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Closing water productivity gaps to achieve food and water security for a global maize supply

Huifang Zheng, Qianqian Bian, Yulong Yin, Hao Ying, Qinghua Yang & Zhenling Cui

To achieve food and water security, it is as important to close the water productivity (WP) gap (which was defined as the difference between the maximum attainable WP and the currently achieved WP at the field scale) as it is to close yield gaps. However, few studies have provided quantitative estimates of existing WP gaps and constraining factors for global maize production. Using a meta-analysis of 473 published studies covering 31 countries and 5,553 observations (932 site-years), we found the global average WP value for irrigated maize was 18.6 kg ha−1 mm−1. These WPs varied by factors such as seasonal precipitation, irrigation regimes, soil organic matter and soil pH. In current production systems, there exists a huge scope for improvement in maize WP, but the reported field experiments achieved only 20–46% of potential WP across all countries. Considering the future, raising WP to 85% of potential WP by 2050, a 100% increase in maize production could be achieved with 20% less planted area and 21% less water consumption than in 2005. Closing the WP gap may be critical to ensuring food security and achieving sustainable global agriculture.

Article published in nature – International journal of science