LONDON, March 29 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Farmers
around the world are using an unsustainable amount of well water
to irrigate their crops – which could lead to an uptick in food
prices as that water runs low, international researchers warned
Farmers are increasing their use of groundwater — water
naturally stored underground — to grow staple crops such as
rice, wheat and cotton, the scientists said.
But much of that water use is unsustainable as water is
being pumped out faster than it can be naturally replenished.
“Groundwater depletion is increasing rapidly, especially in
the last 10, 20 years, due to the increasing populations and
also associated food production,” said Yoshihide Wada, deputy
water program director at the International Institute for
Applied Systems Analysis, a science organisation based in
The shortages are occurring in some big agricultural
producers such as India, China and the United States, he said.
But they could have an impact on a much wider area of the world
because “much of the agricultural production is traded
internationally”, he said.
An estimated 11 percent of crops irrigated using
non-renewable groundwater are traded internationally after
harvest, the researchers said in a report published in the
Countries such as Pakistan, Iran and India, which use the
most groundwater to grow food, are already suffering from water
scarcity, the report said.
For many countries “it doesn't really make sense that you're
exporting a lot of food that comes from groundwater depletion”,
Wada said in an interview with the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Economically, unsustainable use of groundwater could lead to
rising future food prices, as countries are forced to spend more
money to find water to irrigate their crops, he said.
Depleted supplies of groundwater could also hurt local
people, who rely on the water for day-to-day use and for other
things, including fighting fires or dealing with other
emergencies, the scientists said.
Droughts, which are expected to increase as a result of
climate change, could also increase the shortages of groundwater
and impact food supplies, lead author Carole Dalin added in a
“Where and how the products are grown is crucial, and basic
foods like rice and bread could have a damaging impact on global
water supplies,” said Dalin, a research fellow at University
College London’s Institute for Sustainable Resources.
Unless both food producers and food buyers adopt strategies
to use water more wisely, “most of the world’s population risks
seeing increased food prices or disrupted food supply”, she
Wada said governments should more closely monitor the use of
groundwater and invest in things like drip irrigation
technology, which can dramatically cut water use, to better
prepare for the future and conserve natural resources.
(Reporting by J.D. Capelouto; editing by Laurie Goering :;
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