The database will use satellite data to and images, along with ground-level measurements, to produce actionable information for governments, agencies and individual farmers across the region. The information will be made available through an open-access portal, making it accessible to anyone looking to analyse the region’s water consumption.
Battling water scarcity
“Reporting on water productivity is lacking at country level in water scarce regions and this data will be key to creating sustainable agricultural systems in areas with scarce resources,” said Jippe Hoogeveen, project coordinator and technical officer in FAO's Land and Water Division.
“Remote sensing satellite images offer governments near real-time information regarding the use of natural resources for food growth and production, making assessments and improvements to existing agricultural practices more efficient and cost effective,” he added.
According to Hoogeveen, the database will operate at three main levels, covering countries and continents, then river systems, and down to individual irrigation schemes. This will allow a wide range of users to use the system to produce practical, actionable data on water usage. It can also be used to measure the impact of improving water productivity at various points in a system, he explained.
“If we improve water productivity, we can then look at what the consequences are for downstream users – if you improve productivity, you get more crops per drop of water, it’s also often a reason for farmers wanting to use more water. This of course has positive aspects, as you can produce more, and the farmer has more income – but on the other hand it can also have an impact on downstream users, who then will have less water at their disposal,” said Hoogeveen.
Measuring the consequences
He gave an example of a consumer taking 100 cubic metres of water per second from a supply, but only making use of half of that amount, with the rest flowing back into the system, to be used by downstream consumers. If the user’s productivity improves from 50% to 75%, then they have the choice of taking less water to produce the same amount of crops – or continuing to take the same amount, but returning only 25% to the water system.
“What we want to do with this system is monitor what will happen if we increase water productivity – will this have negative consequences for downstream users?” said Hoogeveen.
He also explained the applications for individual farmers: “We will see within an irrigation scheme where the champion farmers are, and where the farmers who are having lower productivity are. You can only see on the ground why this is happening – it’s possible a farm is closer to a canal, or it’s possible one farmer has more knowledge, or uses better seeds, and so on.
“This will be done with extension services, along with trying to bring up farms with lower levels of productivity, to reach the levels of the champion farmers,” he added.
The database, which is being developed in conjunction with the Unesco-IHE Institute for Water Education, and primarily funded by the Dutch government, is expected to be online by next October. A tender for implementation partners will be opened next month.