Although water scarcity already impacts about one-third of the global population, the world is poised to experience even more fresh water constraints due to issues such as a growing global population, pollution, and also drought due to global climate change . Just like our global energy use, we must take swift and decisive action to prevent the water wastes that are occurring around the world so that we can provide a sustainable future for future generations and the environment.
Because agriculture accounts for 70% of global water resource use, and because about 60% of that water is actually wasted through runoff or evapotranspiration, the human family can make a huge impact on global freshwater supplies if we re-evaluate how we are using water in agriculture and take water conservation seriously [2,3].
By improving water use and management in agriculture, humanity will increase the water resources that are available to those that need it the most, help developing communities around the world in a sustainable manner, reduce soil erosion, reduce conflicts over natural resources, and help to ensure food security for everyone.
The following list discusses a number of ways that humanity can reduce water consumption on farms throughout the world.
- Make irrigation efficient
To reduce the amount of water that is used in agriculture, irrigation must be made as efficient as possible.
- Existing irrigation systems must be efficient and contain no leaks that waste water.
- Irrigation systems can be optimized to water only when and where water is needed.
- Soil moisture can be directly measured to determine the current water needs of individual crops.
- Drip irrigation lines can be used that only water a plant’s roots instead of the surrounding soil as well.
- Ground cover fabrics can help to reduce evapotranspiration as well as to block weeds from growing between crop plants.
- Support healthy soil
Healthy soil contains important structures that retain water much more efficiently than depleted and heavily tilled soil. Critical to maintaining a healthy soil ecology is supplying the soil with plenty of organic matter that nourishes the soil and soil organisms.
Methods that can help to maintain healthy soil include adding compost, residue management, conservation tillage, and no tilling farming techniques. The use of contours and swalles on the farming landscape also help to hold water high on the landscape and to prevent erosion.
- Permaculture farming methods
Many permaculture farming methods, such as swales built on contour, inherently hold water on the landscape, reduce (or even eliminate) the need for supplemental watering of crops, and help to restore aquifers.
Hugelkultur techniques, which essentially involve growing plants in mounds of woody debris buried in soil, retain moisture quite well and provide excellent nutrition to the soil. Such systems are often used in small scale growing systems such as in gardens, but some people have experienced success when applying hugelkultur techniques on the farm-scale, such as Sepp Holzer, a farmer from Austria.
- Growing more water efficient crops
Many of the commonly traded agricultural crops grown today are grown in large plots of monocultures and require large amounts of water to produce them. By growing a variety of less thirsty crops, including perennial crops with deep roots, this should reduce the demand for water in agriculture. For example, grapes and olives are crops that require less water for production than tomatoes.
It is also important to grow crops that are well-suited to local climate conditions. For example, it makes the most sense to grow those crops in a desert-type climate that tolerate more hot and dry conditions, such as fig trees and moringa trees.
- Rainwater harvesting
Rainwater harvesting can be used for both small and large farms for farming tasks such as herd watering and irrigation.
- Permanent Raised Crop Beds
These raised beds are currently being used in certain countries in the developing world, such as in the Syrian village of Fraytan to produce crops that require less irrigation .
- Reduce Food Waste
In today’s world, approximately 30-40% of food that is produced is wasted. By reducing the amount of food that we waste, we will also reduce the amount of water, land, and energy that is used to produce the food .