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Publication | 2022

Enabling institutional environments conducive to livelihood improvement and adapted investments in sustainable land and water uses

This report reviews the main global trends in land and water uses, policies and investments that have taken place over the last decade and identifies the institutional arrangements that have been the most conducive to sustainable and equitable use of these resources.

The report focuses particularly on family farmers, who have limited access to key resources (land, water, credit and infrastructure). It pays special attention to their common challenges and needs, but also to their diverse conditions. It provides evidence-based information on the institutional conditions needed to ensure inclusive land and water programmes, and to upscale such programmes at local levels. It is based on a systematic review of official documents and academic papers and on detailed case studies, often grounded in the authors’ own significant knowledge.

The report is organized in three main parts.

The first section begins with a review of the main global trends affecting land and water uses over the last decade, and links them to the public policies and types of private investment that encouraged such trends. The main structural drivers of growing pressures on water resources and land availability are discussed, including population growth, diet changes, climate change, urbanization and biofuel development. The report discusses the direct effects of these drivers, including water scarcity, increased global competition for land use and the degradation of existing resources, on land and water availability.

It then examines the main types of private investments and public policies that drive these trends: large-scale land acquisition, reassertion of large-scale infrastructure programmes for surface water irrigation, public subsidies and private initiatives that stimulate access to groundwater.

The second section of the report focuses on the impacts of global changes, policies and investments on farmers’ livelihoods and water use. It reviews the numerous beneficial impacts of irrigation on poverty reduction emphasizing that they are highly contextual and unequally shared across social groups. It documents the widening gap between irrigated and rainfed areas, and the risks of a medium-term crisis for agricultural economies that are based on groundwater irrigation. It emphasizes that existing policies are poorly tailored to farmers’ needs. Lastly, the section documents the complex relationship between migration and increased pressures on land and water.

The third section of the report charts the way forward for more sustainable and equitable management of land and water. It takes stock of policies inspired by the principles of integrated water resources management (IWRM). It documents some tentative steps toward more territory-based policies and reviews the experiences of integrating climate change into land and water policies. It then discusses the respective merits of universal versus targeted agricultural policies to improve family farmer livelihoods. Finally, the section reviews some promising experiences in terms of transboundary water governance and participatory approaches to land and water management.

The report concludes:

In the coming years, governments will need to renew their current level of political and financial commitment to their water and agricultural sectors, while making significant policy shifts towards less resource-intensive agricultural models.

Water and agricultural policies will need to be more territorialized to consider the growing diversity of farmers' structures, needs and strategies. Territory-based policies could also enable a better connection between water and land policies and other policy domains, integrating them into rural policy and improving cross-sectoral policy coherence.

There is a need to strengthen participatory approaches - i.e. approaches that strengthen and support public participation in local, regional and national decision-making processes - to improve water and land governance arrangements and policy design.