Achieving water savings in agricultural systems is challenging and many projects in the past have failed to deliver the expected water savings. To achieve real water savings, FutureWater and FAO have organized training courses on Real Water Savings in Agricultural Systems (REWAS) in eight Asian countries.

The Food and Agriculture Organization Regional Office of South Asia and Pacific (FAO-RAP) has supported though its Water Scarcity Program training on real water savings. FutureWater has developed and delivered those training in eight Asian countries including: Iran, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, Bangladesh, China, Indonesia, and India.

The REWAS training course introduces a simple tool to estimate the potential for generating real water savings from various agronomic, water management and technical practices in irrigated agriculture. Target audiences of the training were professionals working in water management (policy, academia, government, NGOs, private sector) from those eight. Participants gained a solid understanding of the linkages between field interventions (water, soil, agronomy) and basin-scale hydrology, in addition to being able to quantify these impacts. Over 300 participants successfully followed the trainings and were rewarded with a certificate.

A summary of the REWAS course will be soon available on the FAO elearning Academy.

Details and access to the REWAS tool can be found here.

A selection of feedback obtained from an anonymous survey at the end of the courses:

  • “All the sessions were informative and implementation of the knowledge acquired will help to make better decisions with regard to water usage policy.”
  • “It was an excellent training; a very practical tool ReWAS, great presentations and very instructive exercises.”
  • “I think this was a great training. Trainers explained very well and made it easy for students to understand. Thank you very much for providing this training. I now understand what is real water saving.”
  • “The training course design is very good and exercises are really interesting and lead to effective learning.”
  • “The real water savings was new concept for me and it will really help strengthen my knowledge and understandings.”

On 25th July and 2nd August 2022, FAO Pakistan conducted a Water Accounting Methodology Sharing workshop in Lahore (Punjab) and Karachi (Sindh), respectively. Peter Droogers (Senior Hydrologist) and Tania Imran (Consultant) from FutureWater joined the workshop to deliver introductory sessions on the concept of water accounting and the potential use of remote sensing.

The workshop was conducted as part of the Green Climate Fund (GCF) project titled “Transforming the Indus Basin with Climate Resilient Agriculture and Water Management”. The project aims to shift agriculture and water management to a new paradigm in which processes are effectively adapting to climate change.

Government officials from different provincial departments as well as researchers from various universities participated in both the workshops. Peter, as a Senior Water Specialist for the project, explained the concept of water accounting through interactive exercises and highlighted how water accounting can help analyze future scenarios and inform decision-making for sustainable water resources management. He also introduced the concept of real water savings in agriculture to broaden the participants’ perspectives and encourage them to reflect on what constitutes as ‘water losses’. Similarly, Tania shared the limitations of the existing WA methodology which solely relies on ground data and introduced opportunities for remote sensing to fill these gaps. As examples of geospatial analysis tools that can be employed for this task, she introduced Google Earth Engine and EarthMap to the participants through short exercises.

As one of the objectives of Component 1 of the project is to develop an interdisciplinary team to establish a water accounting system at four different scales, FutureWater is currently involved in building this interdisciplinary team and enhancing their technical capacity.

For this, one-on-one stakeholder meetings with different government organizations, such as Pakistan Meteorological Department, On-Farm Water Management and Provincial Irrigation Departments, also took place during the visit. The aim of these stakeholder meetings was to assess their existing technical capacity, identify training needs and gain an understanding of their desired outputs.

The next step is to design a training curriculum that will enable this interdisciplinary team to conduct water accounting at different spatiotemporal scales.


Workshop participants
Presentation by Peter Droogers

Agriculture is the most water demanding and consuming sector, globally responsible for most of the human induced water withdrawals. This abstraction of water is a critical input for agricultural production and plays an important role in food security as irrigated agriculture represents about 20 percent of the total cultivated land while contributing by 40 percent of the total food produced worldwide.

The FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific (FAO-RAP) is concerned about this increase in water use over the last decades that has led to water scarcity in many countries. This trend will continue as the gap between water demand and supply is projected to widen due to factors such as population growth and economic development, and environmental factors such as land degradation and climate change.

Unfortunately, solutions to overcome the current and future water crisis by looking at the agricultural sector are not simple and have often led to unrealistic expectations. Misconceptions and overly simplistic (and often erroneous) views have been flagged and described over the last recent decades. However, uptake of those new insights by decision makers and the irrigation sector itself has been limited.

The “Follow the Water” project will develop a Guidance Document that summarizes those aspects and, more importantly, quantifies the return flows that occurs in irrigated systems. Those return flows are collected from a wide range of experiments and are collected in a database to be used as reference for new and/or rehabilitation irrigation projects.

