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IFC hosts discussion on Private Sector Solutions for the Water Crisis in Agriculture

Without water security, food security is impossible to achieve. For many regions, including parts of Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and Africa, water scarcity is a crisis. Private companies are actively developing technology for producing more food with less water.  Despite the business case for these solutions, farmers face persistent challenges for adopting them.


On October 9, 2013 IFC is hosting a panel discussion that will explore ways to overcome these challenges. It brings together private companies, who deliver irrigation and inputs like seeds to farmers in developing countries, together with public policy makers who grapple with the competing demands for water.


Agriculture is currently responsible for 70 percent of annual global freshwater withdrawals. Global demand for food is projected to grow by about 40 percent over the next two decades. But due to potential shortages of water for agriculture there is a risk of a 30 percent shortfall in cereal production by 2030. Greater water efficiency in agriculture is essential for sustainable water use and  food production. Advances in technology make it possible to reduce water use in food production, especially for the developing world.

Research and development of hybrid seeds are producing crop varieties that require less water and thrive more in poor soil conditions. The challenge is ensuring these seeds are available in emerging markets. IFC is investing in seed companies, directly and through financial institutions, to help fund research and development and marketing in developing countries.


Irrigation can unlock farming productivity and enhance food security. Irrigated farmland contributes 40 percent of total food production although it consists of only 20 percent of total farmland, according to estimates from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.  Irrigated farmland is up to four times more productive than rainfed farmland on average. Efficient irrigation reduces the need for inputs like fertilizer, chemicals, and labor.


Yet irrigation is not always sustainable. Flood irrigation accounts for over 90 percent of all irrigation globally and has water utilization efficiency of between 50 to 70 percent. In others, one-half to one-third of water tapped for flood irrigation is wasted.  Sprinker and drip irrigation show water efficiency utilization of between 85 and 95 percent.


More efficient water use can be achieved through improving the technology used for flood irrigation and adopting more sprinkler and drip irrigation. Conversion to sprinkler, drip or pivot irrigation in agriculture could save over 17 percent of global fresh water withdrawal, equivalent to half of the world’s total consumer and industry water use.


Despite the obvious business case for irrigation technology, challenges for farmers to adopt efficient irrigation persist. Obstacles include lack of access to finance, technical knowledge, and adequate infrastructure. The World Bank Group is working with private companies, investors, and governments to overcome these obstacles. IFC is working to develop a Global Irrigation Program to broaden access to efficient irrigation technologies in the developing world, with the goal of improving farm yields and improving water management, and reducing vulnerability to drought. The initiative promotes World Bank Group Priorities of food security, water security and climate change adaptation.

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