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Seventh N.D. Gulhati Memorial Lecture for International Cooperation in Irrigation and Drainage


59th IEC, Lahore, Pakistan


Vice President Hon. Chandra A. Madramootoo (Canada)

The 7th N.D. Gulhati Memorial Lecture for International Cooperation in Irrigation and drainage was delivered by VPH Chandra Madramootoo at Lahore Congress. The lecture provided an overview of the challenges facing irrigation and drainage community, and the need to better manage our irrigation and drainage systems to reduce poverty and hunger. The following is a summary of some key aspects of his presentation.


Global Irrigation Development


Of the 1500 million ha of global crop land about 277 million ha (18%) are irrigated. The largest share of the irrigated area is in Asian region (70%), followed by North and Central America (11%), Europe (9%), Africa (5%), South America (4%), and Oceania (1%). During the last four decades the crop land has increased marginally, while population has more than doubled leading to a reduction in the area of land needed to produce food for a person. Irrigation has played an important role in increasing crop productivity. However, the rate of irrigation expansion has declined from 2.3% in 1970-80 to 0.6% in 2000-05 (see figure). Some countries will increasingly face water scarcity. Future needs of water for food are huge and improved water management systems will be required to cope with the demand.


Global Food situation


During the last four decades the crop area harvested has hardly increased, while the world cereal production has increased by about two and half fold. In general, the overall food prices (in USD) are up by 75% since 2000. Cereals, in particular rice and wheat dominate food supply and provide the largest share of energy to the world's population. However, globally, close to one billion people still remain malnourished, of which some 800 million live in least developed countries (LDCs). The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) has targeted to reduce this number by half by 2015. In fact the preliminary goal of MDG attempts to highlight this given its importance. This translates into a need of reducing 22 million per year, while current rate is only 6 million per year - posing a big challenge to bridge the gap between the target and achievement.


There are contradictory views as regards the impact of increasing bio-fuel crop production on food availability. Some view that this might cause food shortage and consequent hike in the food prices; while a few others opine that bio-fuels provide LDCs and poor farmers new opportunities for employment to improve their economy and livelihoods.


On-farm Water Management and System Modernization


There has been growing concerns over declining irrigation system performance and investment benefits, especially in the large-scale public irrigation schemes. Improvement in both viz., conveyance efficiency and on- farm water management is a key for increasing the overall irrigation efficiency. Efficiency gains of 14% in gross withdrawal can also be achieved through reuse of return flows. Improved surface irrigation methods like level furrows, sprinkler and micro irrigation methods and use of advanced techniques of irrigation scheduling can help improve on-farm water management. Modernization of irrigation and drainage systems in a broad sense (technical, management, financial, environmental) will be required at a large-scale, especially in emerging countries to achieve the required increase in food production, and also, in some cases, to save water for other uses.


Investment in Agriculture


It is seen that the public spending on agriculture is the lowest in the agriculture based countries, while the share of agriculture in GDP is the highest. National and international investments in agriculture, official development assistance (ODA), and the World Bank's lending in irrigation have been declining steadily and a complacency set in that is a major cause of the recent global food shortage.


The Way forward


In most developing countries, the agricultural sector is considered as an engine of growth and national governments therefore should reinvest in agriculture and associated infrastructure. In order to reduce water withdrawals for irrigation, upgrading of irrigation infrastructure through rehabilitation and modernization should be given priority. Other aspects like timely maintenance of irrigation and drainage infrastructure, investment in water storage and water saving technologies, combating the twin menace of waterlogging and salinity through drainage are required. Public-private investment in infrastructure is to be encouraged. One size does not fit all, and solutions have to be case specific.


Maximizing basin water productivity through multi-objective decision making process, developing a rapid innovative research agenda, capacity building at all levels and building of institutional support for local, regional and international markets will go a long way in achieving food security. External factors, like impacts of bio-fuel production, climate change, virtual water trade, changes in agriculture markets and the prices of commodities will influence agriculture growth and allied activities. Such changes will require additional adaptations in the development of water management measures to sustain global food production to desired levels and avoid the probability of a severe crisis in the coming years.


PowerPoint Presentation


Presented at ICID’s 20th Congress, Lahore, Pakistan, October 2008



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