Innovative water management tool gets global boost

Support from the Netherlands allows FAO’s WaPOR portal to expand geographical coverage. An innovative water management tool will expand to become available around the world thanks to a contribution from the Foreign Affairs Ministry of the Netherlands to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

Support from the Netherlands allows FAO’s WaPOR portal to expand geographical coverage. An innovative water management tool will become available worldwide thanks to a contribution from the Foreign Affairs Ministry of the Netherlands to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

FAO has developed and used data and information presented in a portal known as WaPOR. Its full name is the Water Productivity through Open Access of Remotely sensed derived data. It will provide near real-time data that can be used for various agriculture and water resources management applications. The portal presently offers data that, at the coarser resolution, covers Africa and the Middle East. The WaPOR project, centred on the database, works closely with ten partner countries to help build their capacity to use the data for optimising water management and policy needs.

The additional funding of $4.95 million, announced today at World Water Week in Stockholm, will allow for a global expansion of the database and the addition of two new partner countries in Asia and Latin America.

“This portal is useful in ensuring that agricultural water resources are managed sustainably. Scaling it up to a global level is a challenge we are eager to lead,” said Lifeng Li, Director of FAO’s Land and Water Division.

Innovative water management tools support sustainability

Sustainable water use is key to achieving food security. The use of innovative water management tools has become particularly important with increasingly frequent extreme climate conditions and increased water scarcity. Earth observation technologies allow for various uses, including monitoring water use patterns for agricultural production. They can help ensure that this precious resource, especially irrigation water, is best harnessed.

“Water is the key enabler of the transition towards sustainable food systems. Improved water governance is needed,” said Kitty van der Heijden, Director-General of International Cooperation at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands. That’s the reason we are keen to invest in knowledge and open data. We notice that the WaPOR impacts both public and private sectors increasingly use it.”

“Making WaPOR globally accessible is a welcome opportunity and will bring enhanced information. That data includes trends in vegetation growth and water stress. WaPOR will be available to more farmers in developing countries,” said Jippe Hoogeveen, team leader for FAO’s WaPOR project.

What WaPOR does as an innovative water management tool

WaPOR processes satellite data that can help farmers achieve higher, more reliable agricultural yields and optimise irrigation systems.  Globally, agriculture accounts for 72 per cent of all freshwater withdrawn from rivers, aquifers, and lakes. Focusing solutions on agriculture is a winning course of action in finding the best way to use this limited resource. Fostering a technological tool with near real-time information, a digital public good to enhance water productivity is increasingly imperative and is being implemented with pastoralist communities in Burkina Faso and Mali and soon in Iraq.

WaPOR provides evapotranspiration data, relating to a key phase in the natural water cycle consisting of water that directly evaporates into the atmosphere and water that returns to the atmosphere after moving through a plant and emerging as vapour exuded by foliage. These innovative water management techniques accurately assesses how much water a crop consumes during any given period. When related to biomass and harvestable crop yield, it offers a way to measure water productivity. It is a measure of output about the water used as input and specific crops in specific places. The tool produces maps, which show biomass and its yield per cubic meter of water. Water productivity is offered at as fine as 30-meter grids. They are updated every one to 10 days, with data queries going as far back as 2009.

Where WaPOR can help

WaPOR is applicable in various contexts, such as in the assessment of irrigation performance of a sugarcane estate in Mozambique, evaluating water resources in the Nile River basin (in a water accounting process), and monitoring conflict impact on agricultural areas in Syria.  In combination with local data, WaPOR data is being used in Mali and Burkina Faso to assist herders in assessing animal feed production.

In 2020 WaPOR was presented during the International Conference “Artificial Intelligence (AI), Food for All”, showcased as a concrete example of using artificial intelligence to support decision makers in facing the global agri-environmental challenges and to help farmers produce more nutritious food with less water. At this year’s World Water Forum held in Dakar, Senegal, WaPOR was recognised as a Dakar 2022 Initiative project. It was recognised for its real economic, social and environmental values and the positive impacts on the lives of populations.

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