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Sustainable Management of Water Resources in Agriculture

image of Sustainable Management of Water Resources in Agriculture

Agriculture is the major user of water in most countries. It also faces the enormous challenge of producing almost 50% more food by 2030 and doubling production by 2050. This will likely need to be achieved with less water, mainly because of growing pressures from urbanisation, industrialisation and climate change. In this context, it will be important in future for farmers to receive the right signals to increase water use efficiency and improve agricultural water management, while preserving aquatic ecosystems.  

This report calls on policy makers to recognise the complexity and diversity of water resource management in agriculture and the wide range of issues at stake. And it gives them the tools to do so, offering a wealth of information on recent trends and the outlook for water resource use in agriculture, including the impacts of climate change. It examines the policy experiences of OECD countries in managing their water resources for agriculture, with focus on: the extent to which countries subsidise the supply of water to farmers; flood and drought risk policies; and institutional organisation and governance as it relates to water and the agricultural sector. The report offers concrete recommendations on what countries should be doing and why. 

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Setting the Scene

Hydrology and Economics of Water Resource Management in Agriculture

There is a high level of diversity in hydrological conditions and farming systems operating in a greatly varying set of political, cultural legal and institutional contexts, both across and within OECD countries. Management of water resources in agriculture includes a spectrum of options (Figure 1.1). These include totally rain-fed dependent farming systems, where on-farm conservation practices focus on storing water in the soil. As climatic conditions become drier and dry season shortages more frequent (moving from left to right along the spectrum in Figure 1.1), increasing use is made of supplemental surface water and groundwater sources to enhance crop production, and in some cases other water sources (e.g. recycled wastewater and desalinated water).

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