Water for Agriculture; Water for Life

Water for Agriculture; Water for Life

Water is life.

Water covers 71 percent of Earth’s surface.  Nearly double to possibly ten plus times that amount is estimated within our planet’s interior.   Our very bodies are 60 percent water. Our heart and brain are 73 % water.  Lungs are 83% water; muscles and kidneys 79%; and skin 64%.

Thanks to water animals flourish; plants paint woodlands, plains, mountains and deserts are painted with a rainbow of colors.

Water is vital to what we eat, wear and use to fashion shelter not to mention it’s key to every industry at which we work.

Without water nothing on Earth would survive.

Agriculture, health care, and technology allow a burgeoning human population to inhabit the planet.  We grew from a few hundred thousand to our first million over tens of thousands of years.  The second million took 123 years.   Then 33 years to add a third.  Since we’ve added a billion humans every dozen or so years to the point where we stand today at 7.9 billion and growing.

To clothe, feed and house that many people takes an astounding amount of water.

Agriculture is one of the sectors most sensitive to water scarcity.  It accounts for 70% of global freshwater use and eight percent of the planet’s water volume.   Corn/maize consumes roughly 550 billion cubic meters of water annually.  Each pound grown takes 110 gallons.  Consider a different way of looking at the relationship of water, agriculture and human needs.  One cotton shirt requires 650 gallons of water from seed to harvest to finishing and dying the cloth.  Now clothe 7.9 billion people.

Everything we consume and use in every day life requires water.  It follows then that it’s a matter of urgency for humanity to adopt agricultural technologies that minimize wastage and use water more efficiently.  Fortunately, agriculture is the sector with the greatest potential for water conservation through plant science technologies including planting water efficient crops, conservation tillage and planting drought resistant crops.

Water efficient crops use a lower volume of water to produce optimum yields.   Cotton, for example, is one crop that has demonstrated the ability to be bred for higher water efficiency over corn.  In areas of drought and limited water sources, cotton is the crop of choice over the greater water consuming corn plant.  Today’s cotton plants require half the amount of irrigation water required 20 years ago.  Crop science can develop crop varieties that suit specific farming regions for maximum production and water efficiency.

Conservation tillage recognized as one of the most effective solutions for land degradation and soil nutrient and structure preservation is also key to improving water conservation by increasing the way water is absorbed.  Crops planted in fields that are not plowed but rather strip- or no-tilled benefit from the nutrient rich environment.

Climate conditions shifting due to a variety of factors and anomalies affect farming in negative ways.  Drought is one major factor.  Agricultural biotechnology has the potential of producing higher yielding drought resistant crops.  An example is drought resistant corn/maize requiring minimal water yet capable of producing improved yields, a real boon for sub-Saharan Africa.

The global imperative is to embrace agricultural biotechnology and its potential to provide crops tailored to the conditions and water availability of specific regions.   We can heed Mahatma Gandhi’s admonition that “The world has enough for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed” or we will be forced to endure that credited to Mark Twain: “Whiskey is for drinking. Water is for fighting over.”


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