Water use in agriculture
|Farming accounts for around 70% of water used in the world today and also contributes to water pollution from excess nutrients, pesticides and other pollutants. But the competition for water is increasing and the costs of water pollution can be high.
Increased pressure from urbanisation, industrialisation and climate change will provide agriculture with more competition for water resources and climate change could affect water supply and agriculture through changes in the seasonal timing of rainfall and snow pack melt, as well as higher incidence and severity of floods and droughts.
Sustainable management of water in agriculture is critical to increase agricultural production, ensure water can be shared with other users and maintain the environmental and social benefits of water systems. Governments need to improve the economic efficiency and environmental effectiveness of policies that seek to improve water resource use efficiency and reduce water pollution from agricultural systems.
To assist policy makers in addressing this challenge, OECD indicators and analysis contribute to formulating policy responses that will move agriculture towards the sustainable management of water.
For a synthetic view on the work and policy recommendations on agriculture and water, please consult the April 2016 Agricultural Ministerial Background note “Agriculture and Water”.
At a higher level, OECD's work on agriculture and water is also embedded into the December 2016 OECD Council Recommendation on Water.
Blogs, articles and videos based on OECD work on agriculture and water:
- Rice and risks in the Mekong River Delta, OECD Insights blog, post by Robert Akam and Guillaume Gruère, January 16, 2018
- Green Talks LIVE - Water Risk Hotspots for Agriculture, October 2017
- Agriculture and groundwater - feeding billions from the ground up, presentations from OECD and IFPRI organised event at the 2017 Global Forum on Food and Agriculture
- Mitigating droughts and floods in agriculture, OECD Agriculture Policy Note, January 2017
- Turning groundwater into farmers’ underground insurance against climate change, OECD Insights blog, post by Robert Akam and Guillaume Gruère, January 19, 2017.
- Tackling the challenges of agricultural groundwater use, OECD Agriculture Policy Note, May 2016.
- Agriculture and water: a major conundrum, Constructif, N. 43, by Guillaume Gruère, March 2016.
- Flood, droughts and doubts, OECD Insights Blog, post by Patrick Love, February 17, 2016.
- Tackling the Increasing Challenges of Agricultural Groundwater Use: The Role of Policy, Ooskanews Voice, January 7, 2016.
- A Californian enigma: Record-high agricultural revenues during the most severe drought in history, OECD Insights Blog, post by Guillaume Gruère, December 9, 2015.
- Rain doesn’t follow the plow: climate change, agriculture and water, OECD Insights Blog, post by Patrick Love, June 19, 2014.
- Farmers should go “green”, OECD video by Kevin Parris, February 23, 2010.
Agriculture is expected to face increasing water risks that will impact production, markets, trade and food security - risks that can be mitigated with targeted policy actions on water hotspots. This report develops the hotspot approach, provides an application at the global scale, and presents a mitigation policy action plan. The People’s Republic of China, India and the United States are identified as countries facing the greatest water risks for agriculture production globally.
Water risk hotspots for agriculture: The case of the southwest United States
OECD Food, Agriculture and Fisheries Papers, No. 96
This report analyses trends in agriculture for the US Southwest region, one of the most water stressed and productive agricultural regions in the world expected to face further water shortages in the future due to climate change and continued growth. It examines projected water risks by mid-century without additional policy action, and discusses the expected implications for the agriculture sector, based on a review of existing data and available publications. Policy options can help mitigate these projected water risks, such as agricultural and urban water efficiency improvements, refined groundwater management, investment in water banks and recycled wastewater systems, and well-defined water transfers.
Mitigating Droughts and Floods in Agriculture - Policy Lessons and Approaches
OECD Studies on Water
Climate change is expected to increase the frequency and magnitude of extreme weather events, notably of droughts and floods to which the agriculture sector is particularly exposed. While agricultural productivity growth and policy development have allowed to better cope with these risks and reduce overall impacts on the sector and commodity markets, there is substantial room to improve policy responses and co-ordinate across policy domains, including with respect to water rights and allocation, weather and hydrological information, innovation and education, and insurance and compensation schemes. Indeed, drought and flood risks are likely to become a major policy concern as increasing population will increase the demand for food, feed, fibre, and energy, not to mention the competition for water resources, and urbanisation will increase the demand for flood protection and mitigation, raising the issue of the allocation of flood risks across sectors and areas.
