Basic water conservancy enough to boost yields – report

Low-tech water conservation methods could cut global hunger in half, according to a new Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research report.

Improved water management and conservancy could reduce global hunger by half, according to a recent study published this month by Germany’s Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

Deepening droughts in Australia, the US and Africa have been driving investment into technologies and infrastructures aimed at increasing crop yields through data analysis and advanced irrigation management systems. In agtech, water and irrigation was the second largest sub-sector by investment volume. It attracted $673 million in 2015 according to an AgFunder report published this year.

But the recent study by researchers at the Potsdam Institute found that widespread use of low-tech, integrated crop water management could do a better job at holding back world hunger, and boost global caloric output by 40 percent. That is halfway to the estimated 60 to 80 percent needed to end global hunger by 2050.

“Ample evidence exists that improved on-farm water management can close water-related yield gaps to a considerable degree,” the report reads. “These long-known practices are being implemented sporadically around the world, leaving open vast potential to scale up.”

Smallholding and subsistence farmers would benefit most from integrated crop water management practices and improved water access. The report notes that more stability in water supplies would allow smallholders to invest in higher quality inputs, such as seeds and fertilisers, creating a new market for agri investors.

The study measured simulated gains from soil moisture conservation methods like mulching and conservation tilling; water harvesting methods like terracing, ploughing and collection of surface run-off; replacement of surface irrigation methods with sprinkler or drip systems; and redirecting conserved water to under-supplied rain-fed agriculture production.

Through their combined use, the study found that average uptake of water for rain-fed and irrigated agriculture production increased from 42 percent to between 49 and 61 percent.

Broad adoption of conservation methods was most beneficial in arid areas where water resources are volatile like sub-Saharan Africa. African agri fund Silver Street Capital invested $1.8 million in a public-private Zambian irrigation project in June 2015.