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Module 5 - Investment in Sustainable Natural Resource Management for Agriculture


In recent years, increases in agricultural productivity have come in part at the expense of deterioration in the natural resource base on which farming systems depend. It is urgent that this trend be reversed by encouraging farmers to adopt more sustainable methods of farming that will have long-term benefits in environmental conservation and development of sustainable livelihoods. Public sector investments are critical to reversing trends in degradation of natural resources. Specific objectives for sustainable natural resource management (NRM) include improving agroecosystem productivity, conserving biodiversity, reducing land degradation, improving water management, ensuring the sustainability of forests, managing the sustainability of wildlife and fisheries, and mitigating the effects of global climate change.

NRM refers to the processes and practices relating to the allocation and use of natural resources. Sustainable NRM optimizes the use of resources to meet current livelihood needs, while maintaining and improving the stock and quality of resources so that future generations will be able to meet their needs. NRM decisions are made at various levels—household, farm, community, national, and global. This module focuses on off-farm investments and activities at the local and community level that have direct implications for sustainable agricultural systems. Farm-level practices or technologies with a benign or positive effect on the natural environment are outlined in Module 4, “Investments in Sustainable Agricultural Intensification.”

Rationale for Investment

Agricultural production systems depend on natural resources¾land (over 55 percent of nonforest land), water (about 80 percent of total fresh water), biodiversity, forests, pastures, and wildlife. Farm activities can also have major impacts on the quality and availability of these resources well beyond the boundaries of the production system (for example, downstream pollution and soil erosion). Although natural resources are critical to agricultural production, farm households also frequently depend on them to meet other needs, such as fuel, construction materials, and supplemental foods. Thus rural livelihoods are intricately linked to the condition of natural resources, particularly for those 1.3 billion people living on fragile lands.

Over the last 40 years as food production has doubled, agricultural production systems have expanded, with significant impacts on the natural resource base (figure 5.1):

  • The amount of agricultural land going out of production each year due to soil erosion is about 20 million hectares, and approximately 40 percent of the world’s cropland is now degraded.

  • Irrigated agriculture consumes about 70 percent of the total volume of fresh water used by humans, resulting in major environmental consequences: salinization, lowering of water tables, waterlogging, and degradation of water quality, with subsequent impacts on ecological systems affecting fisheries and wetlands.


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