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World Water Day: Irrigation could help fight hunger and poverty

Press Release 99/14
Rome, 22 March - Irrigation can make a significant contribution to reducing poverty and hunger, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said in a report published today on the occasion of World Water Day (22 March), which is celebrated by the UN.

Low-cost, locally produced irrigation technology, like pumps, hose and drip systems could help produce more food and could create jobs and income opportunities for the poor.

Irrigated agriculture provides 40 percent of world food production, according to FAO. Around 60 percent of the extra food required to sustain a world population of about 8 billion by 2025 must come from irrigated agriculture, the UN agency said. Rainfed agriculture alone will not be able to keep up with the growing need to feed more people.

More than 1.3 billion people are absolutely poor, and their number is increasing. In Africa alone, the number of poor is projected to increase by 40 percent between 1990 and 2000. Among the world's poor, who's average income is $1.50 per day, are more than 800 million undernourished people in the developing countries.

Small-scale irrigation could help farmers to "grow more crop per drop", FAO said. Indirectly, they could benefit from a more secure food supply, lower food prices, better nutrition and more water for domestic use. The poor tend to spend a high proportion of their income, between 50-80 percent, on food consumption and water.

By extending small-scale irrigation, increased employment can be created, FAO said. In Bangladesh, for example, groundwater irrigation has increased employment in agriculture between 1985 and now by around 250 percent. In Kenya and Zimbabwe, irrigation creates a steady income for small farmers. In addition, with more jobs and a higher income, people in the rural areas will have less reason to migrate to the cities.

FAO stressed that the technology made available to small farmers should be affordable and easy to operate. Men and women should have equal access to irrigation. In Gambia, Tanzania and Kenya, women's rights to hold irrigated land and control the distribution of products, have improved family nutrition and the income of female-headed households significantly, FAO said.

Support should be given to irrigation management organizations that promote "equitable and efficient use of land and water." The poor need to be able to defend their water rights in the face of competition from both larger farmers and from other sectors using water. "Initiatives that involve the landless gaining access to the benefits of irrigation require greater exposure," FAO said.

(*) The report "Poverty reduction and irrigated agriculture" was produced by the International Programme for Technology and Research in Irrigation and Drainage (IPTRID), which is managed by FAO (

For more information please contact:

Erwin Northoff
Media Officer
tel: 0039-06-5705 3105
e-mail: Erwin.Northoff@FAO.Org