The disparities between the need for food and the ability to receive it are growing. However, to combat this problem, scientists suggest that crop water management, which include optimising rain use and irrigation, will produce more food with the same amount of water, potentially halving the global food gap by 2050.

“It has been an issue in many local and regional studies and its effects on farm level have been well demonstrated, but on the global level it has been somewhat neglected. The renewed Sustainable Development Goals – while stipulating sustainable agriculture among all nations – need to be based on more evidence on how to achieve it; they do not focus on water use very much. Since we’re rapidly approaching planetary boundaries, our study should indeed draw the attention of decision-makers of all levels to the potential of integrated crop water management,” says study co-author Wolfgang Lucht.

Wikimedia/Gene Alexander, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service

Wikimedia/Gene Alexander, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service

Lead author Jonas Jägermeyr, from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, adds that crop water management is a neglected approach to decrease food scarcity and enable people to withstand the impact climate change has on crop yield. The researchers point out that global warming will increase droughts and change rainfall patterns, affecting water availability.

The United Nations estimates that global kilocalorie production must increase up to 80 percent to eradicate world hunger. By 2050, the world will need to produce 974 more calories per person each day. Investing in crop water management can solve this. However, turning the concept into reality still remains complicated.

“Assessing the potential is tricky: If upstream farmers reroute otherwise wasted water to increase irrigation and production, less water returns to downstream users and consequently this can affect their production,” notes team leader Dieter Gerten. “Below the line, we found that the overall production increases. Still, this of course poses quite some distributional challenges. Also, a lot of local government regulation and incentives such as micro credit schemes are needed to put crop water management into large-scale practice.”