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Better water use can cut global food gap

Better water use can cut global food gap

CROP--Irrigation_system

An irrigation system on a pumpkin patch in a semi-arid area of New Mexico in southwestern US.
Image: Daniel Schwen via Wikimedia Commons

Scientists say that forecasts of a world food shortage need not prove as disastrous as previously thought if humans learn to use water more effectively.

LONDON, 16 February, 2016 – Although growing human numbers, climate change and other crises threaten the world‘s ability to feed itself, researchers believe that if we used water more sensibly that would go a long way towards closing the global food gap.

Politicians and experts have simply underestimated what better water use can do to save millions of people from starvation, they say.

For the first time, scientists have assessed the global potential for growing more food with the same amount of water. They found that production could rise by 40%, simply by optimising rain use and careful irrigation. That is half the increase the UN says is needed to eradicate world hunger by mid-century.

The lead author of the study, Jonas Jägermeyr, an Earth system analyst at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research(PIK), says the potential yields from good water management have not been taken fully into account.

Climate resilience

Already parched areas, he says, have the most potential for increases in yield, especially water-scarce regions in China, Australia, the western US, Mexico and South Africa.

“It turns out that crop water management is a largely under-rated approach to reducing undernourishment and increasing the climate resilience of smallholders,” he says.

In theory, the gains could be massive, but the authors acknowledge that getting local people to adopt best practice remains a challenge.

They have been careful to limit their estimates to existing croplands, and not to include additional water resources. But they have taken into account a number of very different water management options, from low-tech solutions for smallholders to the industrial scale.

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