Water & Agriculture

Agriculture is the single largest driver of land-use change around the world. Pressure is mounting on agricultural landscapes and natural systems as the global human population continues to grow and more land is converted to support meat-intensive diets and an expanding bioenergy sector. Today agriculture accounts for 70% of the total global freshwater withdrawals, it alters the hydrological cycle at local to regional scales, and is a major driver behind nitrogen and phosphorus pollution.

While expansion and intensification of agricultural systems can boost food production, it comes at a cost to life-supporting ecosystems. A fundamental dilemma is whether we can meet the Millenium Development Goals (MDG's) on hunger and poverty leading to increasing demands for agricultural production without losing the resilience of social-ecological systems.

The RA is at the forefront of research efforts to analyze the role of water management for building resilience in agricultural landscapes. The following three research themes have emerged to address resilience in agricultural systems:

  1. Managing water to build resilience in agricultural landscapes
    Led by researchers at the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) and Arizona State University (ASU), the project will compare case studies involving resilience of agricultural landscapes in semi-arid regions. Focusing on improving water management in agricultural systems to increase food production in line with the Millennium Development Goals while also addressing cross-scale linkages and trade-offs with other water uses.

  2. Tipping points in the biosphere: Assessing resilience of ecosystem services to global agricultural expansion
    Research will address social-ecological regime shifts that are triggered by agriculturally-driven changes in water quality and quantity, particularly at the global scale. RA members have organized a symposium on this topic at the Ecological Society of America's annual meeting in August 2007.

  3. Managing for synergies and dealing with trade-offs among bundles of ecosystem services in agricultural landscapes
    The aim of this project is to develop a conceptual framework and new empirical methods for investigating multi-dimensional trade-offs and synergies among 'bundles of ecosystem services'.

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Managing Water to Build Resilience in Agricultural Landscapes 
Global Insittute of Sustainability ASU, SEI, RA   download...

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