From torrents to trickles: Managing the future of irrigation
Globally, irrigation has contributed to increased food production, lower food prices, higher rural employment, and overall agricultural and economic growth. It has been a key component of agricultural intensification and transformation in Asia and has the potential to take on the same role in sub-Saharan Africa.
But the future will not be like the past. The world now grapples with a successive wave of agriculture and food crises that directly involve irrigation, including heatwaves in India and Pakistan, the millennium drought in the Western United States, ongoing supply chain challenges and poverty impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic, and the war in Ukraine. These interlocking crises have contributed to global energy and food price spikes that generate additional pressures on water resources and irrigation, even if the media has remained largely silent on this nexus. For example, to counteract the challenges to secure wheat imports, Egypt, one of the world’s largest net importers of the crop, announced a series of increases in national wheat area of 2 million acres, an addition of around 50% over past wheat area. But all of this wheat will need to be irrigated, either by reducing irrigation of other crops, by further depleting scarce Nile water resources, or by drawing down the fossil Nubian sandstone aquifer.