At the opening ceremony of World Water Week in Stockholm this summer, FAO Director José Graziano de Silva said, “there is no food security without water security”.
However, drought is shaking water security, and this summer it has been particularly noticeable in Europe. Not only in Spain, where we are more accustomed to it. This summer we have seen the Rhine River at a minimum, as well as the Loire.
And this drought obviously affects agricultural fields. The primary sector is the sector that consumes the most water of all and also produces the most water losses. Agriculture consumes 70% of the world’s freshwater. It is for this reason that improving water management in agriculture is considered a priority objective.
This is why the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) proposes a new framework for water management in agriculture in its report “Water Management in Agriculture”.Tackling water scarcity: a framework for action for agriculture and food security,” in which he stresses that policies and actions should be directed at:
- Modernizing irrigation: it is indicated that irrigation of the future will be increasingly hosepipe irrigation and will combine different water sources, including groundwater, in a sustainable manner.
In our country, as detailed in the descriptive report of the PERTE for the digitalization of the water cycle of March 2022: “The irrigated area in Spain represents 22.6% of the cultivated area. (…) The main irrigation systems are distributed as follows:
- The localized irrigation system is implemented in 2,032,755 ha, which represents 53.09% of the total irrigated area.
- The gravity irrigation system concentrates 23.56% with 902,163 hectares.
- The sprinkler irrigation system totals 572,219 ha, representing 14.95%.
- Finally, the self-propelled irrigation system is implemented on 321,609 hectares, representing 8.40% of the total irrigated area.”
Thus, localized irrigation is the most widely used. And within localized irrigation, drip irrigation is one of the most developed. In this context, the DeepDrop® subsurface localized irrigation system is an alternative to improve the efficiency of drip irrigation, since it can increase water savings by 40 to 70%. This variation is explained by the type of soil and the type of plantation. In addition, this system reuses the existing drip irrigation network, which does not involve large additional costs and much less if we compare it with other types of subway irrigation already present in the market.
- Reduce water losses through the:
- Reducing the demand for irrigated production by substituting imports of rainfed staple foods; and
- Reduction in per capita agricultural water demand.
- Improving on-farm rainwater storage by storing water in small ponds or directly in the ground, farmers can reduce drought-related risks and increase productivity.
- Recycling and reusing water, particularly treated wastewater from urban centers, can play an important role in agricultural production in arid areas.
- Control contamination. This will require improving water quality standards and their enforcement to reduce water pollution, which aggravates water scarcity and leads to many health diseases and thus health care costs.
At the same time, reducing post-harvest losses must be part of any strategy to address water scarcity. Of all the food produced in the world, 30% – 1.3 million tons – is lost or wasted every year along the value chain from farm to fork. Reducing these losses is an important step towards reducing pressure on natural resources that are essential for food production, such as land and water. With the reduction of losses in the post-harvest value chain, substantial water savings can be achieved by addressing the issues of waste in the food chain, diets and the role of agricultural trade. In this regard, it is worth mentioning the regulations that are currently being developed against food waste in Spain, with the approval of the Food Loss and Waste Prevention Billat the regional level, while in 2020 Catalonia approved the Prevention law and food wastage losses.
Thus, there are these and other options for improving water management in agriculture, as well as civil society initiatives that make proposals based on their territorial reality and the problems they are experiencing, which are developing as the difficulties in agriculture increase. Difficulties due to the pressures and challenges posed by climate change, but also to certain water mismanagement practices, an increasingly scarce resource.