Stockholm International Water Institute

Investing in ecosystem services vital to improving food security, says UN


Nairobi/Stockholm -- Recognising healthy ecosystems as the basis for sustainable water resources and stable food security can help produce more food per unit of agricultural land, improve resilience to climate change and provide economic benefits for poor communities, according to a new report from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), in partnership with 19 other organizations.

The report shows how managing and investing in the connections between ecosystems, water and food, through diversifying crops, planting trees on farmland and improving rainwater collection and other practical steps, could help avoid water scarcity and meet the growing food demands of a global population set to reach 9 billion by 2050.

An Ecosystems Approach to Water and Food Security, which was launched during World Water Week in Stockholm, Sweden, says that policymakers should consider farmland, fisheries and other agricultural areas as “agroecosystems”, which provide sources of food as well as performing diverse ecosystem services such as water purification and flood regulation.

Declines in these ‘regulatory’ ecosystem services – leading to problems such as a loss of soil nutrients or increased vulnerability of crops to disease – have already begun to adversely affect agricultural productivity. Exacerbated by climate change, these declines could result in crop yields that are up to 25% short of demand by 2050, greatly impacting poor communities worldwide.

One of the main challenges in boosting current levels of food production is the availability of water, which is needed for livestock, crop irrigation and fisheries and other agricultural uses.

Groundwater levels, for example, are declining rapidly in several major breadbaskets and rice bowl regions such as the North China plains, the Indian Punjab and in the Western USA. Maintaining healthy, resilient ecosystems to ensure water availability for agriculture and other ecosystem services is thus essential for long-term food security.

In many parts of the world, increases in food production through intensive farming methods have come at the expense of other ecosystem services, such as biodiversity, pollination or soil erosion protection, caused by pollution from agricultural run-off or the diversion of water from rivers to farmland.

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