Majority of 21st century global irrigation expansion has been in water stressed regions

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Piyush Mehta, Stefan Siebert, Matti Kummu, Qinyu Deng, Tariq Ali, Landon Marston, Wei Xie, Kyle Frankel Davis


The expansion of irrigated agriculture has increased global crop production but resulted in widespread stress to freshwater resources. Ensuring that increases in irrigated production only occur in places where water is relatively abundant is a key objective of sustainable agriculture, and knowledge of how irrigated land has evolved is important for measuring progress towards water sustainability. Yet a spatially detailed understanding of the evolution of global area equipped for irrigation (AEI) is missing. Here we utilize the latest sub-national irrigation statistics (covering 17298 administrative units) from various official sources to develop a gridded (5 arc-min resolution) global product of AEI for the years 2000, 2005, 2010, and 2015. We find that AEI increased by 11% from 2000 (297 Mha) to 2015 (330 Mha) with locations of both substantial expansion such as northwest India and northeast China and decline, such as Russia. Combining these outputs with information on green (i.e., rainfall) and blue (i.e., surface and ground) water stress, we also examine to what extent irrigation has expanded unsustainably in places already experiencing water stress. We find that more than half (52%) of irrigation expansion has taken place in areas that were already water stressed in year 2000, with India alone accounting for 36% of global unsustainable expansion. These findings provide new insights into the evolving patterns of global irrigation with important implications for global water sustainability and food security.



Agriculture, Spatial Science, Sustainability


irrigation, irrigated areas, Global, gridded, Dataset, global data, sustainability, water stress


Published: 2022-08-09 07:24

Last Updated: 2022-08-09 14:24


CC BY Attribution 4.0 International