Scarcity of Water and Land Resources (IFA-WALS)
FAO estimates that developing countries will need to double agricultural production by 2050 to meet food demand. Given the finite availability of freshwater and the limited opportunities for expanding arable land, levels of agricultural production to meet demand will be maintained essentially by intensifying current water and land use. Water scarcity already affects more than 40 percent of the world’s population, while some 25 percent of the population depends on land already degraded – degradation is estimated to cost USD 40 billion a year in lost productivity. These challenges and resulting competition over resources will be further exacerbated by increasing demand for biofuel production and anticipated impacts of climate change.
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Given the finite circulation of freshwater, the world is facing a progressive condition of scarcity of water resources which is threatening the viability of key global agricultural systems to safeguard global food security. Reconciling the competition for water among economic sectors is now critical to avoid further shocks to the global food supply system and to sustain the values of the already stressed environmental systems. Groundwater depletion, land degradation and widespread salinization of productive soils is already forcing migration from drought afflicted areas. These impacts can be taken as the first indicators of water and land scarcity in rural economies across the world.
A system is required to provide advance warning of water shortages and their impact on food production in the short, medium and long term. It is essential to monitor key water-related factors determining food production at national, regional and global level and provide relevant information in order for action to be taken.
What FAO has done: FAO already has a Global information and early warning system on food and agriculture (GIEWS) in place. GIEWS is the leading source of information on food production and food security for every country in the world. In the past 25 years, the system has become a worldwide network which includes 115 governments, 61 Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and numerous trade, research and media organizations. It has evolved into a unique database on global, regional, national and sub-national food security which is continuously refined and updated.
FAO also has two other major information systems, one on water use (AQUASTAT) and one on trade (in FAOSTAT), from where it is possible to derive the whole water balance of a country, including the virtual water that is associated to the import/export of agricultural commodities. These systems provide basis for trend analysis on more long-term time-frame.
What Next? By designing a Global early warning system on the quality and quantity of water in agriculture integrated with the existing FAO information systems, FAO would be in a strong position to support the countries with a higher-level coping response to “scarcity” of water and to the consequent risks of food insecurity. But enhanced donor assistance is required to achieve this objective, clearly a major goal in climate change adaptation. This integration would allow FAO to make the scope of the monitoring and early warning system more comprehensive, addressing all three time dimensions of food security, short-, medium-, and long term (including future development and climate change scenarios), while at the same time it will be able to monitor the status of conservation of water quality. Furthermore, this integrated system will serve the IFA-CFA (The UN’s coordinated response to the Global Food Crisis), the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) and the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC).
Soils underpin the food systems that support human lives and livelihoods - providing the support base and nutrients for plant and animal life and the means for the capture and retention of rainwater and the maintenance of the hydrological cycle that is so vital for life on earth. Living soils also perform many vital functions in terms of soil organic matter and nutrient cycling, soil carbon sequestration, climate regulation and so forth, and their services in sustaining the provision of food and water are the basis for social stability in a changing world.
An estimated 52 percent of the land used for agriculture, including grazing land, is moderately or severely affected by soil degradation; the costs of which (increased inputs; lost productivity and services) are estimated at some US$40 billion per year worldwide. Climate change is expected to exacerbate effects of soil degradation through increases in drought and heat stress, extreme weather events, and an increase in pests and diseases. Pressures on land resources are continuously increasing due to population growth, changing consumer habits particularly in emerging economies, demands of the increasing urban to rural population and changing land uses to address market forces and energy needs.
What FAO has done: FAO has dealt with soil as a central agricultural issue since its origins in 1946. In 1960, FAO and the International Soil Science Society collaborated in the Soil Map of the World project resulting in the FAOUNESCO Soil Map of the World (1970) and the World Soil Charter (1981). In 1977, the Framework for Land Evaluation was published and, in 1978, the first results of FAO’s Agro-ecological Zones study were published and later expanded globally in cooperation with the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA). This work was the basis for estimating the World Carrying Capacity under different input scenarios and modeling for FAO perspective studies such as State of the World Food and Agriculture (SOFA). During the 1980s, much of this earlier work was consolidated and expanded. A major contribution was the harmonization of soil classification and terminology under the International Soil Science Society (ISSS) initiative of the World Reference Base for Soil Resources and the constant updates of the soil map of the world under the ISSS working group on the World Soil and Terrain Database (SOTER). This culminated in 2008 with the publication of the Digital Harmonized World Soil Database.
FAO has also been playing a lead role in assessing land degradation globally, nationally and locally and with a focus on drylands through the Land Degradation Assessment in Drylands Project (LADA). Moreover, in cooperation with the United Nation Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), FAO pioneered the development of “Soil biodiversity initiative” as an integral part of the Programme of work on Agricultural Biodiversity and has been undertaking work on a number of related activities in several countries.
What Next? Establishing a Global Soil Partnership on the lines of the successful Global Water Partnership will enhance FAO’s capacity to address the needs of national institutions in dealing and reporting carbon management and will benefit farmers and land users by improving their productivity and the payment of carbon sequestration and other environmental services of sustainable soil and land management. Strong donor support is required to achieve these important objectives.
