In large parts of the world agriculture without irrigation is impossible. Irrigation now claims close to 70 percent of all freshwater appropriated for human use.

The challenge

Meeting the food and fibre demands of a growing global population is a considerable challenge. To date, irrigated agriculture has been responsible for 40% of the total food and fibre production whilst using only 18% of world’s arable land (Schultz et al., 2009). Irrigation requirements, however, account for nearly 70% of the world’s total freshwater withdrawals (FAO, 2013) and have significantly altered hydrological and envrionmental conditions in both surface and subsurface water resources (Döll et al., 2009; Kirby et al., 2014; Restrepo and Kettner, 2012; Zeng and Cai, 2014). This has generated criticism and debate about the (un)sustainability of irrigated agriculture. Irrigation managers must often justify the use, efficiency and productivity of water in competition and comparison with other uses and users. The challenge is to enhance water allocation decisions to reduce negative environmental impacts, whilst continuing to satisfy food and fibre demands. Research and investments have been oriented towards applying cost effective technology, precision agriculture, and environmentally friendly techniques to pursue sustainable water use in agricultural development (Baumüller, 2018; Chuchra, 2016; Far and Rezaei-Moghaddam, 2018; King, 2017; Nikouei et al., 2012; Pareeth et al., 2019). Such a trend has been supported by several interlinked goals in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, in particular Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6: Ensure availability and sustainable water management; SDG 2: End hunger, achieve food security, improve nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture and SDG 13: Take action to combat climate change and its impacts. The big challenge is to improve local irrigated agriculture in order to achieve the interlinked SDG goals. The right balance between increasing agricultural production and reducing environmental impacts has to be implemented in order to safely maintain our water resources and satisfy growing food and fibre demands.

The FutureWater approach

FutureWater aim to provide research and consultancy to help improve water resources management around the world through the application of novel tools and technology. Particulary in irrigation projects, the approach is to integrate hydro-meteorological datasets from ground stations and remote sensing, and simulations from hydrological and crop models to enhance the assessment of water availability and the demand placed on irrigated areas. Additional hydro-meteorological datasets from satellites and flying sensors are also used to support water allocation decisions and deliver timely water resource assessments in large regions, but also at farm level. Advice can therefore be provided on irrigation schedulling, crop suitability, and irrigation area planning based on impact scenarios considering climate variability and climate change. Thanks to the use of state-of-the-art geographical information systems and models, it is possible to obtain spatially distributed information for different levels of advice (e.g. farm level, irrigation district, or basin level). Through these tools FutureWater provides succesful irrigation advice in many areas of the world, helping to contribute to achieving the SDG goals.

Example projects