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State of the world's land and water resources for food and agriculture

SOLAW

Compiled by FAO
Published by FAO
Website: www.earthscan.co.uk
2011, 192pp, ISBN 978 1 84971 327 6 (Pb), £29.99

From the highlands of the Andes to the steppes of Central Asia, degradation and scarcity of land and water resources is placing key food production systems at risk, posing a serious challenge to feeding 9 billion people in 2050. That is the conclusion of State of the world's land and water resources for food and agriculture (SOLAW), which also notes that "Worldwide, the poorest have the least access to land and water and are locked in a poverty trap of small farms with poor quality soils and high vulnerability to land degradation and climate uncertainty."

According to this global assessment, one-quarter of the planet's land resources are degraded. Soil erosion, the loss of organic matter, salinisation, soil pollution and biodiversity loss are contributing factors. Salinisation, pollution of groundwater, excessive groundwater withdrawals and degradation of water-related ecosystems are also threatening water resources. "Because of the dependence of many key food production systems on groundwater, continued abstraction of non-renewable groundwater and declining aquifer levels present a growing risk to local and global food production," the report warns.

The report reveals that between 1961 and 2009, the world's cropland grew by 12 per cent and agricultural production expanded by 150 per cent. Yet SOLAW warns that the rates of growth have been slowing in many places as increasing numbers of areas reach their production capacity. To meet increasing food demand by 2050, the report estimates that global production will need to increase by 70 per cent and four-fifths of this will have to come from existing agricultural land through sustainable intensification efforts that make use of available resources without damaging them. "For nutrition to improve and for food insecurity and undernourishment to recede, future agricultural production will have to rise faster than population growth and consumption patterns will have to be adjusted," the report adds.

Targeted at senior decision makers in agriculture, this FAO report recommends improving irrigation systems, conservation agriculture, agroforestry, integrated crop-livestock systems and integrated irrigation-aquaculture systems to expand production while limiting impacts on ecosystems.

Date published: January 2012

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