EGU General Assembly 2020
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Mapping global agricultural economic water scarcity to identify target areas for sustainable irrigation expansion

Lorenzo Rosa1, Davide Danilo Chiarelli2, Maria Cristina Rulli2, Jampel Dell'Angelo3, and Paolo D'Odorico1
Lorenzo Rosa et al.
  • 1Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management, University of California, Berkeley, United States of America
  • 2Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Politecnico di Milano, Milan, Italy
  • 3Department of Environmental Policy Analysis, Institute for Environmental Studies, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, the Netherlands

With continuing growth in food demand and limited potential for cropland expansion, sustainable irrigation becomes an increasingly important strategy to ensure a reliable and resilient global supply of food in a changing climate. We here define and introduce the original concept of ‘agricultural economic water scarcity’ as the condition whereby croplands exposed to green water scarcity are not irrigated even though a sufficient amount of renewable blue water resources for irrigation is locally available. These conditions occur for instance as a result of a variety of socio-economic and political factors that impede irrigation. To date, little attention has been given to the analysis of this phenomenon and its role in the global geography of water scarcity. Here, we develop and apply a monthly agro-hydrological model to quantify and map croplands affected by agricultural green, blue, and economic water scarcity. By doing so we firstly provide a comprehensive, spatially explicit, global mapping of agricultural economic water scarcity across the global croplands. We then assess the water and food security implications of increased food production from irrigation expansion over economically water scarce croplands. Our results show that up to 25% of global croplands face agricultural economic water scarcity. Two thirds of economically water scarce lands are located in Sub-Saharan Africa, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia. Here, a sustainable irrigation expansion could increase food production and feed an additional 850 million people, while preventing further aggravation of blue water scarcity. The application of the concept of agricultural economic water scarcity has the potential to identify target areas for sustainable water and food security policies at global, regional, national, and local scales.

How to cite: Rosa, L., Chiarelli, D. D., Rulli, M. C., Dell'Angelo, J., and D'Odorico, P.: Mapping global agricultural economic water scarcity to identify target areas for sustainable irrigation expansion, EGU General Assembly 2020, Online, 4–8 May 2020, EGU2020-2916,, 2020

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Display material version 1 – uploaded on 02 May 2020
  • CC1: Comment on EGU2020-2916, Sarah Garré, 05 May 2020

    Very nice contribution. I am particularly involved in shaping policy to avoid and alleviate water scarcity in Flanders, Belgium and am suprised by the lack of numbers on irrigated land and water withdrawal in our country. How strongly does this kind of uncertainty on data affect your analysis?

    • AC1: Reply to Sarah, Lorenzo Rosa, 05 May 2020

      Thank you for your interest. The Flanders should have some potential for irrigation expansion. We tested the sensitivity of our results to 80% and 50% irrigation deficit, and we find that there is also some potential in the region. Of course, this is a global study and we focused on hotspots for irrigation expansion (Sub Sharan Africa, East Eaurope, and Central Asia). Note that Flanders is already partly irrigated, according to the MIRCA2000 irrigated areas dataset we used. For more see the paper: