IntroductionThe origin of water use in agriculture through irrigation has been traced back to ancient civilizations, such as China, Egypt and Mesopotamia. These civilizations easily dealt with the demand for water. This is especially due to the fact that agriculture was their main economic activity, and thus they organized their cultures primarily around irrigation. But dealing with the demand for water, including the allocation of water for agriculture, has become a daunting task for today’s governments. Rapid growth of population today has caused the increase of urbanization. A large population has translated into increased demand for water for sanitation, drinking, etc.
And industrialization, one of the key characters of urbanization, means that besides agriculture, water is also now needed in other commercial and manufacturing sectors (ACIAR, n.d. ; Walker & Salt, 2006). Ivanova (2012) pens an article aptly titled Australia’s Agriculture and Energy Sectors Clash Over Water, and in which she notes the impact that rapid development of Australia’s coal seam gas industry is having on allocation of water for rural agriculture, what she refers to as ‘farming regions’. These competing demands for water, which are actually on the increase, are in-turn increasing pressure on the world’s water resources.
While crop irrigation in agriculture is the key use of freshwater resources in Australia, for instance, the aforementioned population increase and urbanization are accelerating the consumption of water (ACIAR, n.d. ; walker & Salt, 2006). Australia’s Murray Darling Basin is a context in which this conflict of demands of water use is evident. This paper is a report on water use in relation to agriculture in Murray Darling Basin (MDB). The assessment and evaluation of the crisis in MDB provides a key basis for understanding the economic, environmental, political and ethical issues that Australian agriculture faces today.
Murray Darling Basin: Background InformationRaising 41 percent of agricultural production gross value, the MDB is the most significant agricultural region in and for Australia (NSW HSC online, n.d. ). The area has been termed as Australia’s ‘food basket’ and agricultural heartland. This is especially so as it is a major contributor to Australia’s food production and national economy. It is even expected to be the key to Australia’s future food exports as long as it is managed in a way that is in line with sustainable management of land.
This assertion on sustainable management of land alludes to the fact that the MDB is Australia’s largest irrigated agriculture region. It is for this reason that in recent years, there has been much agricultural, environmental and political debate and news surrounding the fate of the MDB. This is especially in relation to Australia’s increasingly worsening water crisis that is impacting on agriculture, and more so in the MDB region.
While the MDB agricultural activities were significant to the nation, there was also need to put in place certain strategies to ensure that those benefits were sustainable and any related potential risks could be prevented from affecting other important resources as well. A number of national and MDB-specific policies have sought to address this situation. In addition, the communities and governments around MDB formed a partnership, which remains the world’s largest integrated program for catchment management, covering an area of more than 1 million square kilometres (NSW HSC online, n.d. ).