Land, Water, Forests & Food Security: They're All Connected
September 14, 2012
- Agriculture accounts for more than two-thirds of the world’s freshwater use, and it is contributing to deforestation. A 70% expansion to feed the world cannot follow the practices of the past and still be sustainable.
- A landscape approach recognizes that agriculture, water, forests, and food security are all connected.
- It can help to maximize productivity, improve livelihoods, and reduce negative impacts on the environment – all at the same time.
By 2050, the Earth will need to feed 9 billion people with the same amount of land and water used today. In practice, this means agricultural production must increase by 70 percent.
The urgency of meeting that challenge is becoming increasingly clear as global food prices remain high and volatile. So is the need for better solutions. Agriculture already accounts for more than two-thirds of the world’s freshwater use, and it is contributing to deforestation. A 70 percent expansion in agriculture production cannot follow the practices of the past and still be sustainable.
The answer lies in pursuing a landscape approach – recognizing that agriculture, water, forests, and food security are all connected.
“You can’t have food security without ecosystem services to sustain agriculture, and you can’t conserve forests and other ecosystems without thinking about how to feed a hungry population, and you can’t grow food without enough water,” says World Bank Agriculture Director Juergen Voegele. “A holistic approach can help us maximize productivity, improve livelihoods, and reduce negative impacts on the environment – all at the same time.”
This holistic approach, incorporating climate-smart agriculture, was embraced by delegates from more than 150 countries during the Global Conference on Agriculture, Food Security, and Climate Change. Their Hanoi Communique encourages developing policies with an integrated approach, putting farmers at the center of innovation, and building partnerships.
A landscape approach means managing the land, water, and forest resources necessary to meet an area’s food security needs and promoting inclusive green growth as one system that interacts.
In practice, this might involve restoring degraded parts of the landscape; enhancing productivity on the most fertile land; integrating different production systems such as livestock, crop, and tree production into the same landscape; or watershed management.
In Rwanda, for example, a landscape approach supported by the World Bank and the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program (GAFSP) has included terracing on the steep hillsides, downstream reservoir protection, water harvesting through dams and reservoirs, and hillside irrigation. It works with the water and land as one system and is increasing the yields of smallholder farmers who had been prepared to give up on agriculture altogether. Erosion control means fertilizer and crops are less likely to be washed away.
In Albania, integrating forest, pasture, and agriculture management has shown that with strong involvement of local communities, whole landscapes can recover with dramatic results. Improved forest governance, local management, small-scale investments and managed grazing measures have halted unsustainable land use, thereby reducing carbon emissions and protecting key watersheds. As a result, incomes from forest and agriculture activities have increased by 28 percent in targeted areas.
You can’t have food security without ecosystem services to sustain agriculture, and you can’t conserve forests and other ecosystems without thinking about how to feed a hungry population, and you can’t grow food without enough water.
By conserving forests and wetland, farmers can continue to rely on natural ecosystem services such as water purification, water retention, soil fertility, carbon sequestration, and coastal protection, and farm in ways that will have reduced environmental and climate impact.
Agriculture productivity is also under pressure from extreme weather, while at the same time agriculture practices are directly responsible for about 14 percent of climate-warming greenhouse gases, plus an additional 17 percent of emissions indirectly.
Climate-smart agriculture practices, such as mulching, crop residue management, and soil and conservation measures are promising approaches to landscape management that tackle both pressures by increasing resilience and lowering emissions. They include activities that sequester carbon in the soil, which also improves soil fertility and can lead to higher yields. Increasing the organic content of the soil through conservation tillage can increase its water holding capacity and resilience while reducing erosion.
Reducing the use of nitrous oxide fertilizers and cutting the amount of methane released in rice cultivation can also lower greenhouse gas emissions. And diversifying crops and genetic traits of crops and tailoring techniques to shifting climate conditions without harming ecosystems can help farmers hedge against an uncertain climate.
By avoiding plowing and harrowing, farmers can also reduce soil disturbance. Through crop rotation and the use of vegetative soil cover, they can avoid depleting the soil of nutrients, and intercropping, crop-livestock integration, and organic agriculture can minimize the need for additional fertilizer.
These farming methods are paying off in countries like Zambia, where farmers using conservation agriculture have seen maize yields double and cotton yields increase 60 percent compared to fields where conventional plowing was used.
World Bank role
The World Bank is supporting this shift toward a holistic landscape approach and climate-smart agriculture through carbon finance, support for agriculture research, knowledge sharing with farming associations and communities, and risk insurance.
In Kenya, for example, some 60,000 farmers are combating erosion using sustainable land management practices that will enrich degraded soil, boost their crop yields, and also increase their resilience to climate change. The BioCarbon Fund has agreed to purchase carbon credits from the project, which promotes reduced tillage, cover crops, mulching, compositing, green manure and reduced biomass burning. The improved practices have the potential to sequester the equivalent of around 60,000 tons of carbon dioxide per year.
The Program on Forests (PROFOR), a multi-donor partnership housed at the World Bank, is also working to mobilize additional investment in trees and landscape restoration in Africa. In Niger, a country in the Sahel, over 5 million hectares planted with trees over the past two decades have improved soil fertility, benefitting 4.5 million people. Benefits associated with increased tree cover have increased sorghum yields by 20-85 percent and millet yields by 15-50 percent in participating areas.
The Bank also supports GAFSP, a multi-donor trust fund that is already raising the incomes of 7/5 million smallholder farmers and their families, and CGIAR, a consortium of 15 international agriculture research groups. Food security and resilience to climate change are also at the heart of inclusive green growth.