Skip to main content

Ahead of global water forum, UN urges focus on agriculture as biggest consumer

Ahead of global water forum, UN urges focus on agriculture as biggest consumer

Agriculture is the biggest water consumer
With agriculture accounting for 70 per cent of all water consumption, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) today urged leaders meeting for a key conference on water next week to place agriculture high on their agenda.

"Unfortunately, the international debate on water problems tends to overlook the important role of agriculture, the biggest water user," said Kenji Yoshinaga, Director of FAO’s Land and Water Development Division.

Agriculture is by far the biggest water user, accounting for some 70 per cent of all water withdrawals. In comparison, industry accounts for only 20 per cent, while domestic use is limited to 10 per cent, FAO says in a new study entitled, “Unlocking the water potential of agriculture.”

"If agriculture manages to increase water productivity, the pressure on precious water resources can be reduced and water can be released to other sectors,” FAO says. “It is our hope that the World Water Forum in Kyoto will move the discussion on agriculture and water management up on the political and development agenda."

The Forum, which begins on Sunday, will bring leaders and technical experts together in Japan through 23 March to seek solutions to water issues. FAO says one in five developing countries will face water shortages by 2030. The Near East, North Africa and parts of Asia are subject to water scarcity and stress.

This water shortage will further impede food production, which, according to FAO projections, needs to be increased by around 60 per cent to feed an additional 2 billion people by 2030.

Unreliable water deliveries have often been the main reason that farmers turn to groundwater, leading in many regions to over-abstraction; water levels are declining at rates of 1 to 3 metres annually. One of the first priorities of modernizing water services should therefore be more reliable and flexible water delivery, FAO says.

The report also says irrigation technology needs to be upgraded and water-saving technologies should be promoted, although investment in water development and research has sharply declined.