The answer is in nature

Nature-based solutions can protect our natural resources and provide a sustainable pathway to food security

Nature-based solutions can help address the planet’s water challenges and unearth sustainable alternatives to producing our food. ©


Multiple stresses on our natural resources are making it harder and harder to produce our food. Farmers and food producers are having to contend with a climate that is becoming more unpredictable by the day, along with the consequences it brings such as water scarcity and soil degradation, just to name a few.

Agriculture accounts for 70 percent of fresh water withdrawals. With only 2.5 percent of the world’s water being fresh water, we need to find a way to use this precious resource efficiently and sustainably so we can continue to feed the ever-growing world population. Soil is also an equally important resource. Around 95 percent of our food is grown in our soils, yet one-third of all global soils are already degraded. As our natural resource base is being diminished at an alarming rate, one thing is certain: we can’t continue with business as usual.

This is where nature-based solutions (NBS) come in.

They are effective, long-term and a cost efficient approach to tackling climate change. These practices can protect our natural resources while improving the state and quality of our ecosystems. NBS are an essential part of the overall global response to climate change and sustainable development.  For instance, they can help address the planet’s water challenges and unearth sustainable alternatives to producing our food. Farmers are great stewards of NBS as they can combine their traditional knowledge with new skills and training to safeguard the ecosystems on which our food production depends.

Here are just three examples of how NBS are already being used in agriculture around the world:

Micro-watersheds in El Salvador

In the upper basin of El Salvador’s Lempa River farmers were struggling with increased drought and soil erosion. An FAO and Global Environment Facility (GEF) project targeted micro-watersheds, areas of land that collect water, to reduce the risk of disaster and to help small-scale rural farmers adapt to climate change.

The project trained 55 technical staff from local institutions and taught students from Farmer Field Schools (FFS) about sustainable soil management. This restored a number of agro- and forest ecosystems, and families were able to build rainwater collection harvesting systems to help them store water for use during the dryer months.

Left: FAO’s project in El Salvador taught students from Farmer Field Schools about sustainable soil management. ©FAO/Raúl Cárcamo . Right: A Qanat, or underground water channel, in Shafiabad village. ©Pe3k/

Qanat Irrigated Agricultural Heritage Systems in Iran

Qanat irrigation technology was developed in Iran as early as 800 BC. Pomegranate, pistachio and saffron farming systems in Iran are still all irrigated by Qanat. This agricultural heritage system has sustained food security over millennia by providing a reliable source of water to family farmers in dry areas where agriculture would otherwise be impossible. This traditional NBS transports water through an underground channel system to the surface for irrigation. It minimizes evaporation loss and ensures an efficient use of the available water resources.

Without the Qanat system the cultivation of many plant species wouldn’t have been possible. Vital indigenous plants have been able to survive in the harshest climatic conditions thanks to these ancient systems, protecting crucial biodiversity in the area. These systems bring together nature, culture and the power of the environment and perfectly demonstrate how using farmers’ traditional knowledge can lead to sustainable agriculture for generations to come.

FAO’s Farmer Field School in Burundi taught locals to cultivate high-yielding, drought-tolerant crops. ©FAO/Rachel Nandelenda

Horticulture production in watershed communities in Burundi

The Kagera River basin is home to diverse ecosystems and various species, making it one of the most important areas in Africa in terms of agro-biodiversity and food production. Yet, the basin’s land and freshwater resources are under threat. Land degradation, deforestation and the encroachment of agriculture into wetlands are all destroying these vital resources upon which people’s livelihoods and food security depend.

In order to sustainably manage the land and water resources, a horticultural programme was adopted to promote the cultivation of vegetables that require a small amount of land, have a short growth cycle and are easily marketable. Through FFS, FAO taught farmers how to anticipate climate change effects and grow high-yielding and drought-tolerant varieties.

NBS can play a vital role in making agriculture more productive while maintaining and strengthening the integrity of the ecosystems. It is a powerful approach to transform the agricultural sector to be both a beneficiary and custodian of ecosystems, an approach that is needed more than ever to help achieve the Paris Agreement on climate change and the Sustainable Development Goals. By using NBS, we can continue to produce our food while ensuring that we are protecting the natural resources needed for a food secure future.


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12. Responsible consumption and production, 13. Climate action, 15. Life on land