International Symposium on
Drylands Ecology and Human Security

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Managing Scarce Water Resources for Improved Agricultural Productivity

Theib Y. Oweis

International Center for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas (ICARDA), Aleppo, Syria;


Water scarcity and drought are the main features of the dry areas and are increasingly affecting the economic development in this environment. Increasing water scarcity and competition on water in the dry areas are causing a decline in the share of water for agriculture. At the same time the demand for food is increasing. With most of the water resources in these areas tapped, the only option available is increasing agricultural water productivity. The question however is: can we increase water productivity to satisfy the increasing demand for food and at the same time ensure enough water for sustaining the resource base? This paper examines the opportunities for water productivity improvement in rainfed and irrigated agriculture as well as marginal drylands. The paper presents examples of on-farm water management, germplasm improvement, and agro-management in integrated natural resource management context. Strategies to optimize water use in agriculture under conditions of scarcity and drought need be developed to maximize return per unit of water instead of per unit of land and to improve local livelihoods. New policies and institutions are needed for implementing a sound water use development program under these conditions.