What Does UN World Water Report 2020 Say About Agriculture?

There isn’t another human need as critical as clean water. Despite this, according to the UN World Water Development Report 2020, 2.2 billion people currently do not have access to safely managed drinking water, and 4.2 billion live without carefully managed sanitation.

The UN’s Water Report says that agriculture uses the most water globally – 69%. Read this blog for our key take-aways on water usage in farming!


Global water use has increased sixfold over the past century. It is rising by approximately 1% a year.

UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 6, which is part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, aims to guarantee access to safe drinking water and sanitation for all people within ten years.

This goal is admirable, but unfortunately, and as the report also concludes, it is threatened by global climate change, which is severely affecting the availability, quality, and quantity of water needed for safe drinking and sanitation.

Agriculture Water Usage

Agriculture is the biggest user of water. It accounts for 69 percent of global water withdrawals.

agriculture water usage
Global agriculture water withdrawal

The climate change, the increasing temperatures, and drought will hit the irrigation land used by agriculture dramatically. Although it only accounts for 2.5% of the total land area, it represents 20% of all cultivated land and generates some 40% of the global agricultural output.

This makes climate change, shortage of water resources a treat to the world’s food production. Also, water withdrawal, diversion, application, and drainage can produce long-term environmental externalities such as groundwater depletion, soil salinization, and pollution from runoff and drainage.

Water Usage in Livestock

agriculture irrigation livestock

Meat production, including beef, pork, poultry, and sheep, is expected to grow 77% by 2030 in developing countries. Also, non-ruminants, i.e., pigs and poultry are expected to see high growth rates.

Consequently, livestock water withdrawal will grow too, and not only due to the evapotranspiration on grazing land. Livestock also requires extensive watering and cooling of live animals as well as irrigation water for the production of fodder and imported protein concentrate such as soya or grain.

Given this expected growth, the extent of grazing land and its sensitivity to drought are essential, since feed substitutes such as soya and cereals are predominantly rainfed and are likely to be impacted unless production is buffered by irrigation.

UN’s Water Strategies: Adaptation and Mitigation  

The UN water report promotes two complementary strategies in resolving the water challenge: adaptation and mitigation.

While it is essential for water management to adapt to climate change and to address increasing water stress for agriculture and industry, water management can also play a vital role in the mitigation of climate change. Concrete water efficiency measures can have a direct effect on energy savings, which can reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Specific water management interventions such as conservation agriculture, wetland protection, and other nature-based solutions can help to sequester carbon in biomass and soils.

Advanced wastewater treatment can help reduce GHG emissions while supplying biogas as a source of renewable energy.

How Can Technology Help to Combat Water Challenge?

The UN report sees that Smart Farming technologies can have a critical role in managing the global water crisis. The integration of science, technology, and innovation policies into water development strategies can contribute to raising efficiency, improving resilience, and fostering the transition towards sustainability within the water sector.

Innovation provides more affordable and efficient technological tools, enables their implementation, and is indeed central to bringing water-related scientific knowledge and technology into practice.

Science, technologies, and innovation are rapidly evolving, and they continue to support several water-related management activities, including

  • overall assessment and monitoring of water resources and hydrological processes
  • conservation, recovery, and reuse of water resources
  • adaptation of infrastructures
  • cost reduction in treatment and distribution processes
  • the efficiency of water supply delivery and use
  • access to safe drinking water and sanitation.

Several innovations in the water sector have deepened the collective understanding of climate-related challenges and provided new ways to adapt to climate change and to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions.

How Soil Scout Helps Farmers Reduce Water Usage?

In agriculture, water can be saved by optimizing irrigation. However, you can do this only if you can measure soil moisture reliably!

Only ~ 30 percent of the significant agronomic phenomena occur above ground, while the majority (~70%) of it takes place underground. Despite this, traditional precision agriculture and farming data applications only observe how the above-the-ground weather affects plant growth. This data doesn’t enable farmers to optimize irrigation efficiently!

Soil Scout provides farmers the most advance solution for monitoring underground soil conditions such as moisture, salinity, and temperature continuously using a wireless solution. With Soil Scout, you can follow long-term correlations between soil moisture and crop yield, optimizing your irrigation while increasing productivity – and saving water!

Learn more about Soil Scout’s wireless underground soil monitoring solution!

wireless soil sensor

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Jalmari Talola

Chief Executive Officer at Soil Scout