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News Article

New tool tracks water productivity in agriculture

Database uses satellite data to help farmers boost productivity 

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has developed a new tool that enables water-scarce countries to boost productivity, by measuring how efficiently water is used in agriculture. The WaPOR open-access database uses satellite data to help farmers achieve more reliable agricultural yields, as well as allowing for the optimization of irrigation systems.  WaPOR was presented in April, during a high-level meeting at the FAO’s Coping with water scarcity in agriculture: a global framework for action in a changing climate

Global water utilisation, the majority of which is used by agriculture, has surpassed the rate of population growth for most of the last century, with some areas close to breaching practical limits.

“Water use continues to surge at the same time that climate change, with increasing droughts and extreme weather, is altering and reducing water availability for agriculture,” said Maria Helena Semedo, FAO’s Deputy Director General, Climate Change and Natural Resources.  “That puts a premium on making every drop count, underscoring the importance of meeting growing food production needs from efficiency gains.”

The database sifts through satellite data and uses Google Earth to produce maps that illustrate how much yield and biomass is being produced per cubic metre of water consumed.  The maps can be updated every one to ten days and concentrated at resolutions of as little as 30 to 250 metres. 

WaPOR measures evapotranspiration, which provides a direct measure of the water consumed by a crop during the growing season and when related to the biomass and harvestable crop yield, enables calculation of the crop water productivity.  It can produce detailed assessments to monitor the functioning of a selected set of irrigation schemes, which provide assurance that improvements result in all water users receiving more cost-effective and reliable water services that are more adapted to changes in climate.

The tool uses a pixel-based methodology to produce comprehensive maps that allow for better use of natural resources.  Together with with real-time data, agricultural extension workers can assist farmers in generating more reliable crop yields, improving their livelihoods as well as making them more sustainable.

“Supporting smallholder farmers with access to geospatial information that can optimise water availability and curb their vulnerability to climate change is a key mission for the FAO and this is an important first step,” said FAO Assistant Director-General René Castro, Head of the Climate, Biodiversity, Land and Water Department.

WaPOR is being developed with a consortium of organisations based in the Netherlands, including eLEAF, University of Twente, ITC and Waterwatch Foundation, as well as VITO in Belgium.  The work plan anticipates developing apps that can be run on smart phones, enabling locally relevant use of the data from the database.

Link to the FAO Water Productivity Open-access Portal (WaPOR)

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