Making every drop count

New report presents strategies to reduce negative impacts on ecosystem services.

Photo: J. Lokrantz/Azote
- Water management practices must be improved, multifunctional agro-ecosystems should be developed, and the values of ecosystem services beyond food production should be recognized.
These are the key conclusions from a recently published article by centre researchers Line Gordon and Malin Falkenmark together with C. Max Finlayson of Charles Stuart University in Australia.
A main contributor to environmental change
The article, which was published in Agricultural Water Management under the title "Managing water in agriculture for food production and other ecosystems services" reviews the pressing trade-offs between increased agricultural production to enhance food security and economic growth and the consequent losses of important ecosystems.

- Through its interaction with water, agriculture has become a main contributor to global environmental change and has substantially modified the global hydrological cycle in terms of both water quality and water quantity, says Line Gordon.

Changes include substantial alterations to river flow patterns, downstream coastal ecosystems and wetlands. Large rivers around the world have also been depleted.

- The ecosystem effects of these impacts can be considerable for human well-being with decline in downstream fisheries, drinking water and sufficient water quantity for wetlands and coastal ecosystems, Gordon says.

More crop per drop
Together with Falkenmark and Finlayson, she stresses the need to increase water productivity in agriculture, basically getting more crop out of every drop. This will curb the risk for regions to move into water stressed conditions that render livelihood support from crops, livestock and ecosystems critically difficult.

They identify three main strategies in order to reduce negative impacts by improving management practices on already existing agricultural lands:

- improved water productivity
- linking agricultural water management with downstream aquatic system management
- creating multifunctional agro-ecosystems to increase synergies among ecosystem services.

They call for a better understanding and recognition of ecosystem services beyond food production.

- Since most ecosystem services do not have a price on the market and are seldom part of current agricultural decision making, this requires a considerable shift in thinking, the authors conclude.

Source: Gordon, L.J.,, Managing water in agriculture for food production and other ecosystem services. Agric. Water Manage. (2009), doi: 10.1016/j.agwat.2009.03.017



Gordon, L.J.,, Managing water in agriculture for food production and other ecosystem services. Agric. Water Manage. (2009), doi: 10.1016/j.agwat.2009.03.017

Line Gordon is joint theme leader of “Governing freshwater for food and other ecosystem services". Her research interests lies in the realm of interactions among freshwater resources, ecosystem services and food production.

Malin Falkenmark is Professor of Applied and International Hydrology and introduced the “water crowding" indicator, the concepts “hydrosolidarity" and “green and blue water". She has received a number of international prizes.


Stockholm Resilience Centre is a collaboration between Stockholm University and the Beijer Institute of Ecological Economics at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences

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