Improving Agricultural Water Productivity: A Viable Response to Water Scarcity in the Dry Areas



Water resources in the dry areas are limited. Most of the available water is tapped, and only limited new water is expected from nonconventional sources. As more water will be needed for other priority sectors, less water will be available for agriculture. This decline comes to challenge the attempts to increase food production and to enhance food security. Climate change adds to this challenge in the dry areas as precipitation is expected to decline and drought to intensify. Agriculture as a result must cope with the increasing demand for food, feed, and fiber but with less water. It is, therefore, essential that substantial changes be made in the way water is valued and managed to help overcome water shortages.

The logical response is to produce more with less water, that is, to improve water productivity (WP) which is the return for a unit of water consumed or depleted. WP in the dry areas is generally low, and there is a great potential for its improvement. There are three primary ways to enhance agricultural WP:
  1. 1.

    Reduce nonproductive water depletion

  2. 2.

    Improve plant, animal, etc., productivity per unit of water beneficially consumed

  3. 3.

    Allocate water to the more water-productive options


Substantial and sustainable improvements in agricultural water productivity can only be achieved through integrated management at all scales. On-farm water-productive techniques include deficit irrigation, supplemental irrigation, water harvesting, and precision irrigation. Improved techniques if coupled with improved irrigation management, better crop selection and appropriate cultural practices, improved genetic make-up, and timely socioeconomic interventions will help to achieve this objective. Conventional water management guidelines should be revised to ensure maximum water productivity instead of land productivity. Policy reforms and empowered new institutional setups can ensure sustainable improvement in water use in agriculture.


Water productivity Water-use efficiency 


  1. Allen RG, Pereira LS, Raes D, Smith M (1998) Crop evapotranspiration. Guidelines for computing crop water requirements. FAO irrigation drainage paper no. 56. FAO, Rome, 300 pGoogle Scholar
  2. Gregory PJ (1991) Concepts of water use efficiency. In: Harris HC, Cooper PJM, Pala M (eds) Soil and crop management for improved water use efficiency in rainfed areas. ICARDA, Syria. Proceedings of an international workshop, Ankara, Turkey, 1989Google Scholar
  3. Hanks RJ (1983) Yield and water-use relationships: an overview. In: Taylor HM, Jordan WR, Sinclair TR (eds) Limitations to efficient water use in crop production. American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, Soil Science Society of America, MadisonGoogle Scholar
  4. Hansen VE, Israelsen OW, Stringham GE (1980) Irrigation principles and practices, 4th edn. Wiley, New York, p 546Google Scholar
  5. Howell TA, Cuenca RH, Solomon KH (1990) Crop yield response. In: Hoffman GJ, Howell TA, Solomon KH (eds) Management of farm irrigation systems. American Society of Agricultural Engineers, St. JosephGoogle Scholar
  6. Ilbeyi A, Ustun H, Oweis T, Pala M, Benli B (2006) Wheat water productivity and yield in a cool highland environment: effect of early sowing with supplemental irrigation. Agric Water Manag 82:399–410CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. James LG (1988) Principles of farm irrigation system design. Wiley, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  8. Jensen ME (ed) (1981) Design and operation of farm irrigation systems, American Society of Agricultural Engineers (ASAE) monograph no. 3. American Society of Agricultural Engineers, St. Joseph, p 829Google Scholar
  9. Joshi NL, Singh DV (1994) Water use efficiency in relation to crop production in arid and semi-arid regions. Ann Arid Zone 33(3):169–189Google Scholar
  10. Keller J, Bliesner RD (1990) Sprinkle and trickle irrigation. Van Nostrand Reinhold Publisher, New York, pp 652, MadisonGoogle Scholar
  11. Margat J, Vallae D (1999) Water resources and uses in the Mediterranean countries: figures and facts. UNEP-Regional Activity Center, Blue PlanGoogle Scholar
  12. Molden D (1997) Accounting for water use and productivity. SWIM paper 1. IWMI, ColomboGoogle Scholar
  13. Molden D, Oweis T, Steduto P, Bindraban P, Hanjra M, Kijne J (2010) Improving agricultural water productivity: between optimism and caution. Agric Water Manag 97(4):528–535Google Scholar
  14. Molden D, Murray-Rust H, Sakthivadivel R, Makin I (2003) A water-productivity framework for understanding and action. In: Kijne WJ, Barker R, Molden D (eds) Water productivity in agriculture: limits and opportunities for improvement. CABI Publishing, Wallingford, pp 179–197Google Scholar
  15. Monteith JL (1986) How do crops manipulate water supply and demand? Philos Trans R Soc Lond A 316:245–259CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Oweis T, Hachum A (2003) Improving water productivity in the dry areas of West Asia and North Africa. In: Kijne WJ, Barker R, Molden D (eds) Water productivity in agriculture: limits and opportunities for improvement. CABI Publishing, Wallingford, pp 179–197CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Oweis T, Pala M, Ryan J (1998) Stabilizing rainfed wheat yields with supplemental irrigation and nitrogen in a Mediterranean-type climate. Agron J 90:672–681CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Oweis T, Hachum A, Kijne J (1999) Water harvesting and supplemental irrigation for improved water use efficiency in the dry areas. SWIM paper 7. International Water Management Institute, ColomboGoogle Scholar
  19. Oweis T, D Prinz, Hachum A (2001) Water harvesting: indigenous knowledge for the future of the drier environments. ICARDA, Aleppo, Syria, 40 ppGoogle Scholar
  20. Oweis T, Hachum A, Bruggeman A (eds) (2004) Indigenous water harvesting systems in West Asia and North Africa. ICARDA, Aleppo, 173 ppGoogle Scholar
  21. Rockstrom J, Hatibu N, Oweis T, Wani S (2007) Managing water in rainfed agriculture (Chapter 8). In: “Water for food water for life” a comprehensive assessment of water management I Agriculture. Earthscan, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  22. Stanhill G (1986) Water use efficiency. Adv Agron 39:53–85CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. UN/WWAP (United Nations/World Water Assessment Programme) (2003) UN World Water Development Report: Water for People, Water for Life. UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) and Berghahn Books, Paris, New York and OxfordGoogle Scholar
  24. Viets FG (1962) Fertilizers and the efficient use of water. Adv Agron 14:223–264CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Walker WR, Skogerboe GV (1987) Surface irrigation: theory and practice. Prentice Hall, Englewood CliffsGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry AreasAleppoSyria

Personalised recommendations