According to a United Nations report, by 2025, 1.8 billion people will be living in countries or regions with absolute water scarcity, and two-thirds of the world’s population could be living under water stressed conditions. Crop irrigation accounts for 70% of the global water extractions. Irrigation efficiency measures are increasingly being promoted (and subsidised) throughout the world as one of the solutions to the world’s water woes. For example, the UN Sustainable Development Goal 6.4 seeks to increase water use efficiency.

GFAR Associate Director of Research Prof. Sarah Wheeler  was one of 11 scientists and economists who recently published a paper in the prestigious Science Journal on ‘The Paradox of Irrigation Efficiency- higher efficiency rarely reduces water consumption’.  The lead author of the paper is Prof. Quentin Grafton of Australian National University.

The paper discusses the fact that concept of irrigation efficiency (volume of all irrigation water beneficially used on the field to the total volume of irrigation water applied) which provides benefits to irrigators, however, fails to deliver public good benefits of increased water availability. The paper argues that irrigation efficiency measures must be accompanied by strong water accounting and measurements, a cap on extractions, an assessment of uncertainties, the valuation of trade-offs, and enhanced understanding of the incentives and behaviour of irrigators.

Prof. Sarah Wheeler and Prof. Quentin Grafton recently did a podcast on Policy Forum to discuss the findings of the paper.

Some of the media on the paper includes:

To read more about the water research conducted by GFAR on water policy please visit


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