scarcity, and substantially reduce the number of people suffering from water scarcity by 2030.