“Water for food and ecosystems”: Future directions in agricultural land...


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Title “Water for food and ecosystems”: Future directions in agricultural land and water management, following up the Comprehensive Assessment
Period 01 / 2006 - 12 / 2009
Status Completed
Research number OND1337614


On a global scale water resources are under increased pressure. This not only applies to arid and semi-arid areas, where water resources are scarce and often over-exploited, but also to humid and temperate climate zones. More extreme hydrological events are experienced worldwide and with greater frequency (IPCC, 2001). Their impacts on water resources, people and the economy become more severe.
There are many causes of more extreme hydrological events, such as changes in land use (e.g. due to urbanization, deforestation, overgrazing), changes in water management (e.g. due to improved drainage, water withdrawals, water infrastructures) and climate changes (often resulting in more erratic rainfall patterns).
The increased variability of water resources not only requires a paradigm shift and alternative land and water management policies, more focused on water retention and conservation. Equally important is to increase the flexibility and adaptive capacity of vulnerable farming systems to the ongoing, unprecedented rapid changes of the natural environment.
The Comprehensive Assessment (CA) of water management in agriculture describes the challenges that agricultural water management faces and it gives directions for rethinking the conceptual framework of water management in agriculture and directions for solutions that can contribute to better use of available water resources and better resource allocation policies. Instead of the traditional focus on water in rivers, lakes and the groundwater, the CA recommends to view rainfall as the primary source. The implication of this recommendation is that land use becomes an integral part of water management. The CA also recommends to widen our perspective on agriculture: instead of viewing it only as a production system it should be considered as an agro-ecosystem that provides many other ecological services in addition to production of agricultural crops, and which interacts with other ecosystems.
Another recommendation of the CA is to replace the rigid boundary between irrigated and rainfed agriculture with a much wider range of irrigation options. This is a direct consequence of viewing rainfall as the primary water source. A crop failure of a rain fed crop, due to lack of rainfall represents an unproductive use of the primary resource. This gives a much greater role to supplementary irrigation.
Many of the rural poor depend for their livelihood on rain fed farming and have few other income opportunities besides agriculture. Many rain fed farmers face variable rainfall, increased dry spells and droughts. As a result the risks of production failures are high and farmers are reluctant to invest substantially in their land, in improved seeds, fertilizers and crop protection agents. Crop yields in low-input rain fed systems are therefore often low, even in years with favorable rainfall. Better use of rainfall, including soil moisture conservation, is imperative as additional water resources are often scarce.
Given the large number of rain fed farmers and their vulnerability to more pressure on- and variability of water resources, the CA argues that the impact of improving rain fed production on reducing poverty and increasing water productivity can be great. By introducing and promoting more robust, adaptive farming systems rural livelihoods can be improved. In addition, such farming systems can contribute to better water management and risk mitigation of extreme events if they are integrated in a broader scope of water conservation policies.
The focus on rain fed farming in the CA raises a number of interrelated issues which need to be addressed before tapping the rainwater s potential to boost yields and farm income in developing countries. These issues among others relate to uncertainties and knowledge gaps with respect to:

- Current and expected future rainfall variability in relation to the adaptive capacity of current rain fed farming systems and the role they can play in mitigation of extreme events (floods, droughts).
- The consequences of large-scale interventions in land use (e.g. water conservation, water retention) at different spatial scales.
- The effects of the recent price increase of agricultural inputs (e.g. N and P fertilizers) on the profitability of interventions targeted at the better use of rainwater.

Research objectives:

To review and assess adaptations in land and water management proposed by the CA, and to identify management options contributing to environmentally sustainable agricultural development, using the BO bilateral projects and other relevant projects.
To identify future policy priorities in land and water management in the view of climate change vulnerability and the needs of rural livelihoods.

Results and products:
In consultation with LNV reports and policy notes will be prepared. For specific international events in 2009 such as the CSD (Commission on Sustainable Development) on sustainable agriculture presentations and posters can be prepared.

Abstract (NL)

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Related organisations

Related people

Researcher G.E. van Halsema
Researcher H. Hengsdijk
Project leader Ir. H.C. Jansen

Related research (upper level)


D15600 Hydrospheric sciences
D18120 Surfacewater and groundwater

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