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9 February 2015  

Reducing water usage in food production

A recent carbon footprint analysis carried out by INNOCAT partner Turin (Italy) on the city's catering service discovered that the majority of carbon produced along the food chain occurred during food production. A similar trend appears to be true with water. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), almost 70 percent of the world’s freshwater resources are currently used on crop irrigation. With increasing pressure on freshwater supplies globally, scientists, farmers and entrepreneurs are turning their attention to improving efficiency and reducing the amount of water used in food production.

FAO figures show that up to 60 percent of all water withdrawn for irrigation is lost before it arrives in the field, through leaks, spillage and evaporation. Traditional irrigation methods, such as using floodwater, can also be problematic. Up to half of water used in flood irrigation is not absorbed by crops, but instead runs off into local rivers and streams, carrying polluting fertilisers, pesticides and topsoil with it.

New technologies are being designed to pinpoint leaks more accurately using flow and acoustic sensors, making them easier to find and cheaper to fix. An Israeli company known as Tal Ya has created a low tech but innovative solution, in the form of plastic trays which capture dew and funnel it to plants. The trays can reduce water use by up to 90% as well as reducing fertiliser use thanks to the trays directing the nutrient straight to the plant’s roots.

For more information, visit the Guardian sustainable business hub.