Elena Lopez-Gunn and Manuel Ramón Llamas, Natural Resources Forum nº32, 2008

Scientific knowledge and technological innovation can help solve key water management issues. The latest advances in science and technology can help address the use of water by irrigation in arid and semi-arid regions of the world in order to help achieve the MDGs, in particular the MDG on combating poverty and hunger.

The main reason for the huge explosion in the use of groundwater resources is technological innovation. The introduction of increasingly cheap tube well and mechanical pump technology and its wide availability has facilitated a social revolution in the use of groundwater, which has produced great socio-economic benefits.

Desalination is one of the most obvious technological advances in relation to access to ‘new’ water resources. Desalination is used mainly in arid and semi-arid areas either located inland where the only available water source is saline or brackish groundwater, or in coastal areas. Globally, about 50% of global desalination takes place in the Gulf, followed by North America (16%), Europe (13%), Asia (11%) Africa (5%) and the Caribbean (3%), whilst South America and Australia each accounted for about 1% of the global desalination volume in 2002 according to the International Desalination Association (UNESCO-WWAP, 2006).

However, these trends are changing, with other countries considering desalination, particularly for public water supply like China, Mexico, Turkey and North Africa (Global Water Intelligence, 2007). In terms of the uses for desalinated water, municipalities are the largest users (63%), followed by industry use (25%). Additionally — and in view of climate change — desalination is often a key strategic option for many island environments. In terms of future uses, the IDA predicts new demands for desalination for recreation and tourism, the military, and irrigated agriculture (UNESCO-WWAP, 2006).

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WATER REUSE Project -funded by the European Union under the 6thFP-, 2010

The reuse of wastewater in agriculture as a logical option to be considered for the sustainable management of water resources. Wastewater has been used for irrigation since ancient times by the Greek and Roman civilizations to take advantage of the nutrients carried in the water and to avoid the contamination of rivers. With the invention of new technologies for water treatment and irrigation systems the use of wastewater in agriculture has experienced a new impetus. In Alicante province, the number of waste water treatment plants has risen from 121 in 2001 to 140 in 2005, and the volumes of available treated wastewater for agriculture have accordingly increased.

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Paul J. Burgess, Joe Morris, August 2009
School of Applied Sciences, Cranfield University, Cranfield, Bedfordshire, MK43 0AL, United Kingdom

From 1960 to 1985, farmers successfully used technology to increase the output of crop and animal products per unit of land and particularly of labour. This reduced the number of people employed in agriculture, and promoted larger and more specialised farm enterprises. Between 1985 and 2006, food prices were relatively low, and although labour productivity continued to increase, land productivity remained relatively static. However during this period, farmers started to address the effects of agriculture on reduced water quality and habitat loss.

For established agricultural products, technological innovation tends to have an incremental effect, working through genetic improvement, the removal of abiotic and biotic stress (e.g. crop nutrition and protection, irrigation and drainage, and animal nutrition, health and housing) and the substitution of labour. Whereas the first two processes tend to be scale-neutral, the substitution of labour is usually easiest to achieve on larger farms. Other key areas for technological innovation include addressing air, soil and water quality, biodiversity, waste reduction, and information management. Over the next 50 years, large step-changes in land use arising from agricultural technology are predicted to arise from the development of new markets for agricultural products. A strong bioenergy sector will strengthen the links between crop commodity and energy prices and will have a major effect on future land use. Climate change and the regulation of greenhouse gas emissions will alter the relative profitability of crop and animal production systems. Lastly, increased public awareness of the links between food, health and the environment could substantially shift the demand for specific agricultural products.

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Chris Abel, 2010
CTBUH Journal 

The effect of food and water shortages on the future growth and form of cities as current sources are impacted by climate change may also turn the economic and political tide decisively in favor of vertical farming. Urban authorities could eventually be compelled to make space for and to control food production in cities to ensure adequate supplies.The growing use of intensive farming techniques such as hydroponics and aeroponics, which greatly increase the efficiency of food production whilst reducing the amount of water and space required, will also ultimately help to lower costs. The approach to vertical farming proposed by Chirs Abel is to create flexible spaces for food production within large scale, mixed-use developments where opportunities exist for offsetting the higher costs of providing space for one function against the lower costs of another. This has been combined with on-site systems of water collection and power generation

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