The challenge posed by the use of water in Brazilian agriculture

Water is a finite natural resource and one of the biggest concerns for the future of humankind. Therefore, society is going to increasingly question the way water has been used by different production sectors in the world.

Agriculture has been pointed as an alleged consumer of 70% of global freshwater reserves. This percentage, which has been internationally cited, does not find support in Brazilian reality, whose agriculture is prioritarily rain-dependent. Most of our rural properties borrow rainwater from nature, which would go to rivers and oceans, and return it clean, through evaporation, transpiration and soil infiltration. Yet, a lot needs to be done to improve water use efficiency in agriculture.

Recently the increasing incidence of water crises in some regions in Brazil, not to mention the constant droughts that have assailed the semiarid Northeast for centuries, have shown that we need to urgently look aftar our water resources. The advance of the process of urbanization forces us to discuss the impact of cities in water resource pollution and in magnifying the insensible use of water.

The agriculture of the future will demand low-cost solutions for the increasingly more rational use of water from the science of today and upcoming years. More efficient water-stress resistant plants Irrigation systems that optimize water use and energy. Conservationist practices that protect the soil and reduce evaporation. Well-managed integrated crop-forestry and crop-livestock-forestry systems, which can contribute to water conservation through soils, mitigating the negative effects resulting from the large dispersion between precipitations in the rainy and dry seasons. These are some research projects that are being developed by some of Embrapa's important research centers at the moment, in partnership with several public and private institutions.

But Science will need to be backed by public policy to make such solutions effectively turn into innovation. More reservoirs, in strategic locations, would allow for expanding irrigation practices, which are still underused in Brazil. Besides food production, irrigation can fulfill another noble role in the future: making large manageable water reservoirs to mitigate the effect of floods feasible.

Or then making simple solutions that can be adopted on a large scale in the domestic territory possible. Like the mini-dams, for instance, a system of small earth dams sequentially excavated in the same direction as torrents. When well-planned and managed, such dams fill up, empty themselves and refill up, holding floods back and storing water at times of abundance. Such simple low-cost technology has already made the establishment of countless reservoirs in the countryside of Brazil possible, but they could be adopted in the entire domestic territory if there was public policy to facilitate their set-up through a partnership between city halls, private initiative and farmers.

On this page, Embrapa demonstrates some of its ongoing technological solutions and research projects that contribute to a more rational use of water in agriculture. It also shows the interfaces and synergy of Embrapa's work with the Sustainable Development Goal 6 (Water and Sanitation), established by the United Nations (UN). It is in line with three of the axes of impact and with four of the 12 strategic objectives from Embrapa's VI Master Plan.

SDG 6 draws global authorities's attention with regard to the need for access to potable water and sanitation for populations all over the world. In order to meet such goal, there is a set of goals to consider, among which are improving the quality of the water supplies, increased efficiency in the use of this resource in all sectors (including sustainable use), and the protection or restoration of ecosystems.

As Embrapa's work agenda is in line with the international commitment to SDG 6, the corporation selected six of the eight goals established by the UN to which it can effectively contribute within the established deadlines, through research, technological solutions and support in the definition and implementation of policy, programs and previously developed or ongoing actions, as well as future studies.