Area Equipped for Irrigation at Record Levels, But Expansion Slows

Judith Renner | Nov 27, 2012

In 2009, the most recent year for which global data are available from the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), 311 million hectares in the world were equipped for irrigation.1 (See Figure 1.) As of 2010, the countries with the largest areas were India (39 million hectares), China (19 million), and the United States (17 million).2

Irrigation Figure 1

Worldwide, 84 percent of the area equipped for irrigation is actually being irrigated.3 The share is highest in Asia (87 percent) and Africa (85 percent).4 It is somewhat lower in the Americas (81 percent) and in Oceania (77 percent), but much lower in Europe (59 percent). (See Figure 2.)5 Higher and more reliable levels of rainfall allow parts of Europe—particularly northern and eastern Europe—to rely less on existing irrigation infrastructure than is the case in drier or more variable climates.

The irrigation sector claims about 70 percent of the freshwater withdrawals worldwide.6 Irrigation can offer crop yields two to four times greater than is possible with rainfed farming.7 Indeed, irrigated areas provide 40 percent of the world’s food from approximately 20 percent of its agricultural land.8

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