The high stakes for water
Success in agriculture hinges on many factors, but farmers worldwide have perhaps one common fear: lack of water. And for good reason. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), agriculture uses about 70 percent of the world’s fresh water and shortage will have a huge impact on food security.1
Syngenta believes that agricultural policies will have to make water efficiency a priority if we are to manage water scarcity. Growers need incentives to implement better water management. They need infrastructure and financial support to explore innovative solutions that produce crops with greater water efficiency.
Focus on water efficiency
Sugar cane treated with crop protection products (centre) grow longer, stronger roots to access and use water more efficiently.
Up to 40% of the water used by some farmers is lost due to inefficient practices such as field flooding. A recent study by the 2030 Water Resources Group found that existing agricultural technology can sustainably increase water use efficiency, at reasonable cost and with little investment.2
For example, improving soil structure can conserve water. Weed control using herbicides lowers the need for tillage, leaves roots in the soil and improves water absorption. Efficient irrigation systems deliver water to roots and planting grasses or wild flowers around fields helps keep water in the soil. In combination, these practices dramatically reduce surface evaporation and water run-off.
Stopping run-off has an added benefit: agricultural chemicals and soil from fields don’t reach rivers and streams.
In addition, we need to broaden our focus to include land productivity and water productivity. We have to get the highest yield out of every drop. Drought-tolerant seeds can help produce reliable yields even when water is scarce.
At Syngenta we’re partnering with growers and organizations around the world to research and promote innovative solutions for soil conservation and water protection.
Incentives for water efficiency
There is no one solution to deal with water scarcity. Investment is needed to develop innovative water-efficient technologies, drought-tolerant seeds, crop protection products and optimized irrigation systems.
But the best solutions can only help when farmers can afford them and understand the advantage of using them. Thus, infrastructure for knowledge sharing and access to technology must be strengthened. Incentives such as access to affordable credit and financial risk-management mechanisms such as insurance for weather-related crop losses will also be critical.
Such efforts are connected to other priorities for rural communities. Access to safe water plays a pivotal role in sustainable development and poverty reduction. To positively alter the way the world uses limited water resources, communities need to understand their options for managing water, make better choices, and to take responsibility for them.
- FAO Aquastat, 2005, World Resource and Earthscan “Water for food, water for life” Institute
- 2030 Water Resources Group; Charting our Water Future, Economic framework to inform decision-making; Dec 2009;