Despite the majority of the earth being covered in water, it is a finite resource, and, in certain regions, the world is running out of water.

The threat of diminishing water reserves in the hottest regions of the world has become so great that water has been branded the new “blue gold”.

Water conservation has become an industry in its own right with swathes of Government, third sector and private organisations created to find solutions to the growing crisis.

Yet, water consumption continues to rise across the world and some regions, such as the Middle East, they are expected to run out of water in the next 50 years.

The freshwater table in the Middle East is dropping by one-metre a year and the region loses an equivalent amount of water to the Dead Sea each year – that’s around 180 billion litres of water.

However, the issue isn’t just restricted to the arid regions of the world, and everyone is increasingly looking at how we can preserve our precious supplies of water.

Water and agriculture – is there an agricultural water problem?

With any debate about water security, a discussion about agriculture’s role in the crisis is never far behind.

This is because agriculture is the greatest consumer of water on earth – and that is by a considerable margin.

Globally, agriculture accounts for 70% of all global water usage.  And, with the global population predicted to grow for some time yet, agricultural use of water shows no signs of slowing down as we battle to feed a hungry world.

The world bank predicts that agricultural production will have to expand by around 70% by 2050 to meet rising demands.

Another key problem, in addition to the amount of water used by agriculture, is the issue of pollution. Surface run-off, leakage from poor irrigation systems and bad water management can result in chemicals, pesticides, livestock effluents and other crop inputs from leaking into waterways and reserves, further impacting the amount of fresh water available.

Water use in agriculture – the statistics

Agriculture consumes 2.8 trillion cubic metres of water a year – that’s 7.6bn cubic metres of water a day. Only 2.5% of all water on earth is estimated to be drinking water.

Crucially, around 40% of food grown around the world is produced in artificially irrigated areas and these irrigated farms can use 300% more water than the crop needs.

While 70% of global water use is linked to agriculture, in the Middle East the figure is far higher, with agriculture accounting for up to 92% of all freshwater usage in some regions. Currently, consumption is only predicted to get higher, with global agricultural water use expected to be 89% by 2050.

Currently, around 40% of all of the water consumed by agriculture is lost to the environment through run-off, poor irrigation systems or just bad water management.

The big challenge is that future demand for water from other sectors will require as much as 40% of water to be reallocated and agriculture will be expected to give up some of its share to these more productive sectors.

Agricultural water consumption – an overview

While most will think of water consumption in agriculture being linked to the irrigation of plants, agricultural water use goes much further. Water is used throughout the agricultural production chain, including pesticide and fertiliser applications, caring for and processing livestock, crop cooling and even frost protection.

Food security is a critical issue for every Government around the world and the recent unrest in Ukraine and Russia has put the issue firmly in the spotlight as the world’s greatest grain suppliers fell into turmoil.

Water lies at the heart of food security as, without a readily available supply of water, agriculture cannot function, and food security is lost.

The growing climate change crisis is also having a significant impact. Recent droughts and other extreme weather events have heavily impacted agricultural production around the world and have also affected surface and groundwater reserves of water.

Critically, these extreme weather events are predicted to get more frequent further impacting the availability of water to growers.

Already, growers are limited in the among of water they can draw from wells or other reserves in a number of countries.

The good news is that systems and solutions that reduce the amount of water required by growers are starting to come through and will soon begin to have an impact on water use in agriculture.

Safeguarding water resources

As the biggest consumer of water on earth, agriculture has a central role to play in tackling the global water crisis.

Governments are introducing a raft of regulations around the world to safeguard water resources and improve water management, but agriculture can contribute to this by improving the way they manage water and finding greater efficiencies.

Crucially, growers around the world are actively looking for innovative solutions to reduce their water usage and researchers and the private sector are responding. New inputs, technologies and systems are coming through that help to reduce water use while still maintaining or improving plant health and yields.

iyrisTM SecondskyTM is a great example of this new wave of innovation looking at how we can preserve resources while maintaining food security in arid regions. With iyris, the nano-technology in the greenhouse roof blocks heat and, as a result, reduces the temperature inside the greenhouse.

These lower temperatures result in less water needed for irrigation and crop inputs as the plant is less stressed and, critically, it also results in less water needed for the cooling systems.

By adopting these new technologies and looking at how we can preserve water while still feeding a hungry world, agriculture can hopefully soon be seen as the hero in the fight for water rather than continuing to be cast as the villain.

If you’d like to know more about how iyrisTM SecondskyTM can help growers to save water and help overcome the water crisis, get in touch at contact@redsea.ag

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