Chapter 7 - Sustainable Solutions for Water Resources

Part 6 - Land and Water Resources for Food and Agriculture

link to FAO map of endagered ag risk areas"Widespread degradation and deepening scarcity of land and water resources have placed a number of key food production systems around the globe at risk, posing a profound challenge to the task of feeding a world population expected to reach 9 billion people by 2050." (FAO, 2011)

Recent analyses by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations suggest we are in a period of increasing global food security risk due to a full 25% of the Earth's lands being highly degraded. The agricultural production capacity is reaching a plateau in an increasing number of areas. In many regions, poor resource management is having large-scale impact. This degradation includes loss of soil quality, biodiversity loss and water depletion. Although we have witnessed a remarkable improvement in agricultural productivity in the past half-century, in many areas this has come at a cost to sustainable agroecology systems in many regions. Specifically, "farming practices that result in water and wind erosion, the loss of organic matter, topsoil compaction, salinization and soil pollution, and nutrient loss" are linked to the decline in projected productivity required to feed an increasing world population.

"Competition for land and water will become 'pervasive'. This includes competition between urban and industrial users as well as within the agricultural sector — between livestock, staple crops, non-food crop, and biofuel production." Already experienced in some areas, "climate change is expected to alter the patterns of temperature, precipitation and river flows upon which the world’s food production systems depend."

According to FAO, "water scarcity is growing and salinization and pollution of groundwater and degradation of water bodies and water-related ecosystems are rising. Large inland water bodies are under pressure from a combination of reduced inflows and higher nutrient loading — the excessive build up of nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus. Many rivers do not reach their natural end points and wetlands are disappearing."

A key area to address these risks to food security is "improving the efficiency of water use by agriculture." Some approaches to increase food security include: "innovative farming practices such as conservation agriculture, agro-forestry, integrated crop-livestock systems and integrated irrigation-aquaculture systems."


Suggested Reading

  1. FAO. 2011. The state of the world's land and water resources for food and agriculture (SOLAW) - Managing systems at risk. Summary Report. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome and Earthscan, London.


(Image credit: FAO, 2011)