Agriculture accounts for 70 percent of global withdrawn fresh water usage, and by 2030 it's estimated that nearly half the world's population will be living under severe water stress. It is clear just how important it is for agriculture to use water wisely. Working together with plant scientists, farmers have embraced this challenge by adopting new technologies and techniques that conserve water.
In the U.S. for example, farmers use 50,000 fewer gallons of water to grow an irrigated acre of corn today, compared to 20 years ago. Farmers who have adopted biotech seeds that enable them to grow their crops with little or no-tilling of the soil are keeping more moisture in the ground. In Brazil this tillage practice is expected to save nearly 134 billion liters of water by 2020; the equivalent of three million people's water usage for a decade. In developing regions that lack basic agricultural technologies, these simple innovations could dramatically change how water is used.
"Farmers have been handed a difficult task over the next four decades," said Howard Minigh, President and CEO of CropLife International. "They must increase the amount of food grown by 70 percent, while reducing the amount of water used to cultivate their crops. The plant science industry is working with farmers to improve access to current technologies and develop tools to meet future challenges."
Rising effects of climate change will make agriculture's responsibility to protect water supplies even more difficult in coming years. Higher temperatures will reduce water availability for farming. In developing areas like Africa, if temperatures rise by just one degree Celsius, at least 65 percent of maize growing areas would experience crop losses. The plant science industry is working with farmers and the public sector to develop solutions to overcome this challenge.
"Public-private partnerships, such as the Water Efficient Maize for Africa project, demonstrate industry commitment to innovating for the future, hand-in-hand, with local institutions and farmers," explained Minigh. "In Africa alone, the drought-tolerant seeds developed in this project could improve farmer's yields by 20 percent to 35 percent, saving huge amounts of water that would be diverted to crops in a drought. Only through mutual collaboration between industry and the public sector can this be achieved."
CropLife International and its members are playing a key role in looking after our natural resources by developing these critical partnerships and enabling farming techniques, such as no-till, that use less water. To learn more about plant science's leadership in meeting this and other challenges facing agriculture, download CropLife International's new infographics, Feeding Nine billion: The Issues Facing Global Agriculture, or visit ActionforAg.org.