Natural Resources Management

Writing Team: Lorna Michael Butler (USA), Roger Leakey (Australia), Jean Albergel (France), Elizabeth Robinson (UK)

Soil, water, plant and animal diversity, vegetation cover, renewable energy sources, climate, and ecosystem services are fundamental capital in support of life on earth [Global Chapter 1]. Natural resource systems, especially those of soil, water and biodiversity, are fundamental to the structure and function of agricultural systems and to social and envi­ronmental sustainability [Global Chapter 3]. The IAASTD report focuses primarily on the agronomic use of natural resources. Extractive processes such as logging, wild har­vesting of non-timber forest products, captive fisheries [SSA SDM], while recognized as being important, are only ad­dressed minimally here as they have been the focus of other global assessments.
     In many parts of the world natural resources have been treated as though unlimited, and totally resilient to human exploitation. This perception has exacerbated the conflict­ing agricultural demands on natural capital, as have other exploitative commercial enterprises [ESAP Chapters 2, 4; Global Chapter 1]. Both have affected local cultures and had undesirable long-term impacts on the sustainability of resources [NAE Chapter 4]. The consequences include: land degradation (about 2,000 million ha of land worldwide) affecting 38% of the world's cropland; reduced water and nutrient availability (quality and access) [Global Chapter 1]. Agriculture already consumes 70% of all global freshwater withdrawn worldwide and has depleted soil nutrients, result­ing in N, P and K deficiencies covering 59%, 85%, and 90% of harvested area respectively in the year 2000 coupled with a 1,136 million tonnes yr"1 loss of total global production [Global Chapter 3]. Additionally, salinization affects about 10% of the world's irrigated land, while the loss of biodiver­sity and its associated agroecological functions [estimated to provide economic benefits of US$1,542 billion per year (Global Chapter 9)] adversely affect productivity especially in environmentally sensitive lands in sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America [CWANA Chapter 2; Global Chapter 1, 6; LAC Chapter 1; SSA Chapter 5]. Increasing pollution also contributes to water quality problems affecting riv­ers and streams: about 70% in the USA [Global Chapter 8]. There have also been negative impacts of pesticide and fertilizer use on soil, air and water resources throughout the world. For example the amount of nitrogen used per unit of crop output increased greatly between 1961 and 1996.


     The severity of these consequences varies with geo­graphic location and access to the various capitals. This complex of interacting factors often leads to reduced liveli­hoods and diminishing crop yields, and the further refueling of natural resource degradation, especially in marginal areas [CWANA Chapter 1; ESAP Chapter 4; Global Chapters 3, 6; SSA Chapter 5]. The degradation of natural resources is both biophysically and socially complex. Interrelated fac­tors drive degradation, for example: commerce, population growth, land fragmentation, inappropriate policy, custom­ary practices and beliefs, poverty and weak institutions (cus­tomary and property rights, credit for the poor, crop and livestock insurance), can all be drivers of degradation [SSA Chapter 5]. On the other hand, there are examples where agricultural practices have been developed to protect agro-ecosystems [LAC Chapter 1; SSA Chapter 5], while produc­ing marketable commodities [Global Chapter 3]. Examples include   terracing,   watershed   and   habitat   management, protection of vulnerable landscapes, pastoral systems [SSA Chapter 5], and micro-irrigation technologies [Global Chap­ter 3], and, more recently, policies promoting biocontrol, organic food production, and fair trade [CWANA Chapter 2; LAC Chapter 1]. Additionally, loss of genetic resources has been partially addressed by establishment of gene banks and germplasm collections [Global Chapter 3]. However, the overexploitation paradigm still dominates.

To improve the productivity of agriculture and enhance sus­tainable rural development there is the need to:
1.  Assess the trends in the loss of natural capital (soil, wa­ter, plant and animal diversity, vegetation cover, energy, climate, ecosystem services) due to over-exploitation.
2.  Understand the factors resulting in lower environmental resilience and the failure to achieve optimum agricul­tural output by the rural poor.
3.  Mitigate and reverse the severe impacts on the environ­ment and the livelihoods of poor people, for example resolving loss of soil fertility, erosion, soil salinization, decreased water quality and availability, decreased bio­diversity and ecosystem services.
4.  Resolve the biophysically and socially complex issues of NRM using formal, local and traditional knowledge, and collective, participatory and anticipatory decision mak­ing with diverse stakeholders across multiple scales.
5.  Adopt a holistic or systems-oriented approach, to cap­ture the needs for sustainable production and to address