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Assessing the future of water for agriculture

MIT researcher Kenneth Strzepek discusses future threats to water resources in the UN Conference on Trade and Development
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Yesterday, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development released the 2013 Trade and Environment Review. The report encourages policy makers to “wake up before it is too late” and suggests a series of technologies, practices and policies to make agriculture more sustainable.

The report included contributions from more than 60 international experts, including MIT Joint Program on Global Change Research Scientist Kenneth Strzepek.

Strzepek and his colleague Brent Boehlert of Industrial Economic, Inc. of Cambridge wrote a commentary on the future threats to water availability for agriculture.  Their research shows that by 2050 population growth, increasing water use, extreme weather and rising temperatures will significantly threaten water resources.

“Unfortunately, unless broad changes are made to the way environmental and water resources are governed, we predict conflicts over water for agriculture will increase significantly by the middle of the twenty-first century,” Strzepek says.

In their report, Strzepek and Boehlert recommend a series of water governance measures that can be used to better manage and allocate water for agriculture. Policy and management measures include assigning an economic value to water resources to encourage efficiency, switching to more sustainable and drought resistant crops, improving rain-fed irrigation infrastructure, and more equitably distributing water resources.

“There is no one-size fits all solution to this problem,” says Strzepek. “But it is important — and essential — that water planning efforts be coordinated and integrated across sectors to prepare for a changing climate in the future.”

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