Global agricultural economic water scarcity

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Apr 29, 2020
Lorenzo Rosa, Davide Danilo Chiarelli, Maria Cristina Rulli, Jampel Dell’Angelo, and Paolo D’Odorico



Water scarcity raises major concerns on the sustainable future of humanity and the conservation of important ecosystem functions. To meet the increasing food demand without expanding cultivated areas, agriculture will likely need to introduce irrigation in croplands that are currently rain-fed but where enough water would be available for irrigation. “Agricultural economic water scarcity” is, here, defined as lack of irrigation due to limited institutional and economic capacity instead of hydrologic constraints. To date, the location and productivity potential of economically water scarce croplands remain unknown. We develop a monthly agrohydrological analysis to map agricultural regions affected by agricultural economic water scarcity. We find these regions account for up to 25% of the global croplands, mostly across Sub-Saharan Africa, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia. Sustainable irrigation of economically water scarce croplands could feed an additional 840 million people while preventing further aggravation of blue water scarcity.

Read the full article in Science Advances.

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