Source: Creutzmann/Welthungerhilfe
Cuba. At an urban agriculture project, a worker irrigates plants being cultivated in seedling tray in the greenhouse, 2006

2012 Global Hunger Index

“States can and must achieve a reorientation of their agricultural systems towards modes of production that contribute to the progressive realization of the human right to adequate food.”
- Olivier De Schutter, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food

In the coming decades food security will be increasingly challenged by water, land, and energy scarcity. If progress and improvements to the well-being and nutritional status of the poor are to be realized, we will need to make a diverse range of foods more available and accessible, identify and address wasteful practices and policies, and assure local communities of greater control over and access to productive resources.

As a result of growing food price volatility and food price spikes, in part driven by land, water, and energy scarcity, many countries have started to rethink agriculture and food security strategies. This rethinking provides an opportunity to ensure that food security strategies are aligned with plans in relation to land, water, and energy. More holistic strategies for dealing with land, water, energy, and food can reduce the adverse impacts of policy incoherence across these areas and promote the sharing of successful innovation.

Greater collaboration is needed among government ministries as well as with communities, civil society, and the private sector in policy design, implementation, and monitoring. It is crucial to monitor both the human and the environmental outcomes of developments in the land, water, and energy sectors and of alternative agricultural and food and nutrition strategies.

Against this backdrop, there are three overall areas in which action is needed:

  1. Responsible governance of natural resources: getting the policy frameworks right
    a. Secure land and water rights
    b. Phase out subsidies
    c. Create a macroeconomic enabling environment

  2. Scaling up technical approaches: addressing the nexus
    a. Invest in agricultural production technologies that support increased land, water, and energy efficiency
    b. Foster approaches resulting in more efficient land, water, and energy use along the value chain
    c. Prevent resource depletion by monitoring and evaluating strategies in water, land, energy, and agricultural systems

  3. Addressing the drivers of natural resource scarcity: managing the risks
    a. Address demographic change, women’s access to education, and reproductive health
    b. Raise incomes, lower inequality, and promote sustainable lifestyles
    c. Mitigate and adapt to climate change through agriculture

Figure 5.1 - Using land, water, and energy synergies for sustainable food security


Download a larger version of Figure 5.1

Akello Grace Acyanga
Lira, Uganda

“Land is the only wealth people are left with in the village, and people think if they sell it, they have sold everything they have.”

“I think my children will not have sufficient fuelwood for cooking and heating in the future because the current generations are cutting down trees for fuelwood and they are not replacing them.”

Immaculate Nakee
Nakapiripirit District, Uganda

“To increase water and energy supplies and access to land, the communities should be sensitized, elderly people should launch a campaign to educate the actors to stop excessive cutting of big trees, more boreholes should be drilled where there are new settlements, and rainwater ponds should be constructed for animals and domestic use.”

Responsible Governance of Natural Resources: Getting the Policy Frameworks Right

Secure Land and Water Rights

As natural resources become scarcer, how land and water rights are allocated will have increasing implications for the social and economic development of states and their citizens, and particular impacts on the livelihoods of the poor.

Though most regions of the world have some form of rights system, many are underdeveloped and underfinanced and neither grounded in statutory law nor respectful of customary arrangements. In these contexts, rights holders are vulnerable to expropriation. The recent increase in the number of land deals within and between countries has amplified these challenges and raised important questions about how rights to local resources should be handled in such cases.

In May 2012 the Committee on World Food Security adopted Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries, and Forests in the Context of National Food Security (see Box 5.1). These guidelines allow government authorities, the private sector, civil society, and citizens to judge whether their proposed actions and the actions of others constitute acceptable practices and are geared toward protecting smallholder land and water rights. Moreover, the Committee on World Food Security is currently debating principles for responsible agricultural investment that will become available in 2013. Preliminary studies on cases of land acquisition have shown that the rights of small farmers and marginalized groups have so far not sufficiently been taken into account. Therefore, requests by farmers’ organizations and other stakeholders to stop large-scale land acquisitions need to be examined in the light of these guidelines and principles.

Box 5.1 - New guidelines on governing land, fisheries, and forests

In May 2012 the United Nations Committee on World Food Security adopted a set of voluntary guidelines to help countries establish laws and policies to better govern land, fishery, and forest tenure rights, with the ultimate aim of supporting food security and sustainable development. Over the course of almost three years, 96 national governments, civil society organizations, private sector entities, international organizations, and academics participated in developing the guidelines.

