The question comes from the recent release of the most recent report by the Australian Government’s Productivity Commission. The report highlights the growing importance of food produced with no water to Australian residents and states.
The report also points out that the number of hectares that produce the largest number of kilograms of food with no water is actually growing, from 12.2 per cent of the country’s farmland in 1989 to 12.5 per cent of soil in 2004.
The report notes that this is despite growing demand for fresh fruit and vegetables. “Demand for fresh fruits and vegetables has doubled over the past 20 years and the number of hectares grown and harvested with no water has now been estimated at 20 million hectares,” said report author Stephen Wollick, professor of sustainable agriculture at Macquarie University.
“This means that the total amount of food produced with water has been increasing steadily in some regions, but has increased very little in others.
“For instance, the average Australian is fed approximately 10.4 kilograms of food per person per year and about 75 per cent of that is fresh fruits and vegetables,” explained Wollick.
Why do so many Australian farmers produce food with no water and not using water in the first place?
Professor Wollick said that the growing demand for fresh produce was due to increasing urbanization in many countries. This is due to a combination of increased water requirements for irrigation and the need for people to commute more often than they did in the past.
“Urbanization has resulted in more reliance on water for agriculture in some countries but it has also resulted in increasing water use which in turn has led to increasing water demand in the environment.
“These changes to the use of water mean that the ability of people to produce food with minimal water is becoming a reality.
“And as we learn more and more about how we are using water, people around Australia are finding it increasingly difficult to feed themselves and other society members,” he said.
‘Water isn’t free’
According to Wollick, the key to a sustainable farming system is to work to capture the full amount of water required by a crop. While this may mean irrigating more crops or planting more crops in places where it is possible, it usually involves taking that water from existing supplies.
“Water is not free. If you are looking to capture the full water necessary for the production of a good or service you need to account for the costs of the storage and
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