From: IOP Publishing via ScienceDaily
Published February 16, 2016 08:17 AM

Smart water management could help produce much more food

Improved agricultural water management could halve the global food gap by 2050 and buffer some of the harmful climate change effects on crop yields. For the first time, scientists investigated systematically the worldwide potential to produce more food with the same amount of water by optimizing rain use and irrigation. They found the potential has previously been underestimated. Investing in crop water management could substantially reduce hunger while at the same time making up for population growth. However, putting the findings into practice would require specific local solutions, which remains a challenge.

"Smart water use can boost agricultural production -- we've in fact been surprised to see such sizeable effects at the global level," says lead-author Jonas Jägermeyr from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. In a water management scenario the scientists call ambitious, global kilocalorie production could rise by 40 percent, while according to UN estimates roughly 80 percent would be needed to eradicate hunger by the middle of this century. But even in less ambitious scenarios, results show that integrated crop water management could make a crucial contribution to filling the plates of the poor, says Jägermeyr. "It turns out that crop water management is a largely underrated approach to reduce undernourishment and increase climate resilience of smallholders."

Large yield increase potential in China, Mexico, Australia

The scientists have run comprehensive biophysical computer simulations, constraining these in such a way that croplands do not expand into forests and no additional water resources are needed. As it is a global study, it provides detailed vegetation dynamics and water use effects in river basins -- certainly too coarse to simulate farm-level conditions but suited to identify regional hotspots. For example, the yield increase potential of crop water management is found to be particularly large in water-scarce regions such as in China, Australia, the western US, Mexico, and South Africa.

Irrigation system image via Shutterstock.

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