Farming: Wasteful water use
Agriculture: the greatest user of waterGlobally, the agricultural sector consumes about 70% of the planet's accessible freshwater1 – more than twice that of industry (23%), and dwarfing municipal use (8%).
Wasteful and unsustainableBetween 15–35% of water use by agriculture is estimated to be unsustainable2. Moreover, agriculture wastes 60% or 1,500 trillion litres, of the 2,500 trillion litres of water it uses each year.
Many big food producing countries like the US, China, India, Pakistan, Australia and Spain have reached, or are close to reaching, their renewable water resource limits.
The main causes of wasteful and unsustainable water use are:
- leaky irrigation systems
- wasteful field application methods
- cultivation of thirsty crops not suited to the environment.
Multiple environmental impactsUnsustainable water use harms the environment by changing the water table and/or depleting ground water supplies.
Excessive irrigation can also increase soil salinity and wash pollutants and sediment into rivers – causing damage to freshwater ecosystems and species as well as those further downstream, including coral reefs and coastal fish breeding grounds.
1. Clay, J. (2004) World Agriculture and the Environment: A Commodity-by-Commodity Guide to Impacts and Practices Island Press
2. Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (2005) Ecosystems and Human Well-being: Synthesis Island Press
Once the world's 4th largest lake, the Aral Sea has shrunk to less than half its size and become as salty as the ocean in the past 30 years. This has caused widespread economic losses and human suffering.
- Agricultural water use and river basin conservation [pdf, 1.69 MB]
- Thirsty crops booklet [pdf, 947 KB]