The Global Soil Partnership will lead to enhanced and applied knowledge of soil resources, allowing FAO Member countries to meet their commitments to the MDGs, environmental conventions (UNCCD, CBD and UNFCCC) and in support of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) and its Rio+20 process,
Africa has abundant water resources that are vastly under-exploited and unevenly distributed across countries and regions. At the same time escalating water scarcity exacerbated by climate change is already posing a threat to food security in the more arid regions.
Three-quarters of African countries are in arid and semi-arid zones and even small reductions in rainfall could cause large declines in river water and expose between 75 and 250 million people to significant water stress in the next decade. Besides, in some regions of Africa the high rates of population growth and the already steep rates of water use will lead to more acute water shortages.
In sub-Saharan Africa, however, only four percent of arable land is irrigated compared to some 40 percent in Asia, and the region uses only three percent of its available water resources. Rapid expansion of irrigated farmland and increased exploitation of domestic waters will be needed to feed a population set to grow from 770 million in 2005 to 1.5 - 2 billion in 2050
What FAO has done: The situation requires a significant level of investment. FAO’s contribution here has been to help countries prepare the crucial investment plans needed to mobilize the funds for developing water resources for agriculture and energy, and to facilitate the preparation of national Investment Frameworks for Agricultural Water Management.
This work has been carried out under the umbrella of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), which addresses policy and capacity issues across the entire agricultural sector and African continent. The CAADP is centered around the definition of country level Compacts, which are agreements between major stakeholders, the ministries and donors on the priorities and strategy for a country’s agricultural development programme.
These investment plans mark a major step in enabling sub-Saharan Africa to embark on the “Blue Revolution” it needs to undertake to harness its unused water riches to agricultural development and life-changing economic progress for the people of Africa.
What Next? The aim is to scale up the success achieved in three pilot countries to a larger number of countries in Africa in order to facilitate their preparation of their national Investment Frameworks for Agricultural Water Management.
The work will concentrate on addressing knowledge management barriers through filling knowledge gaps, improve its analysis and dissemination, while explicitly in-depth reviewing the scope and possibilities for promoting investments in the water sector. The work also aimed at the enhancement of the national capacity to conduct a comprehensive assessment of projects and programmes while contributing to advocacy and project formulation and management.
Within this context, FAO will support countries to update information on the state and use of their water resources and will provide guidance, through a series of tools, on how to identify, prioritize and formulate an appropriate investment framework. The process includes:
1. Technical Stocktaking
2. Policy and Institutional Diagnostic Analysis
3. Financial Diagnostic Analysis
4. Formulation of Country Strategic Investment Framework for Sustainable Land and Water Management (SLWM).
SE Asia is witnessing a surge in demand for the products of irrigated agriculture. There is some room for further expansion, but where and how? Even in humid river basins that have been highly developed and have effectively constructed water scarcity, intensification will require higher water productivity which requires additional targeted investment. Productive deltas are under pressure, climate change is looming, and groundwater use will need to be managed.
Against these realities, irrigation investment design and management is lagging – modernization of institutions is as much of an issue as modernization of irrigation schemes. There is also a high opportunity cost of rehabilitation and re-engineering to get desired levels of flexibility to allow farmers to respond effectively to market demand. Further, irrigation assets at risk need to be assessed in relation to the anticipated impacts of climate change – just how resilient is the infrastructure to hydrological volatility and what would be investment requirements to upgrade design to make them more resilient?
Finally, river basin planning/negotiation processes are now more pluralistic than ‘integrated’ and there is further need to bridge the general disconnect between water resource management and the agriculture sector.
What has FAO done? Current FAO activities in the region comprise a set of linked but not necessarily integrated initiatives which include a regional modernization programme, mapping exercises, basin audit tools, investment frameworks applied at basin level in Thailand, Viet Nam and Malaysia. The lessons learned:
1. Getting irrigation departments to engage with national planning and finance processes is still proving a challenge.
2. The gap between irrigation and other sector plans still needs to be bridged. If not;
• risk 1 - neglect investment planning in irrigation and basin water resource objectives will not be met (water quality, water savings)
• risk 2 - irrigation investment will not be effective unless aligned with other sector plans.
• risk 3 - scope for adaptation to climate volatility will be limited
3. Making a transition from pure operations into smarter regulation at scheme and basin level will take time.
What next: The rationale for supporting agriculture and irrigation agencies in the development and adoption of investment frameworks for river basins in SE Asia is clear. River basin management will fail unless agricultural water management succeeds. Hence the purpose of the initiative would be threefold.
1. To establish an asset baseline (infrastructure + institutions), align with development objectives and plan interventions in short, medium and long term.
2. To structure growth in the irrigated sub-sector that actually meets changing for agricultural production and responds to multi-objective basin planning.
3. To provide a method and related capacity development in strategy definition, investment design, asset and finance tracking, , monitoring and evaluation.
The expected outcome would be both improved productivity in the irrigated sub-sector and transparent account of water use and public funding within national agriculture/irrigation agencies, improved investment planning and management in the water sector, and a major contribution to multi-objective river basin planning in river basins at risk from constructed scarcity.
Links so far have been established with the World Bank, Asian Development Bank, IWMI and ICID. These links would be reinforced with the creation of a regional programme in river basin investment frameworks to guide the allocation of water and financial resources.
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