The need of more efficient agricultural planning under increasing water scarcity events

The agricultural system, the largest user of water worldwide, is being challenged by more frequent and severe droughts. In the coming years, much more water scarcity in is foreseen. Smart Agriculture plays a major role on the adaptation towards a water scarce scenario, as it is based on a more precise and resource-efficient approach to food production. The shift to Smart Agriculture requires the framework to test the tools and create tailor made solutions for the different cases. The EIT Water Scarcity project bridges Smart Agriculture and innovation to reality.

It is 6am in Marche, central Italy, and it is already getting hot. Giovanni has arrived to his farm. He checks if the drip irrigation system works smoothly. In his irrigation system water flows through a filter into special drip pipes, with emitters located at different spacing which distribute the water directly into the soil near the roots through a special slow-release device. The tubing can be covered by mulch or the emitters are blocked by minerals and fertilizers.

He is worried about the yield. Even though he irrigates thoroughly, the heat makes plants evaporate more water. The temperature rises; evapotranspiration rates increase, and demand higher crop water requirements. Yet, some plants are thirstier than others. Will the plants reach the expected yield? The weather forecast predicts heatwaves, but when should he start watering more? He observes that some plants are already stressed and it might be too late. What’s happening in the roots and in the soil? Do the plants require more water or more fertilizers? Both are costly, there is no room for wasting resources. The plants feel the stress as they experience ‘water scarcity’.

Water scarcity: the concept

What images do you evoke when you hear “water scarcity”? We usually imagine deserts, drought, famine and think of places in Africa or the Middle East. But, even in Europe, millions of people are affected by water scarcity. It is not only challenging the yield of individual farms, like Giovanni’s, but food security overall.

Water scarcity is defined as the reduced availability of water due to physical shortage (for example, a drought), a lack of adequate infrastructure (such as channels and wells), or the failure of institutions to ensure a regular water supply. In other words, water scarcity occurs where there are insufficient water resources to satisfy the long-term average needs in a region.1

1 https://www.unwater.org/water-facts/scarcity/

Bridging Smart Agriculture and innovation to reality

Shifting from farmer’s empirical observations to the smart agriculture with DSS requires different frameworks, policies, infrastructures, and trainings. It requires a framework for testing and creating tailor made solutions for different cases.

Systemic innovation is a participatory method to co-create the future which all stakeholders desire. The European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT) is a timely response to these innovation challenges and, in itself, it exemplifies innovation. Its activities are implemented through a distributed network of Knowledge and Innovation – Communities (KICs) addressing several societal challenges. The KICs gather together close-knit partnerships of European education, research and business entities – the so-called knowledge triangle – and also involve public authorities in these partnerships.

EIT Food is leading a cross KIC initiative to tackle water scarcity across Southern Europe, bringing together experts, corporates, and innovators from different industrial areas. Among other activities, the EIT Water Scarcity project brings together end users like Giovanni or CIIP with solution providers such as Alchemia-Nova, Secalflor or Soonapse, through a 3-months support programme. This is EIT’s contribution to the creation of a water-smart economy. The results of the activities will be showcase in 3 sectoral events in September and October 2021: Stay tuned for the results!

Evgenia Tsianou, DISSCO

Carmen Galindo, EIT Food

Published in: Nº80 FuturENVIRO May – June 2021