Yesterday the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) named the Israeli drip irrigation technology firm Netafim its annual Industry Water Award winner. Founded almost 50 years ago, the firm has grown far beyond the Middle East and now sells irrigation equipment in over 110 countries.
SIWI’s decision to award Netafim the 2013 award goes beyond the company’s accomplishments and technological innovation. This award is important because it demonstrates the enormous impact agriculture has on the globe’s ever diminishing water supply. Data varies from country to country, and water experts will agree to disagree on agriculture’s overall worldwide impact, but anywhere from 70 percent and perhaps even over 90 percent of the world’s fresh water goes towards farming.
Netafim has long been a global leader in the advancement of drip irrigation; the company’s legacy as such is that over 10 million hectares (38,600 square miles) are now watered by drip technologies. Drive through the San Joaquin Valley, America’s breadbasket (and fruit bowl), and chances are you will see drip irrigation systems water orchards and farms along Highway 99 or Interstate 5.
Drip technologies, compared to conventional irrigation, can slash water consumption by as much has half. Furthermore, the technology’s benefits go beyond water consumption–most fields watered by drip irrigation systems score an increase in yields while farmers benefit from a boost in labour productivity. To understand how a decrease in irrigation can boost yields, spend some time in a garden. Most of us are wired to believe the more watering, the better off plants are. But many plants, however, suffer if overwatered. Most gardens only need one deep watering weekly. In fact, one Israeli agronomist I interviewed last year for a study got his start in the southern San Joaquin Valley over 30 years ago by implementing drip irrigation technologies in an orange grove–and by reducing irrigation by over 60 percent, the orchard’s owners scored almost triple the yield.
So in a world where we need to produce more food with less resources for a surging global population, SIWI’s selection of Netafim sends a powerful signal. It is time for the private sector, government and civil society to cooperate and find ways to work with farmers and demonstrate how smarter use of water is a huge all-around benefit. Such a shift is particularly critical in developing countries, where Netafim holds seminars to teach farmers about smarter irrigation systems and has witnessed family farms increase their incomes significantly. Considering the global land grab and many farmers’ tenuous hold on their land, technologies such as Netafim’s are a way in which farming families can maintain their way of life and increase their incomes.
Last year’s awardee was PepsiCo because of the company’s work on water efficiency and conservation. Municipal water authorities including those in Phnom Penh and Orange County (CA) have also been past winners.
Netafim’s representatives will receive the award in Stockholm, Sweden on September 3 during SIWI’s annual World Water Week Conference.
Based in Fresno, California, Leon Kaye is the editor of GreenGoPost.com and frequently writes about business sustainability strategy. Leon also contributes to Guardian Sustainable Business; his work has also appeared on Sustainable Brands, Inhabitat and Earth911. You can follow Leon and ask him questions on Twitter or Instagram (greengopost).
[Image credit: Leon Kaye]