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New FAO Land and Water discussion paper targets Nature Based Solutions as a method to help relieve the pressure on food security

FAO Side event at COP24 in Katowice looks into NBS via land, soil and water management


Agriculture influences and shapes the world’s ecosystems, but not always in a positive way. More than 2.5 billion people are globally involved as stewards of land and water ecosystems that constitute the natural resource base for feeding the current and future world population. Yet, conventional agronomic interventions based on ‘hard’ agricultural engineering compromise various eco-services that are required for sustainable agricultural development. Indeed, results of over-exploitation of the natural resource base are sadly exemplified by negative externalities such as degradation of soils, polluted water resources and climate change. Hence, calls for a shift in natural resource management paradigms are justified and should prioritize political agendas.

Nature-Based Solutions (NBS) offer a promising contribution to manipulate natural resource conditions for productive purposes and human consumption, while simultaneously striving to preserve the integrity and intrinsic value of the ecosystem. NBS recognizes that soils are an essential and non-renewable natural resource hosting goods and services vital to ecosystems and human life. NBS also underpins a sustainable water management strategy that should result in a stable supply of sufficient water of a good quality to the agricultural sector. Yet, it is not easy to implement NBS based upon the few examples that have been realized so far. The reason is that ecosystems are often large and complex and the impact of interventions can only be assessed and analyzed at a system-wide level. As a rule, many stakeholders are involved, as owners, users or caretakers, each with their own set of interests and values and it is not an easy to reconcile these complex objectives and interests into a coherent set of principles and procedures. Simple market-based solutions such as partitioning of an ecosystem, attributing property rights and applying the polluter-pays-principle are often not sufficient for devising viable strategies.

Implementation of NBS requires a structured and comprehensive approach that starts with the valuation of the services provided by the ecosystem and include sustainable soil, land and water management. The whole set of use and non-use values, in monetary terms, provides a  factual basis to guide the implementation of NBS, which ideally should be done within a transdisciplinary framework, i.e. complemented with scientific and case-specific knowledge of the eco-system in an adaptive decision-making process that brings together the relevant stakeholders

This discussion paper, to be launched by the FAO Land and Water Division at COP24 in Katowice today, evaluated twenty-one NBS case studies using a non-representative sample, to learn from successful and failed experiences and to identify possible causalities among factors that characterize the implementation of NBS. The case studies give a minor role to the valuation of ecosystem services, an area for which the literature is still developing guidance. Less successful water management projects tend to suffer from inadequate factual and scientific basis and uncoordinated or insufficient stakeholder involvement and lack of long-term planning. Successful case studies point to a satisfactory understanding of the functioning of ecosystems and the importance of multi-stakeholder platforms, well-identified funding schemes, realistic monitoring and evaluation systems and endurance of its promoters. 

Read the discussion paper >>

Read the observations and Key messages on the paper >>