Water is a resource on which we all rely, and yet continues to face increasing scarcity and degradation. Particularly for agriculture, which is one of the primary consumers of water, this problem is of growing concern both in terms of production and human livelihoods. A new book edited by Eline Boelee, Managing Water and Agroecosystems for Food Security, tackles the major issues and suggests how a more integrated approach to management may in fact lead us down a more sustainable water future.
The concluding chapter, “Management of Water and Agroecosystems in Landscapes for Sustainable Food Security”, draws together the lessons from the previous ten chapters in the book and suggests a vision for the future. Water management in agriculture has often targeted the production of food over the supporting and regulatory services ecosystems provide (e.g. water filtration and flood control). In order to guarantee the long-term sustainability of water resources in agriculture, the authors argue for a shift in mentality – from “water for food” to “water for agroecosystems”, taking a more holistic and landscape-level perspective.
It’s a message of caution: agriculture managed in isolation will lead to landscapes losing their capacity to support the suite of ecosystem functions and services on which people, food, and nature all rely. And a combination of the interventions addressed throughout the book is likely to be more effective than individual actions alone. However, questions and knowledge gaps remain. At the core of many unknowns is the absence of understanding interactions and efficiencies. How do drivers of food insecurity impact ecosystem services? What is the impact of improved agricultural water productivity on food security and poverty? If we manage water for a wide range of ecosystem services, does this indeed lead to environmentally friendly food production that can be sustained and feed all in the future? How can the suite of practices, institutions, and spatial arrangements actually come to fruition?
So the appeal for collaborative action research that rounds out the chapter is understandable. Answering some of these burning questions, developing and mobilizing institutions around integrated natural resources management, and reaching across sectoral divides are crucial elements to managing water and agroecosystems for food security. This is how, the authors conclude, the resulting landscapes can transform into a mosaic of various interlinked healthy agricultural and natural ecosystems.
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