Water constraints on future food production

Biemans, H.


To meet the food demand of a growing global population, agricultural production will have to more than double in this century. Agricultural land expansion combined with yield increases will therefore be required. This thesis investigates whether enough water resources will be available to sustain the future food production. Using a global scale hydrology and crop growth model, the combined effect of climate change and socio economic changes on water scarcity and food production were quantified.

The first thing to explore was where water for agriculture is currently extracted. Reservoirs behind large dams are found to be very important for agriculture and contribute around 18% of the total irrigation water today. It is shown however that with current reservoir capacities and irrigation efficiencies, not enough water can be supplied to sustain an increased food production. Irrigation water shortage can lead to a loss of 20% of the irrigated crop production globally, but with important regional differences. Regions particularly at risk include basins in Southern Africa and South Asia, where production losses on irrigated cropland can become over 50%. This means that unless major investments are made towards improving irrigation efficiency and increasing storage capacity, water shortage will put a serious constraint on future food production.