Population increase combined with changed consumption patterns are the major drivers of the pressures on land and water systems that have been described in Chapter 1. Social and cultural dependency on land and water has changed as agricultural transitions and urbanization have accelerated in a more interconnected world. Many inter-related policies including trade, rural subsidy regimes and production incentives have promoted land and water use. But land and water management tends to lag behind macro-economic policy and sector development plans. In many cases active management has occurred only after environmental degradation has occurred. This lack of natural resource perspective continues even where a limited natural resource base and high population growth rates are placing extreme pressure on resources. In short, macro-economic planners tend to be more concerned with supply and demand for agricultural products than with the supply of natural resource inputs and whether these are constrained or are reaching limits.
The large-scale spatial management of land and water systems started with the rise of river valley civilizations and associated agrarian development. More recently, land and water institutions have evolved to facilitate the success of intensive crop production associated with the breakthrough in genetic research – the so-called ‘Green Revolution’.
But in practice, few successful institutions have been developed specifically for integrated land and water management. Recent research has found that land and water institutions have not kept pace with patterns of use and competition, and have rarely succeeded in regulating environmental and economic impacts. In this respect, policy alignment and institutional integration have remained an aspiration rather than an operational reality. Land-use and agriculture planning, for example, is often decoupled from river basin planning and operational management for hydropower or navigation purposes. As a result, it can be argued that economic opportunities have been forgone and that a return to a much better informed, knowledge-rich integration of land and water is warranted.
This chapter examines the current state of institutions for land and water and how they have both driven ever higher levels of output as well as provided too little for social, economic and environmental sustainability. This has been to the detriment of the land and water resource base and related ecosystems, and has had severe implications for poverty and food insecurity.