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Upgrading the world's crop irrigation systems

Important new research on irrigation systems in Latin America will help make sure that there will be sustainable, unpolluted automatic watering to maximise crop yield worldwide.
Upgrading the world's crop irrigation systems
Crop production depends on the availability of water – at present, irrigation is applied on 20 % of the world's crops generating 40 % of total food production. Rising demand for irrigation water is expected to continue in line with pressure for increased food supply.

The 'Knowledge assessment on sustainable water resources management for irrigation' (Kaswarmi) project aimed to meet the challenge of supplying cleaner water through more efficient systems. To fulfil this objective, Kaswarmi built up a comprehensive interdisciplinary knowledge base on sustainable water resources management for irrigation water.

Several areas in Latin America were selected for the analysis covering the socioeconomical, environmental, institutional and technical aspects of irrigation. Kaswarmi also identified the main needs of potential stakeholders – farmers, researchers and policymakers – to draw up future strategies and identify gaps in research efforts.

Evaluation revealed that the existing irrigation systems were based on farm management economics and peasant livelihood strategies. However, for integrated water resources management (IWRM) as part of existing decision support models, innovative remote sensing techniques are already in place.

Crucial to the sustainability of future irrigation systems is the issue of quality due to the extensive use of agrochemicals. Prevention of leaching of contaminated water into underground water supplies is paramount. Aggravating the situation, Kaswarmi noted that there was a lack of reliable data on water and soil quality. Also, shortfalls and requirements for the range of stakeholders were incorporated into the project's report.

Kaswarmi has achieved a sustainable water irrigation programme where research priorities have been identified for system design taking into account environmental, management and socioeconomic factors. An integrated sustainable approach is vital for upgrading irrigation systems to fuel the increasing demand for crop production globally.

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