Though the guidelines have been discussed predominantly in connection with large-scale land acquisitions (“land grabbing”), they actually address a wide range of issues including:

  • recognition and protection of legitimate tenure rights, also under informal systems
  • best practices for registering and transferring tenure rights (including making tenure administrative systems accessible and affordable)
  • management of expropriations and restitution of land to people who were forcibly evicted in the past
  • approaches to ensuring that investment in agricultural lands occurs responsibly and transparently, including consideration of investment models that do not result in the large-scale transfer of tenure rights
  • mechanisms for resolving disputes over tenure rights
  • good practices and policies for land consolidation and redistributive reforms, where required
  • transparent and participatory implementation of regulated spatial planning

The adoption of the voluntary guidelines is only a first step. The FAO, with partners, is now developing a series of technical handbooks designed to help countries adapt the guidelines to their local context and put them into play. To the same end, the FAO will also provide targeted technical assistance to governments.

Equally if not more important will be support to civil society. Funds and training should be made available to allow civil society to use the voluntary guidelines as a tool to monitor government policies and to increase government accountability—especially in those countries where the secure use of and access to natural resources provides for the livelihood of large parts of the population.

Phase Out Subsidies

To ensure more sustainable and efficient use of water, land, and energy resources, direct subsidies for fuels and fertilizer should be phased out. Instead, countries should provide limited, carefully targeted direct payments to support poor farmers and consumers. Subsidies on water and energy lead to the overuse of these scarce resources, put pressure on tight government budgets, and often fail to reach the poorest producers and consumers. Nonetheless, many countries subsidize water and energy, both directly (through fuel or electricity subsidies and free delivery of irrigation water) and indirectly (by subsidizing fertilizers) in order to provide income support for farmers and boost production. The International Energy Agency suggests that global fossil fuel subsidies may rise to US$660 billion in 2020 from US$409 billion in 2010. In contrast, renewable energy subsidies totaled US$66 billion in 2010. These fossil fuel subsidies do not necessarily help the poorest people. In 2010 the poorest 20 percent of the population received approximately 8 percent of the US$409 billion (IEA 2011), and the more than 1 billion people without access to modern forms of energy were fully excluded from this support.

In South Asia, increased national spending on energy subsidies is raising pressure on groundwater resources (because energy is used to pump water for irrigation) and energy supplies. For example, partly as a result of energy subsidies, up to 60 percent of India’s food production now stems from groundwater resources, which are often exploited at unsustainable levels.

To reduce dependence on fossil fuels, some countries increasingly focus on sources of renewable energy. So far, however, these renewable energy strategies continue to depend heavily on first-generation biofuels. Although biofuel development can be beneficial to the economies of some countries, such as Brazil, the biofuel mandates instituted by the United States, the European Union, and a handful of other countries have contributed to reducing both the quantity and quali­ty of water and land available for growing food, hence contributing to higher food prices and to increased competition for land. This competition has major risks for smallholder farmers in countries were land is being leased (see Chapter 4).

Create a Macroeconomic Enabling Framework

Market solutions, which encourage behavior through market signals rather than through explicit directives, can provide payments to farmers who conserve water, land, and associated ecosystem services (Stavins 2005). For example, the formal and informal water markets that have developed in water-scarce, agriculture-dependent countries have been shown to significantly increase the efficiency of water and energy use (Easter, Rosegrant, and Dinar 1998). Payments for ecosystem services, for example, from downstream reservoirs to upstream farmers and foresters who reduce erosion in watersheds is another way to promote efficient use of resources and avoid the negative impacts of poor resource use, but this approach depends on identifying downstream entities that can and want to pay for these services.

Enhanced regional and international trade can help make production more efficient and ensure that agricultural products are produced in those countries where inputs are most abundant or cheaply available. To ensure that trade generates full and equitable benefits, continued development of domestic and regional institutions and pro-poor policies to manage globalization is important. In particular, there is a need for reform of fiscal and financial policies and institutions; property and contract laws that foster modern commerce; flexible and efficient markets for products, labor, and capital; and development of technology and human capital.

Enhanced trade of agricultural commodities is also relevant to help offset the negative effects of climate change on agricultural productivity (Nelson et al. 2009b). Through its effects on temperature and precipitation, climate change is projected to reduce crop productivity in developing countries and thus to substantially increase their imports of major grains. Trade can partially compensate for the projected loss of productivity and thus help spread the risks associated with climate change, increasing the resilience of individual countries that might be hard hit by climatic events in particular seasons or years.