The FAO/FutureWater project will also develop a simple-to-use tool to track water in irrigated systems using so-called “virtual tracers”. The tool will respond to the demand for a better understanding the role of reuse of water in irrigated agriculture systems. An extensive training package, based on the Guidance and the Tool, is developed as well.

FAO plays an essential role in backstopping the development of the Guidance and the Tool and promoting. FutureWater takes the lead in development of the Guidance, the Tool and the training package. With this, FAO and FutureWater will contribute to a sustainable future of our water resources.

Applications for the eLearning course Real Water Savings in Agriculture (REWAS) can be submitted starting today. This online course is organized by Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and FutureWater at no costs and will be organized in August 2022. Focus will be on India. Participants will receive a FAO / FutureWater certificate after successful completion.

The REWAS training course will introduce a simple tool to estimate the potential for generating real water savings from various agronomic, water management and technical practices in irrigated agriculture. Target audience are professionals working in water management (policy, academia, government, NGOs, private sector). Participants will gain a solid understanding of the linkages between field interventions (water, soil, agronomy) and basin-scale hydrology, in addition to being able to quantify these impacts.

The REWAS tool will be distributed among the participants and can be used free of charge during and after the training.

The training is delivered as an eLearning and will be distributed over a 4-weeks period. Each week consists of approximately 1 hour of ‘live’ online learning with all participants (using videoconferencing tool) followed by about 3 to 5 hours of self-learning at ones own pace.

The live online learning sessions will take place at the following days (13:30-14:30 Indian Time):

Submit your application before 18-Jul-2022 by sending an email to Peter Droogers ( including:

  • name;
  • organization;
  • email address;
  • North or South India.

Downloadable flyers for both courses in North and South India by clicking the links.


Pakistan is ranked as the 8th most climate vulnerable country in the world as per the Global Climate Risk Index (2019) and in recent years has been facing the worst brunt of climate change. Irregular and intense precipitation, heatwaves, droughts, and floods have severely impacted the agriculture and water sector. Approximately, 90% of the country’s freshwater resources are utilized by the agricultural sector. However, lack of information services makes it a challenge to implement a water accounting system for improved water resources management.

The GCF funded project titled “Transforming the Indus Basin with Climate Resilient Agriculture and Water Management” aims to shift agriculture and water management to a new paradigm in which processes are effectively adapting to climate change and are able to sustain livelihoods. FAO Pakistan, as per the request of the Ministry of Climate Change, has designed the project to develop the country’s capacity to enhance the resilience of the agricultural and water sector. There are three major components:

1. Enhancing information services for climate change adaptation in the water and agriculture sectors
2. Building on-farm resilience to climate change
3. Creating an enabling environment for continued transformation

FutureWater will be actively involved in Component 1 which focuses on facilitating the development of a water accounting system and improving the availability and use of information services. Given the limited data availability in the region, FutureWater will integrate the use of remote sensing technologies within the existing Water Accounting methodology to address this gap. A capacity and needs assessment will be conducted and a series of tailor-made trainings will be designed subsequently to enable key government stakeholders to use open-source geospatial analysis tools as well as models to estimate real water savings, particularly in the context of agriculture. The trainings will help build the country’s capacity to implement water accounting at different spatiotemporal scales and cope with the worsening impacts of climate change.

Last month, FutureWater concluded training programs on Real Water Savings for Bangladesh, China and Indonesia.
This training was part of the project ‘Delivering Training on Real Water Savings (ReWaS) for the Regional Water Scarcity Program in Bangladesh, Indonesia, India, Thailand and China’ that FutureWater is rolling out in cooperation with the Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific (RAP) of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

In this project, FutureWater offers a training program on Real Water Savings (ReWaS) to water management professionals from five different countries. ReWaS is a simple tool developed by FutureWater, to estimate the potential for generating real water savings from various agronomic, water management and technical practices in irrigated agriculture.

The training offered a tailored training package that facilitates an assessment of the impact of field scale crop-water interventions at the basin scale.For all the trainings so far, we had an enthusiastic and ambitious group of water experts ranging from university students to government officials. All participants were actively involved and worked very hard during the interactive live sessions and the homework assignments.