Groundwater has provided great benefits to agriculture irrigation in semi-arid OECD countries, but its intensive use beyond recharge in certain regions has depleted resources and generated significant negative environmental externalities. The report provides a characterisation of the diversity of groundwater systems, reviews policies in OECD countries, and proposes a package of recommendations to ensure that groundwater can sustain its services to agriculture and contribute to climate change adaptation.
This report reviews the main linkages between climate change, water and agriculture as a means to identifying and discussing adaptation strategies for better use and conservation of water resources. It aims to provide guidance to decision makers on choosing an appropriate mix of policies and market approaches to address the interaction between agriculture and water systems under climate change.
This book examines linking policies, farm management and water quality. It looks at recent trends and prospects for water pollution from agriculture and the implications of climate change. It assesses the costs and benefits of agriculture's impact on water systems, and contains a number of case studies on agriculture and water pollution at the regional (European Union, the Baltic Sea) and national (France, Britain and Australia) levels as well as in specific areas (Lake Taupo, New Zealand and Chesapeake Bay, United States).
World agriculture faces an enormous challenge over the next 40 years: to produce almost 50% more food up to 2030 and double production by 2050. This will probably have to be achieved with less water, mainly because of pressure from growing urbanisation, industrialisation and climate change.
Indicators and data
Supporting the report Environmental Performance of Agriculture in OECD Countries Since 1990, this database features statistics on the impact of agriculture on the quality and use of water in OECD member countries.
On 20-21 February 2018, the OECD Secretariat and the European Commission are co-organising a workshop on Pathways to policy changes on water in agriculture, at the European Commission Conference Centre, Brussels, Belgium. The objective of the workshop is to discuss and exchange practical experience in reform processes on water policies in agriculture among OECD and EU member countries. The exercise will strive to identify pathways to address water resource challenges for the agriculture sector.
- On 20 January 2017, the OECD in collaboration with the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) organised an expert panel entitled “Agriculture and groundwater- feeding billions from the ground up” at the 2017 Global Forum on Food and Agriculture (GFFA) in Berlin, Germany. The OECD also participated to the 21 January 2017 GFFA Agriculture meeting at Ministerial level, whose theme was “Agriculture and water - Key to Feeding the World".
- On 9 November 2016, the OECD, in partnership with the Ministry of Economic Affairs of the Netherlands, organised a workshop on Managing water risks for agriculture: a discussion with the private sector, at the OECD headquarters, Paris, with the objective to engage into a public-private discussion on future water risk assessment and innovative responses in the agro-food sector. The exercise strove to identify what agro-food companies consider as prevalent agricultural water risks and how they have acted against those risks.
Sustainable Management of Water Resources in Agriculture
Agriculture is the major user of water in most countries. It also faces the enormous challenge of producing almost 50% more food by 2030 and doubling production by 2050. This book shows the trends and outlook for water use in agriculture, examines the policy experiences of OECD countries in managing their resources - and recommends what countries should be doing and why.
Managing Water Resources in the Agricultural Sector (chapter from Managing Water for All: An OECD Perspective on Pricing and Financing)
Water resources management in agriculture is complex, covering a diverse range of farming systems, climatic conditions, sources of water, property rights, institutional arrangements, and cultural and social contexts. This chapter looks at the challenges and options facing policy makers
Trends in Water Use and Quality Since 1990 (chapter from Environmental Performance of Agriculture in OECD Countries Since 1990)
OECD agricultural water use rose by 2% over the period 1990-92 to 2001-03. Nearly half of OECD member countries record that nutrient and pesticide concentrations in surface water and groundwater monitoring sites in agricultural areas exceed national drinking water recommended limits - which brings significant treatment costs for some countries. This report analyses the impacts of agriculture in OECD member countries on water, air, soil, biodiversity and other environmental themes.
OECD Workshop on water information systems
International experts met for an OECD workshop in Zaragoza, Spain in 2010 to discuss how to develop water information systems to support more efficient and effective delivery of sustainable water resource management and policies. Consult the papers, presentations and outcomes of the workshop.
Related OECD work & contact
More related OECD data, analysis and publications:
For questions on OECD work on water use in agriculture, contact the Trade & Agriculture Directorate.