The increased demand for food is placing pressure on the world’s land, soil and water resources, which are all “stressed to a critical point”, following significant deterioration over the past decade, said a new report released on Thursday by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
The report — The State of The World’s Land And Water Resources For Food And Agriculture (SOLAW 2021) – said that human induced land degradation, water scarcity and climate change increased the levels of risk for agricultural production and ecosystem services at times and in places where economic growth is needed most.
In the forward, FAO Director-General Dr QU Dongyu said; “ it is clear our future food security will depend on safeguarding our land, soil and water resources. The growing demand for agrifood products requires us to look for innovative ways to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, under a changing climate and loss of biodiversity.”
Further, he said that one must not underestimate the scale and complexity of this challenge. “The report argues that this will depend on how well we manage the risks to the quality of our lands and water ecosystems, how we blend innovative technical and institutional solutions to meet local circumstances, and, above all, how we can focus on better systems of land and water governance,” he said.
The SOLAW 2021 report is published at a time when human pressures on the systems of land, soils and fresh water are intensifying, just when they are being pushed to their productive limits.
PRESSURE ON RESOURCES
Noting that most pressures on the world’s land, soil and water resources derive from agriculture itself, the report mentions that the increase in use of chemical inputs, uptake of farm mechanization, and overall impact of higher monocropping and grazing intensities are concentrated on a diminishing stock of agricultural lands. They produce a set of externalities that spill over into other sectors, degrading land and polluting surface water and groundwater resources.
The report also mentioned that the impact from accumulating pressures on land and water are felt widely in rural communities, especially where the resource base is limited and dependency is high and to a certain extent in poor urban populations where alternative sources of food are limited. It stated that human-induced deterioration of land, water and soil resources reduced production potential, access to nutritious food and biodiversity and environmental services that underpin healthy and resilient livelihoods.
- human-induced soil degradation affects 34 per cent (around 1,660 million hectares), of agricultural lands.
- Despite 95 per cent of all food is produced on land, there is little room for expanding the area that can be made more productive.
- Urban areas occupy less than 0.5 per cent of the Earth’s land surface, but the rapid growth of cities has significantly reduced resources, polluting and encroaching on prime agricultural land.
- In only 17 years, between 2000 and 2017, land use per capita declined by 20 per cent.
- Water scarcity threatens 3.2 billion people living in agricultural areas.
- Interconnected systems of land, soil and water are stretched to the limit:Convergence of evidence points to agricultural systems breaking down, with impacts felt across the global food system.
- Current patterns of agricultural intensification are not proving sustainable; Pressures on land and water resources have built to the point where productivity of key agricultural systems is compromised and livelihoods are threatened.
- Farming systems are becoming polarized; Large commercial holdings now dominate agricultural land use, while fragmentation of smallholder concentrates subsistence farming on lands susceptible to degradation and water scarcity.
- Future agricultural production will depend upon managing the risks to land and water; Land, soil and water management needs to find better synergy to keep systems in play. This is essential to maintain the required rates of agricultural growth without further compromising the generation of environmental services.
- Land and water resources will need safeguarding; There is now only a narrow margin for reversing trends in resource deterioration and depletion, but the complexity and scale of the task should not be underestimated.
RESPONSES AND REACTIONS
- Land and water governance has to be more inclusive and adaptive; Inclusive governance is essential for allocating and managing natural resources. Technical solutions to mitigate degradation and water scarcity are unlikely to succeed without it.
- Integrated solutions need to be planned at all levels if they are to be taken to scale; Planning can define critical thresholds in natural resource systems, leading to the reversal of land degradation when wrapped up as packages or programmes of technical, institutional, governance and financial support.
- Technical and managerial innovation can be targeted to address priorities and accelerate transformation; Caring for neglected soils, addressing drought and coping with water scarcity can be addressed through the adoption of new technologies and management approaches.
- Agricultural support and investment can be redirected towards social and environmental gains derived from land and water management. There is now scope for progressive multiphased financing of agricultural projects that can be linked with redirected subsidies to keep land and water systems in play.