Solution Cluster 3.1.3

Land-freshwater nexus

Multiple factors are conspiring to degrade both land and water resources, ranging from climate change to over-population.  Existing “silos” of land and water policies need to give way to nexus thinking, and unified strategies, with integrated agricultural solutions that protect both upstream and downstream ecosystems.  The Land-freshwater Nexus Cluster aims to develop incentives that promote integrated land and water resources management in food systems to protect watersheds and conserve surface and groundwater resources. This will be achieved by building a coalition of actions that integrate innovative and traditional land and water resources management solutions for mountain, highland and lowland ecosystems.  Such existing or new solutions include improving water use efficiency, water harvesting, soil water management, agroecology, payments for water services as well as institutional innovations. These are key to foster the resolution of conflicts, align efforts and minimise and manage trade-offs in land – water resource management, ensure continued provision and regulation of land and freshwater-related services in the face of climate change, and leverage synergies among conservation and development efforts for enhanced resilience in the agriculture and fisheries sectors.  To achieve maximum benefits, integrated water resource management (IWRM) and sustainable land management (SLM) must be transitioned to integrated natural resource management (INRM) that take into account different geographies, climates, ecosystems, social and economic considerations and the motivations of relevant stakeholders.

About this Solution Cluster

Agriculture, a highly water dependent sector, is simultaneously a major contributor to the worsening global water crisis and vulnerable to increasing water risks faced by human communities brought on by growing competition and climate change. Worldwide, food production accounts for 70% of human water abstraction (i.e. 2,800 km3 /yr), diminishes and degrades water sources, is a major contributor to water pollution and a foremost cause of aquatic biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation. Not only surface water is impacted, but also groundwater which is notoriously difficult to govern despite accounting for 40% of total irrigated production, leading to the rapidly falling water tables esp. in Asia and Africa.

Mountains and highlands are the world’s “water towers” and contribute 60-80% freshwater critical to both upstream and downstream habitats, to lowlands including arid and semiarid areas. Mountains, highlands, and lowlands are interconnected in watershed and climate initiatives. Climate change is already causing more than 600 glaciers to disappear and is causing springs and rivers to dry up, causing imbalance between current water supply and demand. Besides, the interaction of climate change and land use change in critical mountainous watersheds is altering water cycles through landcover changes resulting in modified runoff and water discharge, desiccation, salinisation, pesticide residue accumulation, etc., while abstraction of water and disruption by hydropower development is threatening downstream opportunities for agriculture/ livelihoods.

Food production systems are currently the single biggest underlying cause of decline in land and water resources, responsible for approximately 80% of deforestation, 70% of terrestrial biodiversity loss and 50% of freshwater biodiversity loss.  They contribute up to 29% of all greenhouse gas emissions.  Croplands and grazing lands now cover more than one third of the earth´s land surface, with recent clearance of native habitats, including forests, being concentrated in some of the most species-rich ecosystems.  In Africa, 65% of land is already considered to be degraded, further compromising efforts to sustainably produce food.

Land and water issues are inextricably linked, therefore, governance (incl. policies) and management must ensure their integration.  Integrated natural resource practices will be more successful because of efficiency and effectiveness.

At a global level, efforts need to interlink land and water as a system.  Agenda 2030 on Sustainable Development, while explicitly supporting land (SDG 15) and water management (SDG 6), the interlinkages between the two must be explicit, with indicators that show interlinkages between the two. At the regional and national levels, INRM guidelines in policies across all levels should facilitate the identification and optimization of synergies, reduce conflicts and trade-offs among key sectors and stakeholders.

A coalition of inclusive action to develop solutions that promote integrated natural resources management practices (INRM) in the food system that take into account the relationships among, and protection of mountain, highlands and lowlands ecosystems, conserve surface and groundwater resources and accelerate the implementation of Agenda 2030 to reduce hunger (SDG 2), protect aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems and reverse water and land degradation (SDG 6&15), and reduce the negative effects of climate change (SDG 13).

This section highlights existing initiatives.  It also lists current and potential partners for those initiatives – governments, and SDGs are an integral part of these all.  The first five are solutions from the “first and second waves” under Land-Freshwater Nexus.  The rest are solutions mapped under the current exercise.

  • Technology and Innovation for smart and efficient agricultural water, transitions to sustainable cattle management, precision irrigation, water reuse e.g. through a smart tubing network, better cropping patterns, forecasting and monitoring to reduce water over-extraction – World Farmers Organization, TNC/Water for Food Institute/ Bureau of Reclamation/ USDA/ Veolia, WRI, WOCAT
  • Water Funds/Resilient Watersheds (40+ water funds + PES water schemes around the world) – innovative funding of NBS in agriculture – TNC, ABI, others 
  • Nature Based Solutions to safeguard water sources and river flows Incl. riparian management, restorative interventions like conservation agriculture, agroforesty systements, water harvesting, management of reservoirs for multipurpose/multi-stakeholder use – IUCN, TNC, WWF, World Bank, FAO, IFPRI, IWMI/CGIAR, WRI, Universities, WOCAT, CONDESAN
  • Use of social learning interventions to build awareness on risks and adoption of opportunities for sustainable management of groundwater including securing ground water recharge– Foundation for Ecological Security; CGIAR; Government of India; World Bank; African Minister’s Council on Water (AMCOW) – African Union Commission (AUC)
  • Water buffering – planning and (integrated) systems of groundwater storage, moisture storage and surface storage – FAO West Africa, WOCAT Water Harvesting 
  • Integrating traditional knowledge and agrobiodiversity for ecosystem services in mountain food production systems – FAO, WOCAT
  • Integrated Landscapes Service – i.e. partnerships for coordinated development and management of lands + water governance, portfolio of management options – WB, TNC, IWMI, FAO, NARS (national institutes), AGRA, WOCAT, CONDESAN
  • Regenerative food systems – NBS (restorative land innovations) for sustainable management of soil physical and hydrological properties – CGIAR, TNC, AGRA, Farmers federations, WB, NARS, FAO, regional orgs.
  • Protection of headwaters, lakes and aquifers that may incorporate water funds and buffers – IFRPI, IWMI
  • Groundwater education towards sustainable development in India, Ethiopia and Ghana – IFPRI/IWMI, TNC
  • Implementation of environmental flows (e-flows) onto the global policy stage – mechanisms to mainstream these practices for wider implementation for the benefit of water ecosystems and small-scale farmers – FAO, IWMI
  • NBS to build water supply resilience for food production and freshwater ecosystems special focus on arid and semiarid areas and climate change – TNC/FAO/Global Resilience Partnership/Oxford
  • Investing in drought risk identification, monitoring and mapping (IGAD region of Africa);
  • Ensuring safety net programs (Ethiopia’s PSNP) social accountability through increased public information and transparency (global)

Highly relevant initiatives listed by other clusters include policy reform and public support, transforming commodity supply chains, strengthening indigenous peoples’ rights, minimum environmental standards, restore riparian buffers.  Key partners include: UN agencies, major development NGOs (TNC, IUCN, WRI), CGIAR, national institutes, private sector, universities, WB, IFAD, regional development banks, WOCAT

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