According to a study by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation:"In Portugal, the agricultural sector is responsible for 75 percent of all water used, a figure that contrasts with the European Union average (24 percent) and is even higher than the world average (69 percent)."
The study entitled "Water use in Portugal - looking, understanding and acting with the key players", commissioned by the foundation from C-Lab - The Consumer Intelligence Lab, did however find that this percentage is in line with that of Mediterranean countries, like Spain (79 percent) and Greece (81 percent), and the levels occur due to the existence of irrigation.
In these crops, irrigation will replace the lack of rain and compensate for the heat experienced in hot seasons.
In 2016, the irrigated agricultural area in the country "corresponded approximately to the size of the Algarve region", equivalent to 5 percent of the national territory.
However, "rain fed agriculture still defines the majority of the surface used for agriculture in Portugal".
According to the same analysis, 71 percent of farmers do not have a water meter, and this resource is mainly taken from boreholes, ponds, wells and other structures (56 percent).
This is followed by public access (35 percent), through dams and other irrigation infrastructure), and by private collective (9 percent), i.e. shared with other farmers or societies.
Public dams serve a third of the irrigated area, however, "the Alqueva dam has made a major contribution to the evolution of irrigation in recent years, with the Alentejo accounting for around half of the country's irrigated area," states the report.
Regarding water scarcity, the study revealed, based on the UN's 'Water Exploitation Index', that, in general, the situation in Portugal "is not problematic", although this indicator does not incorporate the impact of climate change and consumption projections.
In the opposite direction, the analysis of the World Resources Institute for 2040, which includes the hypotheses in question, points out that 33 countries will face "extremely high risks of water stress", which occurs when water abstraction for consumption is greater than 80 percent of the average annual availability of the country.
North Africa and the Middle East stand out in this alert.
With a "high risk", i.e. when water consumption is between 40 percent and 80 percent of availability, 26 countries are identified, including Portugal.
By region, the area below the Tagus presents the maximum level of risk "and it is precisely in the Alentejo and Algarve where the largest and most serious droughts were recorded throughout the 20th century".
“Regarding the transition to a more sustainable agriculture in terms of water saving, 65 percent of farmers said they use a drip irrigation system, but only 3 percent of respondents have adopted more advanced measures for water management.
“Of those who adopted new technologies, the vast majority (85 percent) guaranteed to save water, evidence that becomes even more significant for those who use sprinklers".
In the same sense, also 85 percent of farmers claimed to spend less energy by optimising irrigation, while 66 percent spend less fertilizers and 77 percent save time by using computer or mobile phone control.
"Mobilising for a change that has a strong technological component and requires knowledge sharing and 86 percent of farmers agree that today there is more information sharing than 10 years ago," he noted.
In Portugal, the number of agricultural holdings went from 416,000 in 1999 to 259,000 in 2016, according to data from the National Statistics Institute (INE), cited in the study.
In turn, the average size of holdings was 9.3 hectares in 1999, a figure that rose to 14.1 hectares in 2016.
For the preparation of this study, 52 interviews were conducted, resulting in more than 100 hours of conversations.
Additionally, the qualitative study had a sample of 15 farmers living in mainland Portugal, who irrigate their crops and sell the production on the national or international market.
The quantitative study covered a sample of 335 individuals (national sample) and another 155 (to guarantee "statistical relevance and a more in-depth analysis of the Centre, Alentejo and Algarve regions").