31/10/2006 - Agriculture, as the main user of water in OECD countries, can also help maintain ecosystems. But government policies to support farm production often discourage the efficient use of water and aggravate pollution. The problem is identified in a new OECD publication on Water and Agriculture: Sustainability, Markets and Policies, a collection of expert papers on how to improve water management in the farming sector.
Propping up market prices of farm goods encourages the expansion of agricultural production, according to OECD work. The new report adds that subsidising irrigation systems and lowering water charges paid by farmers also undermines the efficient use of water. Moreover, providing lower pumping costs to agriculture accelerates the depletion of ground water aquifers and adds to the energy intensification of farming.
With demand for water increasing from agriculture, industry and from households, the papers stress that governments are increasingly giving a higher priority to water resource and environmental management. However, there is still a misalignment between this priority and the overall set of policies resulting in conflicting incentives to farmers. This exacerbates water overuse and pollution.
Several of the recommendations for policy-makers that emerge from the papers– originally presented at an international workshop in Adelaide, Australia – are set out below.
To obtain a copy of Water and Agriculture: Sustainability, Markets and Policies, journalists are invited to contact the OECD’s Media Division (tel: + 33 1 4524 9700).