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Rivers and Lakes

Promoting Sustainable Agriculture

Improving water productivity and quality in an expanding world.

The need for water to grow more food is increasing daily. The world is undergoing a dramatic food crisis and experts believe that food shortages will intensify during coming decades.

The rising cost of food is exacerbating the global hunger crisis, leading to growing violence in many parts of the world. Most agricultural experts agree that additional food production will require more water to be applied to croplands.

The Nature Conservancy fully supports endeavors to improve the human condition and reduce hunger.

We believe this can be done while sustaining healthy ecosystems.

Irrigated agriculture already is the world’s largest user of water, accounting for 70 percent of global water withdrawals, and an anticipated increase of 14-17 percent is expected over the next two decades. The World Development Report of 2008 calls for an increase in agriculture in developing countries.

Watering farms has already caused some of the planet’s largest rivers to go dry before reaching the sea – including the Yellow River in China, the Ganges and Indus in India, the Amu Dar’ya and Syr Dar’ya in Central Asia, and the Colorado and Rio Grande in the United States and Mexico.

Improving Water Productivity

Food production may be a thirsty business, but it doesn’t have to damage freshwater ecosystems. One central approach to more sustainable irrigation is the concept of more “crop per drop” or water efficient farming. The Conservancy is also working to go beyond more crop per drop and towards allocating more water to freshwater ecosystems through environmental flow transactions and by collaborating with global and regional irrigation institutions so as to find solutions for providing water for farms while protecting rivers.

Improving Water Quality

Pesticides, fertilizers and animal waste are washed into our rivers when rain and snow carry nutrients and sediment across farms and into waterways. In the United States alone, agricultural pollution accounts for 60 percent of contamination in rivers and lakes. This affects not only the quality of water coming out of people’s water taps but it impacts fish and wildlife in rivers, lakes and oceans as well.

The Nature Conservancy is addressing this threat by working with agricultural companies and groups to disseminate sustainable farming practices including techniques to minimize the use of chemicals and fertilizers and using vegetated riparian buffers to protect rivers from grazing livestock and agricultural runoff. We work with government agencies and farmers to find pragmatic and effective ways to protect freshwater resources.

In partnership and with science leading the way, we are helping to forge better farming practices that protect clean water.

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