Sustainability of water use in agriculture

March 9, 2014
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(This article was first published on V. » R, and kindly contributed to R-bloggers)

AQUASTAT, developed and maintained by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN, is the global database that gives quantitative information on water resources and withdrawal of water for different uses.

Agricultural water withdrawal is defined as follows:

Annual quantity of self-supplied water withdrawn for irrigation, livestock and aquaculture purposes. It includes water from primary renewable and secondary freshwater resources, as well as water from over-abstraction of renewable groundwater or withdrawal of fossil groundwater, direct use of agricultural drainage water and (treated) wastewater, and desalinated water. Water for the dairy and meat industries and industrial processing of harvested agricultural products is included under industrial water withdrawal.

Total water withdrawal is defined as follows:

Annual quantity of water withdrawn for agricultural, industrial and municipal purposes. It includes renewable freshwater resources as well as potential over-abstraction of renewable groundwater or withdrawal of fossil groundwater and potential use of desalinated water or treated wastewater. It does not include in stream uses, which are characterized by a very low net consumption rate, such as recreation, navigation, hydropower, inland capture fisheries, etc.

The following map shows water withdrawal for agriculture as a percentage of total water withdrawal in different countries. The indicator needs to be interpreted with care. It reflects relative importance of agriculture in a country, importance of irrigation in the agro-climatic environment, and extent of developent of irrigation.

Agricultural water withdrawal as a percentage of total water withdrawal, by country, latest years

Agricultural water withdrawal as a percentage of total water withdrawal, by country, latest years

The second map below shows total water withdrawal as a percentage of total actual renewable water resources of a country. Total actual renewable water resources are defined as follows:

The sum of internal renewable water resources (IRWR) and external actual renewable water resources (ERWR_actual). It corresponds to the maximum theoretical yearly amount of water actually available for a country at a given moment.

Further details on concepts and methodology of estimation of water resources are provided in this document.

It is usually believed that it is sustainable for a country to use up to 60-75 per cent of renewable water resources for human needs; and leave the rest for the environment. As the map below shows, AQUASTAT has no data on amount of renewable water resources for most countries. As a result, it is difficult to say very much on the basis of AQUASTAT.

Total water withdrawal as a percentage of renewable water resources, by country, latest data

Total water withdrawal as a percentage of renewable water resources, by country, latest data

 

(Acknowledgements: Maps made with R and ggplot2. World map from cshapes. Data on water from AQUASTAT)

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