Farmers should be encouraged to move up the value chain by assuming increased roles in processing, packaging, and marketing their products. By promoting economies of scale, cooperatives can make it easier for farmers to add value (see case study on Sierra Leone in Chapter 4), help them gain a stronger market position, and open avenues for trade.

Scaling Up Technical Approaches

Invest in Agricultural Production Technologies That Support Increased Land, Water, and Energy Efficiency

Although private investment is rising, few developing-country governments have increased their investments in agricultural research, development, or extension, which have benefits for poor people’s food security and income. In the 2003 Maputo Declaration on Agriculture and Food Security, African governments committed themselves to allocate at least 10 percent of national budgetary resources to agriculture and rural development policy within five years. As of 2008, only eight countries had met this goal. Nine countries reported rates between 5 and 10 percent, and 28 others reported rates of less than 5 percent (Omilola et al. 2010).

However, not only the quantity, but also the quality of investment must adjust to maximize water, land, and energy security for better food and nutrition outcomes. Most past efforts have focused on improving seeds and ensuring that farmers are provided with a set of inputs that can increase yields. This approach replicates an industrial process, in which external inputs serve to produce outputs in a linear model of production. Instead, smart, site-specific agroecological approaches that increase production, conserve natural resources, and are tailored to specific human and environmental conditions should be favored. Such approaches include integrated soil fertility management, alternate wetting and drying of rice land and direct seeding of rice, on-time water delivery and microirrigation, and increased fertilizer use efficiency.

For example, integrated soil fertility management involves applying both organic and inorganic fertilizers to the soil while also practicing reduced tillage and increasing the reuse of crop residues—practices that help protect the soil and add nutrients. Many studies in Sub-Saharan Africa have shown that integrated soil fertility management increases the soil moisture content, improves energy efficiency, and raises farmers’ crop yields. It also increases soil organic carbon, which is particularly crucial in this region (see, for example, Bryan et al. 2011; Bationo et al. 2007; Marenya et al. 2012). Alternate wetting and drying of rice fields, direct seeding of rice, and dryland rice cultivation are all technologies that can, under appropriate conditions, reduce water use, energy use, and greenhouse gas emissions while maintaining or increasing crop yields. Several of these technologies are now being adopted for their labor-saving rather than their natural resource–conserving properties. For example, direct seeding of rice, which helps conserve labor (Pandey and Velasco 2005), has been adopted on almost half of all rice area in Vietnam (Farooq et al. 2011). There are, however, no general solutions. The best approach for each set of conditions must be determined on a case by case basis.

Foster Approaches That Lead to More Efficient Land, Water, and Energy Use along the Value Chain

To ensure that food and nutrition objectives for poor, food-insecure communities and households can be met, it is important to go beyond agricultural production to assess the implications of water, land, and energy policies along the entire value chain. Water and energy efficiency should be increased in the processing and retail sectors as well; and transportation, transaction, and trade costs of the final product should be factored into land intensification plans as well as new land development.

Some recent studies suggest there is significant potential for reducing postharvest losses along the value chain from the farm to the consumer in both the developing and developed world (see, for example, Gustavsson, Cederberg, and Sonesson 2011). If postharvest losses of agricultural commodities in developing countries account for 10–40 percent of total production, depending on the commodity, and if a significant share of these losses could be reduced, pressure on energy, water, and land resources could be considerably lowered.

Other studies, however, have found that developing-country postharvest losses might be much lower (see, for example, Greeley 1982; Reardon, Chen, and Minten, forthcoming), and the economics of loss recovery has yet to be established (see, for example, Rosegrant, Tokgoz, and Bhandary 2012). To better understand the potential bene­fits of reducing postharvest losses and food waste, researchers must better assess the recoverable losses along the value chain for key commodities and analyze the cost of reducing those losses through specific interventions in developing and developed countries.

Prevent Resource Depletion by Monitoring and Evaluating Strategies in Water, Land, Energy, and Agricultural Systems

The long-term availability of natural resources is crucial for food security. The increasing demand for agricultural products needs to be addressed in a sustainable way to prevent resource depletion. To fully reflect the value of natural resources and set appropriate incentives to help manage them sustainably, decisionmakers should take into account the full cost of environmental degradation as well as the full range of benefits and services that ecosystems provide. To do so, however, they need information on which technologies and development pathways can optimally promote food security, poverty alleviation, and environmental sustainability.

