Environment Counts | State of the Worldâ€™s Land and Water Resources for Food and Agriculture
Author: Rick Higgins – Published At: 2012-01-08 17:03 – (1330 Reads)
The worldâ€™s cultivated area has grown by 12 percent over the last 50 years. The global irrigated area has doubled over the same period, accounting for most of the net increase in cultivated land. Meanwhile, agricultural production has grown between 2.5 and 3 times, due to significant increase in the yield of major crops. However, global achievements in production in some regions have been associated with degradation of land and water resources, and the deterioration of related ecosystem goods and services. A new report from the FAO in 2011 focuses on these issues and provides excellent data and explanations of cause and affect. The report also provides interesting forecasts of possible future situation to 2050 along with possible courses of action for various stakeholders to address the problems. FAO 2011
The worldâ€™s population continues to rise. Todayâ€™s population of around 7 billion is expected to increase to about 9 billion by 2050. By that time, another one billion tonnes of cereals and 200 million extra tonnes of livestock products will need to be produced every year. The imperative for such agricultural growth is strongest in developing countries, where the challenge is not just to produce food but to ensure that families have access that will bring them food security.
Agriculture already uses 11 percent of the worldâ€™s land surface for crop production. It also makes use of 70 percent of all water withdrawn from aquifers, streams and lakes. The land and water systems, underpinning many key food producing systems worldwide, are being stressed by unprecedented levels of demand. Climate change is expected to exacerbate these stresses in some key productive areas.
Toward 2050, rising population and incomes are expected to call for 70 percent more food production globally, and up to 100 percent more in developing countries, relative to 2009 levels. Yet, the distribution of land and water resources does not favour those countries that need to produce more in the future: the average availability of cultivated land per capita in low-income countries is less than half that of high-income countries, and the suitability of cultivated land for cropping is generally lower.
FAO reports a series of land and water systems now face the risk of progressive breakdown of their productive capacity under a combination of excessive demographic pressure and unsustainable agricultural practices. The physical limits to land and water availability within these systems may be further exacerbated in places by external drivers, including climate change, competition with other sectors and socio-economic changes.
Land and water institutions have not kept pace with the growing intensity of river basin development and the increasing degree of inter-dependence and competition over land and water resources. Some countries with rapidly growing demand for food are also those that face high levels of land or water scarcity. The largest contribution to increases in agricultural output will most likely come from intensification of production on existing agricultural land. This will require widespread adoption of sustainable land management practices, and more efficient use of irrigation water through enhanced flexibility, reliability and timing of irrigation water delivery.
For nutrition to improve and for food insecurity and undernourishment to recede, future agricultural production will have to rise faster than population growth. This will have to occur largely on existing agricultural land. Improvements will thus have to come from sustainable intensification that makes effective use of land and water resources as well as not causing them harm.
Today almost 1 billion people are undernourished, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa (239 million) and Asia (578 million). In developing countries, even if agricultural production doubles by 2050, one person in twenty still risks being undernourished â€“ equivalent to 370 million hungry people, most of whom will again be in Africa and Asia. Such growth would imply agriculture remaining an engine of growth, vital to economic development, environmental services and central to rural poverty reduction.
The following schematic is a realistic though indicative level map overview of the risks associated with main agricultural production systems and their global distribution. The risks summarized under the following categories.
- Floods and sea level rise
- Water security
- Loss of biodiversity
- Desertificationa and droughts
- Loss/Low soil fertility
- Land scarcity
Note, global distribution of croplands are indicated as a base theme of the map.
The FAO report states the potential does exist, however, to expand production efficiently to address food security and poverty while limiting impacts on other ecosystem values. There is scope for governments and the private sector, including farmers, to be much more proactive in advancing the general adoption of sustainable land and water management
A list of specific cases and areas at risk is provided in the following table. This is an excellent summary of the major global cases or locations (eg. specific river basins, aquifers, deltas and coastal areas, small islands, peri-urban cases, etc) where agricultural systems are at risk. These are organised and classified by global production systems (eg.irrigated crops, rainfed crops, rangelands, forests, etc).