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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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Summary and Recommendations

Until the 1980s, water resource management in agriculture in most OECD countries focused on the physical supply of water. Emphasis was on infrastructure “supply-side” technical solutions and harvesting the maximum amount from the resource. This technical-based path to water resource management is now being complemented with the accent on sustainable based water resource management and greater reliance on “demandside” economic solutions. A turning point in this shift in the policy agenda was the Dublin International Conference on Water in 1992, where it was stressed that “managing water as an economic good is an important way of achieving efficient and equitable use, and of encouraging conservation and protection of water resources”.

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