Water Productivity

The challenge

The agricultural sector aims to meet growing food demands whilst reducing associated water consumption, which is essential for regions coping with (severe) water scarcity. Both food production and water are integrated in the indicator ‘water productivity’ also commonly referred to as ‘water use efficiency’. This term provides information on the amount of agricultural production achieved with the water consumed through evapotranspiration. Water productivity is used as a performance indicator for various purposes, these include (amongst others): quantifying improvements made through implementing good practices; identifying locations of high water productivity; and determining the potential for improvement through yield gap analysis. The challenge for this rapidly growing field is 1) to develop high-quality spatial data on water productivity and 2) translate this information into practical applications for supporting the agricultural sector in their decision-making.

The FutureWater approach

The approach adopted at FutureWater for calculating Water Productivity is through the integration of remote sensing imagery and crop modelling. Remote sensing imagery gives spatial observations of the surface, either obtained through satellite platforms or flying sensors (UAV’s). The type of imagery is selected depending on the required spatial resolution and temporal frequency of observations (time intervals). Subsequently, the imagery is combined with field observations and crop modelling to make a calculation of the crop yield, water balance, and ultimately water productivity. Supplemental to this approach, analyses are performed using open access databases providing spatial information on water productivity, water consumption, or land cover classification. Ultimately, results are presented for practical use such as in field or basin maps indicating the spatial variation, graphs and other illustrations for monitoring trends, or embedded in (smartphone/tablet) apps to aid farmer extension work. Water productivity as a monitoring tool and advisory service can be applied at different spatial scales and for various stakeholders: distribution over the agricultural areas in a river basin, SDG (6.4) monitoring at country scale, irrigation districts, commercial, and smallholder farmers.

Example projects