We’ve talked a lot about water scarcity and the impact of the water crisis; including food shortages and increasingly violent confrontations over natural resources . . . and the news is only getting grimmer. According to a report released this week by the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) entitled “The State of the World's Land and Water Resources for Food and Agriculture (SOLAW),” the trifecta of population growth, climate change, and degradation of resources are “posing a profound challenge to the task of feeding a world population expected to reach 9 billion people by 2050.”
The situation has evolved, in part, as a result of the intense farming activities that have been undertaken in the last few decades in an attempt to feed already starving populations. Unfortunately, ramping up agricultural food production has only served to increase the “degradation of resources”—land and water—to the point where only increasingly intensive farming must be used, further exacerbating resource degradation and creating a vicious spiral of diminishing returns and compromised farming communities.
“These systems at risk may simply not be able to contribute as expected in meeting human demands by 2050,” says FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf.
The report highlights the ways in which resources have been compromised:
* Both salinization and pollution of groundwater—as well as degradation of water bodies and water-related ecosystems—are contributing to rising water scarcity.
* In some of the world’s largest rivers, only 5% of former water volumes remain in stream, while many rivers (like China’s Yellow River) no longer reach the sea year-round.
* Many of the world’s largest lakes and inlands seas continue to shrink.
* Half of the wetlands of Europe and North America no longer exist.
* Currently 25% of the earth’s land is “highly degraded,” with another 8% “moderately degraded.”
* 36% of the earth’s land is considered stable or “slightly degraded,” while 10% is ranked as “improving.”
The report concludes that rising competition for land and water between agriculture, industry, and urban development will even further challenge food production worldwide. In order to avert catastrophic food shortages, the report recommends increasing the productivity of existing farmland through “sustainable intensification” that includes increased water efficiency. According to the report, improving the efficiency of water is key, because “most irrigation systems across the world perform below their capacity,” and “a combination of improved irrigation scheme management, investment in local knowledge and modern technology, knowledge development and training can increase water use efficiency.”
Additional innovations suggested by the report include conservation agriculture, agro-forestry, integrated crop-livestock systems, and integrated irrigation-aquaculture systems. The Report also highlights the need for improved irrigation efficiency, including the incorporation of smarter irrigation technologies.
Of course all this innovation and planning is costly: the report estimates that by 2050, almost $3 trillion must be invested in irrigation development and management, while another $160 billion should be funneled into land protection, soil conservation, and flood control.
So what do you think? Will this latest report by the FAO finally push water efficiency into the foreground as the most effective way to manage our current water crisis? What do you think of the relationship between water efficiency, irrigation, and food production described in the report? And with more than $1 trillion on the line, what opportunities and obstacles can we anticipate in the realm of smart irrigation technologies over the next four decades?
Upcoming Forester University Webinars:
Dec 7th, 2011:
Maximize Your Energy Efficiency and Savings with Lighting Solutions
Stop wasting energy and savings on your lighting! Join Gregory Davis, Chief Technology Officer at Lumetric, Inc. on December 7th at 2p.m. EST to explore lighting efficiency technology as a means to maximize your energy efficiency and increase your savings. We’ll discuss efficiency opportunities, technologies, and applications available in lighting, and compare solutions (e.g., application, maintenance, lifespan, etc.) for your best ROI.
Dec 13th, 2011:
Stormwater Inspection and Maintenance
Don’t get caught in the storm. Join Andrew J. Erickson, M.S., P.E., for Stormwater Inspection & Maintenance on Dec. 13th, a discussion of standardized stormwater inspection methods and performance assessment. Learn how to use these to assess, select, and schedule effective and financially sustainable maintenance on stormwater treatment practices (e.g., stormwater ponds, bioretention facilities, infiltration basins, swales, and filter strips).