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Irrigation

About 70% of the world's irrigated area is in Asia. Irrigation constitutes about 80% of the demand for freshwater in the region.

Increasing populations, changing diets, growing cities, and expanding energy and industrial production each demands a greater share of available water resources. With increasing concerns about water scarcity and food security in the region, we need to find ways to increase the productivity of irrigation to produce the food, fiber, and fuel needed for tomorrow's population.

Challenges to improved irrigation performance, include finite resources, outdated irrigation systems, institutional inefficiencies, and weak governance.

Asia's irrigation challenges

Moving forward, there is a need for more intricate understanding of the changing rural economy and to provide robust solutions to overcome:

  • Outdated irrigation systems. A rigorous review of the current status of irrigation performance and defining areas of weakness is required. Irrigation systems must be designed and operated consistent with modernized management and evolving cropping patterns.
  • Lack of water accounting. The quantification of water productivity to demonstrate investment benefits remains limited and has also tended to focus on agricultural yield gains rather than considering the value of water (i.e. crop per drop).
  • Fragmented approaches. The value of a more comprehensive package of interventions is overlooked with greater focus on investments in main system development. Water-energy links continue to be addressed in isolation of each other.
  • Weak governance. There is a need to consider the evolving role of institutions, including addressing issues relating to depleting numbers of irrigation practitioners and reasserting that organizational and policy dynamics, and capacity building of managers and users, are essential to infrastructure investments.
  • Unsupportive price policies. Macroeconomics including pricing and trade policies, national food pricing and subsidies, affect farmers’ decisions on cropping patterns. Policy dialogue to avoid investments being undermined by unfavorable pricing policy is required.

ADB's support to irrigation

ADB's Water Financing Program aims to assist Asian countries in providing more productive and efficient irrigation and drainage services to over 40 million farmers by 2020. ADB has financed more than 200 irrigation projects, with investments totaling $6.6 billion, and about $1.1 billion pipeline investments for irrigation.

ADB’s Water Operational Plan 2011-2020 considers core areas of investment for increasing efficiencies and service provision in water use across a range of users, specifically, improvements in irrigation productivity and efficiency, and investment in projects that demonstrate improved on-farm land and water management. More efforts are required to increase opportunity for private sector engagement in revitalizing Asia’s irrigation systems.