Jean Véa Dieudonné
Jacmel, Haiti

“In 10 years the prices for land have tripled, and a tendency has developed to pay in US dollars.”

“We must rather say that things have changed but not in the right direction. The water does not suffice for the population; neither does the electricity. All the land on the outskirts of the city has become slums.”

“What should be done to improve the situation is better management of the natural resources we have and better control of the distribution of these resources.”

U Khwin Thein
Pauk Township, Myanmar

“I know that the forest around our village was badly denuded. When I was young, perhaps 20 years of age, the forest between Pauk and our village was very dense. Nobody could dare to pass through it even
during daytime.”

“In fact, perhaps the situation could be improved with the introduction of alternative fuel sources other than wood and perhaps by using fuel-efficient stoves. I had once such a stove made out of clay. I kept it for a long time to show it to others and encourage them to use it. But myself, I could never use it because I did not manage to persuade my wife...”

The links between water, land, energy, and food mean that we need better ways to track, monitor, and evaluate the impacts of policies supporting the sustainable use of natural resources. In the case of food, agriculture, and bioenergy, new metrics are necessary to assess, for example, the nutrition and health implications of natural resource strategies as well as the effects on food security strategies. Once established, the best approaches can be developed into monitoring systems to generate evidence for sound policies.

In recent years, several initiatives have started to monitor the socioeconomic and environmental impacts of agricultural systems. It is important that these initiatives develop a wide range of indicators encompassing water, energy, land use, food, nutrition, and health outcomes. Moreover, indicators need to be simple and affordable to collect, including by developing-country government agencies and farmers themselves. Most important, such monitoring systems must be transparent, and data must be provided in a timely manner, allowing governments, the private sector, and civil society to make appropriate adjustments in response to indicator values. To integrate modern science with local knowledge, monitoring and research should be conducted with local farmers, particularly small-scale producers. Their participation will ensure that solutions are not one-size-fits-all, but fitted to the specific circumstances and responsive to actual needs.

Addressing the Drivers of Natural Resource Scarcity

Address Demographic Change, Women’s Access to Education, and Reproductive Health

Economists, demographers, and policymakers have long debated the relationships between reproductive health, population change, and economic well-being. In recent years, however, a growing number of studies across disciplines have shown that declines in fertility affect the structure of a country’s population (see, for example, World Bank 2007; Joshi 2012).

The emerging age structure has a lower dependency ratio (fewer young and older people per working-age adult), which creates a window of opportunity for economic development. Studies have also shown that access to family-planning services contributes to a reduction in fertility, which frees up household resources and allows women to make more investments in education. Better access to education, particularly by women, will in turn lead to positive food and nutrition security outcomes: the 2009 Global Hunger Index report suggests that there is a particularly strong relationship between education and hunger. Educated women have better nutritional status themselves, are better cared for, and provide higher-quality care for their children. To help address the challenge of providing adequate family-planning services, a recent summit on family planning led to pledges toward halving the number of women in developing countries who want, but lack access to, modern contraception (DFID 2012).

Raise Incomes, Lower Inequality, and Promote Sustainable Lifestyles

U Ye Myint
Pauk Township, Myanmar

“As my village is located in the lowlands near the Yaw River, it is easy to drill wells and find water. We suffer from too much instead of too little water, especially in the latter part of the rainy season. Water is pouring on the village from uphill and endangering houses. Therefore we want to reforest these 5 acres on top of the hill in order to reduce the water flow.”

Lespérence Fedner
Technical Coordinator, Welthungerhilfe,
Jean Rabel, Haiti

“During recent years, land prices have increased dramatically... The pressure on land leads to the urbanization of areas which are actually reserved for agriculture.”

“The population must be conscious, motivated, and aware of the problem of availability of resources for the future needs of our children.”

Rising income levels, with corresponding changes in lifestyle and consumption patterns, are likely to increase demand for a wide range of goods and services. Developing countries will have valuable opportunities to realize the wealth-creating potential of water, energy, and land resources, but they also face the risk of using these resources in ways that exacerbate economic inequality and environmental degradation.

Natural resources are often the principal source of income for the world’s poorest people. In countries with weak governance of natural resources, civil society and the international community need to help strengthen governance systems by monitoring the natural resource base and ensuring that it is not expropriated at the expense of marginalized parts of society. Programs and initiatives such as those described in Chapter 4 can help strengthen the capacity of civil society groups to support poor and marginalized people in securing their rights and sustaining their livelihoods.

