Reducing the impact of irrigated crops on freshwater availability: the case of Brazilian yellow melons
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This study quantifies freshwater consumption throughout the life cycle of Brazilian exported yellow melons and assesses the resulting impact on freshwater availability. Results are used to identify improvement options. Moreover, the study explores the further impact of variations in irrigation volume, yield, and production location.
The product system boundary encompasses production of seeds, seedlings, and melon plants; melon packing; disposal of solid farm waste; and farm input and melon transportation to European ports. The primary data in the study were collected from farmers in order to quantify freshwater consumption related to packing and to production of seeds, seedlings, and melons. Open-field melon irrigation was also estimated, considering the region's climate and soil characteristics. Estimated and current water consumptions were compared in order to identify impact reduction opportunities. Sensitivity analysis was used to evaluate variations in the impact because of changes in melon field irrigation, yield, and farm location.
Results and discussion
This study shows that the average impact on freshwater availability of 1 kg of exported Brazilian yellow melons is 135 l H2O-e, with a range from 17 to 224 l H2O-e depending on the growing season's production period. Irrigation during plant production accounts for 98 % of this impact. Current melon field water consumption in the Low Jaguaribe and Açu region is at least 39 % higher than necessary, which affects the quality of fruits and yield. The impact of melon production in other world regions on freshwater availability may range from 0.3 l H2O-e/kg in Costa Rica to 466 l H2O-e/kg in the USA.
The impact of temporary crops, such as melons, on water availability should be presented in ranges, instead of as an average, since regional consumptive water and water stress variations occur in different growing season periods. Current and estimated water consumption for irrigation may also be compared in order to identify opportunities to achieve optimization and reduce water availability impact.
KeywordsConsumptive water use Impact assessment Life cycle approach Water efficiency Water footprint Water scarcity
The authors thank the managers of melon farms in the LJA region for their continuous support on data gathering and the National Council of Technological and Scientific Development (CNPq) for financially supporting this research.
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