A new study by scientists has warned that without major water reforms, the prospect of a food shortage by the year 2050 looms large in Asia.
This warning, along with related forecasts and possible solutions, appear in a report entitled, "Revitalizing Asia's Irrigation: To Sustainably Meet Tomorrow's Food Needs", which was presented today at 2009 World Water Week in Stockholm by the International Water Management Institute (IWMI).
The new study of irrigation in Asia warns that, without major reforms and innovations in the way water is used for agriculture, many developing nations face the politically risky prospect of having to import more than a quarter of the rice, wheat and maize they will need by 2050.
IWMI, FAO and partner researchers obtained the findings using a computer model called WATERSIM, which helps examine difficult tradeoffs between food security and the environment, specifically in relation to water supplies.
The study was carried out by IWMI and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), along with researchers from partner organizations with funding from the Asian Development Bank (ADB).
It outlines three options for meeting the food needs of Asia's population, which will expand by one and a half billion people over the next 40 years.
The first is to import large quantities of cereals from other regions; the second to improve and expand rainfed agriculture; and the third to focus on irrigated farmlands.
"In the wake of a major global food crisis in 2007 and 2008, cereal prices are expected to be higher and more volatile in the coming years," said Colin Chartres, director general of IWMI, whose research is supported by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR).
"Asia's food and feed demand is expected to double by 2050. Relying on trade to meet a large part of this demand will impose a huge and politically untenable burden on the economies of many developing countries. The best bet for Asia lies in revitalizing its vast irrigation systems, which account for 70 percent of the world's total irrigated land," he added.
"Today, the option of expanding irrigated land area in Asia to feed a growing population is becoming increasingly problematic due to land or water constraints," explained Aditi Mukherji, IWMI scientist and one of the lead authors of the report.
To meet expected cereal demand by 2050, IWMI's projections show that, with present trends of yield growth, we would have to increase by 30 percent the amount of irrigated farmland in South Asia, and 47 percent in East Asia.