Integrated crop water management might sustainably halve the global food gap uri icon


  • As planetary boundaries are rapidly being approached, humanity has little room for additional expansion and conventional intensification of agriculture, while a growing world population further spreads the food gap. Ample evidence exists that improved on-farm water management can close water-related yield gaps to a considerable degree, but its global significance remains unclear. In this modeling study we investigate systematically to what extent integrated crop water management might contribute to closing the global food gap, constrained by the assumption that pressure on water resources and land does not increase. Using a process-based bio-/agrosphere model, we simulate the yield-increasing potential of elevated irrigation water productivity (including irrigation expansion with thus saved water) and optimized use of in situ precipitation water (alleviated soil evaporation, enhanced infiltration, water harvesting for supplemental irrigation) under current and projected future climate (from 20 climate models, with and without beneficial CO2 effects). Results show that irrigation efficiency improvements can save substantial amounts of water in many river basins (globally 48% of non-productive water consumption in an 'ambitious' scenario), and if rerouted to irrigate neighboring rainfed systems, can boost kcal production significantly (26% global increase). Low-tech solutions for small-scale farmers on water-limited croplands show the potential to increase rainfed yields to a similar extent. In combination, the ambitious yet achievable integrated water management strategies explored in this study could increase global production by 41% and close the water-related yield gap by 62%. Unabated climate change will have adverse effects on crop yields in many regions, but improvements in water management as analyzed here can buffer such effects to a significant degree.

publication date

  • 2016
  • 2016

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