Agricultural intensification is often seen as a suitable approach to meet the growing demand for agricultural products and improve food security. It typically entails the use of fertilizers, new cultivars, irrigation, and other modern technology. In regions of the world affected by seasonal or chronic water scarcity, yield gap closure is strongly dependent on irrigation (blue water). Global yield gap assessments have often ignored whether the water required to close the yield gap is locally available. Here we perform a gridded global analysis (10 km resolution) of the blue water consumption that is needed annually to close the yield gap worldwide and evaluate the associated pressure on renewable freshwater resources. We find that, to close the yield gap, human appropriation of freshwater resources for irrigation would have to increase at least by 146%. Most study countries would experience at least a doubling in blue water requirement, with 71% of the additional blue water being required by only four crops – maize, rice, soybeans, and wheat. Further, in some countries (e.g., Algeria, Morocco, Syria, Tunisia, and Yemen) the total volume of blue water required for yield gap closure would exceed sustainable levels of freshwater consumption (i.e., 40% of total renewable surface and groundwater resources).
Read the full article in Advances in Water Resources.