Eradicating hunger once and for all by creating sustainable, resilient food production systems

Part 1: an inconvenient truth

Drip irrigation and dropping groundwater levels

Every day millions of men and women across the globe struggle to feed their children a nutritious meal. Nearly 800 million people – one in nine – go to bed on an empty stomach each night. Eradicating hunger is one of the great challenges of our time.

The world has made great progress in reducing hunger: according to the FAO there are 216 million fewer hungry people than in 1990-92. But there is still a long way to go, and if we want to see a world free of hunger by 2030, governments, citizens, civil society organizations and the private sector must collaborate to invest, innovate and create lasting solutions. 

There are several challenges facing organisations such as the World Food Programme, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the International Fund for Agricultural Development:

  1. The world’s population of the world will increase from 7 billion to 10 billion in 2050, so we need to feed 40% more people within 35 years. If the living standard in developing countries will continue to rise, the additional food required may grow to more than 50%.
  2. Agriculture today uses 73% of all fresh water, in Africa even 86%. We use the very limited amount of potable water very inefficiently.
  3. Drip irrigation seems efficient, but it is not, so everywhere groundwater tables drop.
  4. For this reason, 48 countries are expected to suffer from water scarcity by the year 2025.

So we need 40 to 50% more food within 35 years and we have a lack of water to produce it. How can we solve this issue?

One of the greatest problems to solve is the misconception of the efficiency of drip irrigation, something I encounter in the minds of many agricultural scientists. On all agricultural universities worldwide students learn that drip irrigation is efficient. However, drip irrigation is a “sniper water killer” and for this reason the water tables keep dropping around the globe. The reasons for this misconception are the great marketing and lobby from the drip-irrigation companies, and the idea that if we give water through small drips, it must be efficient. Unfortunately the facts show that drip irrigation is not water efficient at all. 

We can check this fact by looking at the water tables of 48 countries where drip irrigation is used extensively. If drip irrigation were efficient, water tables would not drop in these countries. However the simply reality is that drip irrigation extracts more water from the groundwater than the quantity that  infiltrates the soil through rainfall. So drip irrigation destroys the balance between water use and water infiltration.

Now that this inconvenient truth is known, the next question is: “Can we solve the global food challenge without using drip irrigation?” The answer is “yes”! Follow our blog, next month I’ll write on how we can help solve the food challenge while keeping our water tables intact.

Pieter Hoff

The Green Musketeer