Facts and Figures

Agriculture is the largest consumer of freshwater

  • Agriculture is the largest consumer of freshwater by far and accounts for 70% of freshwater withdrawals from rivers, lakes and aquifers – up to more than 90% in some developing countries.
  • Rainfed agriculture covers 80% of the world’s cultivated land, and is responsible for about 60% of crop production. Today, irrigated agriculture covers 275 million hectares – about 20% of cultivated land – and accounts for 40% of global food production. 
  • The latest projections available show an average increase of 0.6% a year in irrigated land from 1998 until 2030, compared with 1.5% over the 1950s-1990s. In the same period (1998-2030), because of continued increases in agricultural productivity, 36% more food will be produced with 13% more water. 
  • Desalination is rarely used for agriculture (1%), but its use for high-value crops in greenhouses is gradually increasing. Desalination accounted for only 0.4% of water use in 2004 (nearly 14 cubic kilometers a year), but production should double by 2025.

© Margat and Andreassian 2008

Related themes: Food and Agriculture, Allocating Water

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