At the same time, economic growth in many developing countries is associated with more resource-intensive lifestyles that have proven to be unsustainable. Rising incomes should therefore be used as an opportunity to leapfrog unsustainable natural resource use and demonstrate the potential of lifestyles that are consistent with sustainable global development. Such lifestyles must not only be environmentally sustainable, but also allow poorer countries to catch up with the industrial countries in terms of human well-being. The largest onus of adjusting resource-intensive lifestyles, however, will remain with the industrial countries, in the interest of both sustainability and equality.

Moreover, broader action is needed to address the growing gap between the rich and the poor. While the exact dimensions of inequality vary from country to country, depending on the ethnic, regional, and religious situation, a systematic picture of inequality between rural and urban populations, between social or ethnic groups, and between the poorest and the rich is evident for almost all regions of the globe. In view of the growing inequities outlined in the Conventional World scenario in Chapter 3, increased investments in agriculture, rural infrastructure, health, education, and social protection19 are urgently needed in low-income developing countries to close the gaps between the rich and the poor and promote a model of development that is both socially and environmentally more sustainable. The industrial countries need to reconsider their lifestyles and consumption patterns and demonstrate that responsible use of natural resources benefits everyone in society.

Mitigate and Adapt to Climate Change through Agriculture

Ebwongu Edison
Kaberamaido district, Uganda

“I foresee my children not having sufficient water in the future. This is because currently we are already facing a safe water shortage (something that never used to happen in our village). Additionally, with the rapidly increasing population, there will be continuously growing contamination of the underground water wells due to human activities. This will render most of the water sources unfit for human consumption.”

“To counteract the scarcity of land, there is a need to sensitize the community to practice family planning to check the rapidly growing population.”

Daw Thaung Kyi
Pauk Township, Myanmar

“When I was young my parents’ main earnings were from charcoal burning. I became to know that is a main cause for the lack of forest nowadays. And if there are no trees, rain may be lacking. I would like to plant some trees to get good timber in order to construct a house. And I also have great interest in installing a solar plate in order to get electric light.”

Sustainable practices are critical for helping agriculture adapt to climate change. At the same time, agriculture has been shown to signi­fi­cantly contribute to climate change, primarily by producing and releasing greenhouse gases and altering land cover and land use. Consequently, it will be necessary not only to reduce the adverse impacts of climate change on agriculture and the rural poor but also to minimize agriculture’s impact on the climate. Developing countries will require funding for both agricultural adaptation and mitigation, and this financial and technical assistance should be additional to other aid commitments. It should also be targeted to those countries and regions most vulnerable to climate change, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

Critical adaptation measures include targeted investments in agricultural research and extension, rural infrastructure, and strengthened social protection programs. The goal should be to develop crops and livestock that are resilient in a range of production environments. Within countries, extension programs can help farmers adapt through new technologies, build farmers’ knowledge and skills, and encourage them to form networks for sharing information and developing community-based adaptation options, such as farmer-managed irrigation systems and tree nurseries. Understanding the interactions between agri­culture and climate well enough to support adaptation and mitigation activities requires major improvements in data collection, dissemination, and analysis.

In addition, greenhouse gas mitigation in the agricultural sector should be addressed through policy reforms. To date, agriculture has played a relatively minor role in greenhouse gas mitigation. Because of the large number of smallholder farmers that need to participate in mitigation pro­jects to achieve significant savings in greenhouse gases, the administrative cost of agricultural mitigation is higher than in other sectors. In addition, more research is needed to establish the greenhouse gas savings from a number of specific agricultural practices. Carbon market schemes for agriculture could help reduce carbon emissions, although so far they have proven effective only for large-scale farmers. If the transaction costs for small-scale projects can be reduced, they might be an important source of income for small-scale farmers in the future. Most, if not all, agricultural practices that have been shown to reduce emissions also increase productivity and reduce other environmental impacts. Examples are agroecological approaches, such as integrated soil fertility management, which can be adapted to specific conditions.


19. Social protection includes benefits provided by governments to individuals or households to reduce hunger, poverty, and other forms of deprivation. These benefits include safety nets, such as public works schemes or cash welfare payments; drought, illness, and unemployment insurance; and other social sector policies including direct nutrition interventions and free primary education.[Back]
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