Water-related limits to growth for agriculture in Iran

Elsevier, Heliyon, Volume 9, May 2023
Khorsandi M., Omidi T., van Oel P.

Globally, agriculture is the primary water consumption sector. This study used water footprint (WF) as a bottom-up tool and satellite imagery as a top-down tool to estimate the internal water use (WU) in the agricultural sector in an innovative way to show the effects of water-intensive use in agriculture in an arid country. The WF of Iran has been quantified for 19 main crops and for related agricultural products exported from Iran to partner countries. Using a bottom-up approach, Iran's total yearly agriculture net water consumption is estimated to be 42.43 billion cubic meters (BCM) per year. Out of 42.43 BCM total net internal water use, only 1.61 BCM is virtual-water export related to these 19 products, and the remaining 40.82 BCM is for internal use. Our results using satellite imagery show that in case of using all possible lands for agriculture, it would require 77.4 BCM. However, not all these lands are within human reach, and the maximum available water is way lower than this amount. Using satellite imagery, the total evaporation from agricultural lands shows 55.27 BCM for 2020, which agrees with national reports during 2005–2014. This study shows that agricultural water consumption tends to use internal water resources at a maximum level for export and national use, significantly impacting renewable and non-renewable water resource availability, especially in groundwater.