Solution Cluster 3.1.3

Land-freshwater nexus

Multiple factors are degrading both land and water resources, ranging from climate change to overpopulation.  Land and water policies – often not linked – 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 Coalition intends to propose a systematic, collaborative approach to solve the food systems crisis. This depends on a better management of land and water resources through developing incentives and initiatives that promote integrated land and water resources management in food systems to protect watersheds and conserve surface and groundwater resources. To achieve this, the coalition for action will integrate innovative and traditional land and water resources management solutions for mountain, highland and lowland ecosystems. Both existing and new solutions include improving water use efficiency, water harvesting, soil water management, watershed management, agroecology, payments for water services as well as institutional innovations. Such solutions are key to foster the resolution of conflicts, align efforts and minimise and manage tradeoffs 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, especially within the context of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. To achieve maximum benefits, integrated water resource management (IWRM) and sustainable land management (SLM) must be transitioned to integrated natural resource management (INRM) that takes into account different geographies, climates, ecosystems, social and economic considerations and the motivations of relevant stakeholders, including local communities.

About this Solution Cluster

Agriculture, a highly water-dependent sector, is simultaneously a major contributor to the global water crisis as well as 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 is a foremost cause of aquatic biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation. Not only is surface water impacted but also groundwater, which is notoriously difficult to govern despite accounting for 40% of total irrigated production, leading to rapidly falling water tables especially in Asia and Africa.

Mountains and highlands are the world’s “water towers” and contribute 60-80% of the freshwater critical to both upstream and downstream habitats, including arid and semiarid areas. Mountains, highlands, and lowlands are interconnected. As of 2013, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reported that climate change had already caused the disappearance of 600 glaciers. Continued glacier volume loss and permafrost thawing is causing important reductions in river flow, creating an 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, salinization, pesticide residue accumulation, etc., while abstraction of water and disruption by hydropower development is threatening downstream opportunities for agriculture and livelihoods.

Food production systems are 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.  In Africa, 65% of land is already considered to be degraded, further compromising efforts to sustainably produce food.

Vision: A coalition of inclusive action to develop solutions that promote INRM practices in food systems that take into account the relationships among mountain, highland and lowland ecosystems as well as the protection of these ecosystems. The coalition aims to 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

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

At global level, efforts need to interlink land and water as a system. While the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development supports land (SDG 15) and water management (SDG 6), indicators are needed to make the interlinkages between the two more explicit. At regional and national levels, the strengthening of INRM policy guidelines across all levels should facilitate the identification and optimization of synergies, while reducing conflicts and trade-offs among key sectors and stakeholders.

This section highlights existing initiatives. It also lists current and potential partners for those initiatives and governments. The SDGs are an integral part of the initiatives listed.

  • The Mountain Partnership – the only United Nations alliance dedicated to protecting mountain ecosystems and peoples. It includes more than 430 members, among which 60 governments. Its Secretariat is hosted by FAO.
  • Regional mountain conventions and initiatives, such as the Alpine Convention, the Carpathian Convention and the Andean Initiative.
  • 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 including 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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