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Asia Needs Irrigation, Farming Reform To Avoid ‘Chronic Food Shortages,’ Report Says

To avert “chronic food shortages and social unrest,” Asia must improve its irrigation and farming processes, according to a study, issued by the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), Agence France-Presse reports. The study found that by 2050, Asia is expected to have an additional 1.5 billion people, which would put “more pressure on already scarce food supplies,” the news service writes.

With limited ability to expand arable land in most parts of the continent, growing extra food required for the expanding population can only be achieved through more efficient management of land and water supplies, according to the report. It warns that many developing countries in Asia are “facing by 2050 the prospect of importing more than a quarter of the rice, wheat and maize needed to feed their populations,” the AFP writes (8/17).

The report, which was presented Monday at 2009 World Water Week in Stockholm, outlines three options for meeting the food needs of Asia’s population, according to an IWMI release. “The first is to import large quantities of cereals from other regions; the second to improve and expand rainfed agriculture; and the third to focus on irrigated farmlands,” the release writes (8/17).

Colin Chartres, IWMI director general, said, “The best bet for Asia lies in revitalising its vast irrigation systems, which account for 70 percent of the world’s total irrigated land.” He said irrigation methods should be intensified and modernized, which could take billions of dollars of investment, the BBC reports (8/18).

“If we don’t [invest] we will see food crises like the one in 2007 repeated over and again. That was an early warning,” Chartres said, the Guardian reports (Vidal, 8/17). “Most of the [current] irrigation infrastructure was built in the 1960s and 1970s during the Green Revolution that allowed Asian agriculture to flourish,” Nature News writes, in an article that looks at irrigation reform and reports on two recent papers, which find that groundwater supplies in Asia have been decreasing faster than people had expected (Tatalovic, 8/17).