For each country, we provided a tailor-made case study that combined all the knowledge gained over the training program:
  • China: Towards groundwater neutral cropping systems in the Alluvial Fans of the North China Plain
  • Indonesia: Agronomic Performance and Economic Benefits of Sugarcane (Saccharum officinarum L.) Under Drip Irrigation for Sandy and Clay Soils in East Java, Indonesia
  • Bangladesh: Effect of drip irrigation and mulching on yield, water-use efficiency and economics of tomato

In irrigated agriculture options to save water tend to focus on improved irrigation techniques such as drip and sprinkler irrigation. These irrigation techniques are promoted as legitimate means of increasing water efficiency and “saving water” for other uses (such as domestic use and the environment). However, a growing body of evidence, including a key report by FAO (Perry and Steduto, 2017) shows that in most cases, water “savings” at field scale translate into an increase in water consumption at system and basin scale. Yet despite the growing and irrefutable body of evidence, false “water savings” technologies continue to be promoted, subsidized and implemented as a solution to water scarcity in agriculture.

The goal is to stop false “water savings” technologies to be promoted, subsidized and implemented. To achieve this, it is important to quantify the hydrologic impacts of any new investment or policy in the water sector. Normally, irrigation engineers and planners are trained to look at field scale efficiencies or irrigation system efficiencies at the most. Also, many of the tools used by irrigation engineers are field scale oriented (e.g. FAO AquaCrop model). The serious consequences of these actions are to worsen water scarcity, increase vulnerability to drought, and threaten food security.

There is an urgent need to develop simple and pragmatic tools that can evaluate the impact of field scale crop-water interventions at larger scales (e.g. irrigation systems and basins). Although basin scale hydrological models exist, many of these are either overly complex and unable to be used by practitioners, or not specifically designed for the upscaling from field interventions to basin scale impacts. Moreover, achieving results from the widely-used FAO models such as AquaCrop into a basin-wide impact model is time-consuming, complex and expensive. Therefore, FutureWater developed a simple but robust tool to enhance usability and reach, transparency, transferability in data input and output. The tool is based on proven concepts of water productivity, water accounting and the appropriate water terminology, as promoted by FAO globally (FAO, 2013). Hence, the water use is separated in consumptive use, non-consumptive use, and change in storage.

A complete training package was developed which includes a training manual and an inventory of possible field level interventions. The training manual includes the following aspects:

  1. Introduce and present the real water savings tool
  2. Describe the theory underlying the tool and demonstrating some typical applications
  3. Learn how-to prepare the data required for the tool for your own area of interest
  4. Learn when real water savings occur at system and basin scale with field interventions

The “Integrated Strategic Water Resources Planning and Management for Rwanda” consultancy project will assess and evaluate the availability and vulnerability of the country’s water resources up to around 2050 taking climate change into consideration.

Based on this, prioritization of investment options in grey and green infrastructure will take place, in order to formulate water resources investment plans. A revised water resources policy will be prepared that is in line with water security targets and SDG 6.

In more detail, the hydrological modelling assessment will result in update water accounts per sub-catchment up to 2050. Field work for assessing groundwater resources in key areas across the country is also performed. A detailed water allocation assessment will be performed using a water resources system model (WEAP), addressing water needs for the various users up to 2050. Water allocation plans will be developed from this modelling work, incorporating stakeholder inputs.

Then, a scenario analysis is performed to evaluate the potential of additional storage in the landscape: grey (reservoirs) and green (through Nature-based Solutions). This analysis will be complemented by field work and a pre-feasibility analysis will be performed on the prioritized options. A SWOT analysis will then lead to a number of possible flagship projects which of which a concept note is prepared.
Support to the revised national policy for water resources management will also be provided by defining new policy statements and actions informed by the results from the previous tasks and developing a new water resources policy that will guide the country towards achieving the NST1 and Vision 2050 targets.

The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation’s (SDCs) Global Programme Climate Change and Environment (GP CCE) India is supporting the operationalization of climate change adaptation actions in the mountain states of Uttarakhand, Sikkim and Himachal Pradesh through the phase two of the “Strengthening State Strategies for Climate Action” (3SCA) project that was launched in 2020. The second phase of 3SCA (2020-23), known as the Strengthening Climate Change Adaptation in Himalayas (SCA-Himalayas), while building on the experience and achievements of Phase 1, aims to showcase mountain ecosystem appropriate scalable approaches for climate resilience in water and disaster risk management sectors; using these efforts to enhance the capacities of the institutions across the Indian Himalayan Region (IHR) to plan, implement and mainstream adaptation actions into their programmes and policy frameworks; and disseminating the experiences and lessons at the regional and global level.

Within this programme, SDC has granted a project to FutureWater, together with Utrecht University, The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), the University of Geneva and a few individual experts. The activities in this project focus on the development and application of climate responsive models and approaches for integrated water resources management (IWRM) for a selected glacier-fed sub-basin system in Uttarakhand and that at the same will find place in relevant policy frameworks paving way for their replication across IHR and other mountainous regions. This will allow the policy makers from the mountain states in India to manage the available water resources in an efficient and effective manner, benefiting the populations depending on these resources.

