Land & Water

Agriculture nature-based solutions

Agriculture Nature-Based Solutions (Ag-NBS) are an effective, long-term, cost efficient approach to tackling sustainable land and water resources management and climate change. These practices can help improve water availability and quality as well as restore ecosystems and soils worldwide, while offering substantial health co-benefits and achieving global food security. These strategies can contribute to the attainment of multiple goals of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.

Farmers, ranchers, and food producers are important stewards of our ecosystem and on the frontlines of climate change, and play an important role in developing and implementing environmental and agriculture solutions. They can help address the planet’s water challenges and unearth sustainable alternatives to producing our food. Farmers are great drivers of Ag-NBS as they can combine their traditional knowledge with new skills and training to safeguard the ecosystems on which our food production depends.

When deployed properly, Agriculture Nature-based Solutions can provide a triple benefit: improving the livelihoods of farmers and the resilience of agriculture, mitigating and adapting to climate change through soil, wetlands and forests carbon sequestration, and enhancing nature and biodiversity. In order to sustain the future of food systems, agricultural producers around the globe are poised to lead a transition to production practices that regenerate and restore nature while enhancing efficient and sustainable food systems.

The three FAO knowledge products below addressing Ag-NBS in transformative agricultural production systems include: 1) A literature review on the state of the science; 2) A policy brief on the case and pathways for adoption; and 3) A finance guide for identifying and creating investable projects.

FAO publications on Ag-NBS

Nature-based solutions in agriculture: The case and pathway for adoption

Food system demands have increased exponentially in recent decades and are estimated to continue growing as global populations increase and economic affluence expands. However, the very foundation of a productive system – healthy lands and soils and clean water supply – is already under immense pressure. In fact, by the most credible estimates, up to 52% of global agricultural lands are now moderately to severely degraded, with millions of hectares per year degrading to the point they are abandoned by the land manager. The loss of productive land, coupled with increased food demand, pushes agriculture to be the primary driver in 80% of native habitat loss. Agricultural irrigation is driving the majority of water scarcity issues in high-risk basins threatening food systems, community water supplies and ecosystem health. These pressures have resulted in the global agriculture sector driving more biodiversity loss, destruction of natural habitat, soil degradation and depletion of natural resources around the world than any other industry.

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Nature-based solutions in agriculture: Sustainable management and conservation of land, water and biodiversity

In recent years, considerable progress has been made in the area of Nature-based Solutions (NbS) that improve ecosystem functions of environments and landscapes affected by agricultural practices and land degradation, while enhancing livelihoods and other social and cultural functions. This has opened up a portfolio of NbS options that offer a pragmatic way forward for simultaneously addressing conservation, climate and socioeconomic objectives while maintaining healthy and productive agricultural systems. NbS can mimic natural processes and build on land restoration and operational water-land management concepts that aim to simultaneously improve vegetation and water availability and quality, and raise agricultural productivity. NbS can involve conserving or rehabilitating natural ecosystems and/or the enhancement or the creation of natural processes in modified or artificial ecosystems. In agricultural landscapes, NbS can be applied for soil health, soil moisture, carbon mitigation (through soil and forestry), downstream water quality protections, biodiversity benefits as well as agricultural production and supply chains to achieve net-zero environmental impacts while achieving food and water security, and meet climate goals.

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Nature-based solutions in agriculture: Project design for securing investment

Today, the global food system drives a ten trillion-dollar economy that connects 7.5 billion consumers and a diverse array of more than 1 billion food producers (farmers, ranchers, pastoralists, and fish harvesters). Approximately one-half of the world’s habitable lands are used for agriculture (Ritchie, 2019). Not surprisingly,

the food production system has a massive impact on our planet. As we look to the future, global food demand is set to increase 50%, including a 70% increase in protein demand by 2050 (OECD and FAO, 2018). Any solution to our challenges around climate, conservation and human well-being will need to involve a transition in the way we produce food and fiber. Agriculture can begin to use Nature-based Solutions (NbS) to reduce environmental impacts and, in some cases, enhance agricultural productivity. But in order to realize the full potential of Ag NbS to have a positive impact on these problems, we need new ways to fund them that are commensurate with the scale of the opportunities.

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