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Irrigation and the environmental tragedy: Pathways towards sustainability in agricultural water use

Perret S., Payen S.. 2020. Irrigation and Drainage, 69 (2) : p. 263-271.

Global environmental degradation, and the diverse and intense interactions between irrigation and the environment, are prompting the sector to play a more active role towards sustainability. This paper builds on ICID's 2030 vision on a more sustainable irrigation sector. It recaps the various environmental impacts of irrigation systems and calls for a threefold paradigm shift: the objectives of irrigation, its practices, and the ways to assess its impacts must evolve. The paper critically analyses the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs') framework, which provides a prompting set of orientations, yet with little consideration of the systemic nature of irrigation. The paper promotes more operational frameworks: nexus thinking and the ecosystem services' framework, since both allow for systemic approaches, and for developing trade-offs. The paper also discusses the merits of life cycle analysis (LCA) for environmental impact assessment. The benefits gained through these alternative approaches are illustrated in two cases of environmental impacts: return flow and salinization. Finally, the paper suggests combining these approaches with three principles for fostering a true paradigm shift in agricultural water use: developing and using suitable metrics, combining models to reconnect economic concerns with environmental ones, and considering larger territories and ecosystems to cater for interactions with the environment.

Mots-clés : services écosystémiques; durabilité; agriculture durable; objectifs de développement durable; analyse du cycle de vie; dégradation de l'environnement; impact sur l'environnement; méthode d'irrigation; utilisation de l'eau; irrigation; utilisation de l'eau en agriculture

Thématique : Irrigation; Conservation de la nature et ressources foncières; Ressources en eau et leur gestion

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