The combination of future climate change and socio-economic development poses great challenges for water security in areas depending on mountain water (Immerzeel et al., 2019). Climate change affects Asia’s high mountain water supply by its impact on the cryosphere. Changes in glacier ice storage, snow dynamics, evaporation rates lead to changes in runoff composition, overall water availability, seasonal shifts in hydrographs, and increases in extremely high and low flows (Huss and Hock, 2018; Lutz et al., 2014a). On the other and, downstream water demand in South Asia increases rapidly under population growth and increasing welfare boosting the demand for and electricity generation through hydropower. To address and adapt to these challenges integrated water resource management (IWRM) approaches and decision support systems (DSS) tailored to glacier- and snow-fed subbasins are required.

To fulfil the mandate outlined by SDC a framework is presented for IWRM and DSS for Himalayan subbasins consisting of three integrated platforms. (i) A modelling and decision support platform built around a multi-scale modelling framework for glacier and snow fed subbasins, based on state-of-the art and “easy to use” modelling technology. (ii) A stakeholder engagement platform to consult key stakeholders, identify key IWRM issues and co-design a new IWRM plan for Bhagirathi subbasin. (iii) A capacity building platform with on-site training and e-learning modules for the key project components: glacio-hydrological modelling, IWRM and DSS, to ensure the sustainability of the approach and pave the way for upscaling to other subbasins in the Indian Himalayan Region.

The three platforms are designed designed to be flexible, integrated and interactive. Moreover they align with the three outcomes of the project, thus contributing to: develop and validate an integrated climate resilient water resource management approach (Outcome 1); increase technical and institutional capacity in the fields of hydrological modelling, IWRM and DSS (Outcome 2); support the embedding of the IWRM approach tailored to glacier-fed Indian Himalayan subbasins in policies, and provide generic outputs and guidelines to facilitate upscaling to other subbasins in the Indian Himalayan Region (Outcome 3).

The modelling and decision support platform is designed for operation under the data scarce conditions faced in Himalayan catchments, and yields reliable outputs and projections. The modelling toolset covers the Bhagirathi watershed (Figure below) and consists of 3 hydrological models: (i) a high resolution glacio-hydrological model for the Dokriani glacier catchment (SPHY-Dokriani). Key parameters derived with this model are upscaled to (ii) a distributed glacio-hydrological model that covers the Bhagirathi subbasin (SPHYBhagirathi). Outputs of this model feed into (iii) a water allocation model that overlays the SPHY-Bhagirathi model in the downstream parts of the basin, where water demands are located (WEAPPODIUMSIM Bhagirathi). This modelling toolset is forced with downscaled climate change projections and socio-economic projections to simulate future changes in water supply and demand in the subbasin. On the basis of stakeholder inputs, adaptation options are identified and implemented in the water allocation model for scenario analysis. Thus, socio-economic projections and adaptation options are co-designed with the stakeholders to ensure maximum applicability, and are tailored to the requirements for formulation of the new IWRM plan. The outputs of the modelling toolset feed into the Decision Support System, where they are presented in such a way that they can truly support decision making in this subbasin. Results of the modelling, decision support and stakeholder engagement platforms jointly support the co-design of an IWRM plan for the subbasin. Capacity in glacio-hydrological modelling, IWRM and the use of DSS is built through a combination of on-site training and e-learning; replicable training modules are developed for glacio-hydrological modelling, IWRM and DSS in general and for this particular approach to support implementation and sustainability.

Overview of the Bhagirathi sub-basin. The inset on the right shows the Dokriani glacier watershed


Reuse of water in irrigation systems has been ignored to a great extent in developing and rehabilitating irrigation projects. Focus of many projects is on water withdrawals rather than on water consumption. Although this distinction between withdrawals and consumption might seem somewhat academic, it is important in a better understanding of irrigation systems. Moreover, it is key in all aspects of irrigation design, planning, management, and rehabilitation.

The FAO Regional office in Asia and Pacific (FAO-RAP) has therefore embarked on a big initiative to overcome water scarcity by a rigorous approach to water savings in irrigated agriculture. FAO has asked FutureWater to support them in this initiative.

The project will develop a Guidance document, a Tool and a Training package that will enable a better understanding of the role of reuse of water in irrigated agriculture systems. Those project results will support awareness rising, decision making and capacity building for water managers and decision makers.

The project will start in January 2022 and results will become available by the end of 2022.

Concept of water reuse