Agriculture is the single largest consumer of freshwater and is a major determinant for surface and groundwater degradation. Challenges of water resources include too much rain, too little rain, and evapotranspiration rates. It is projected that hydrological processes and regimes are likely to change going forward, which will affect the availability, quality, use and management of these resources. Water scarcity is an example of reduced ecosystem service that affects livelihoods and agricultural production.
Natural resources are central to the productivity of agricultural systems and the livelihoods of those who depend on them. Land degradation can be attributed to the following major causes; inappropriate agricultural practices; unsustainable use of natural resources; limited application of knowledge and technologies by farmers; and insecure land-tenure systems. Land degradation is further accelerated by climate change, and the inability of those unable to adapt. Ecosystem stability, functions and services depend upon the soils and land capability.
Agricultural land use and biodiversity conservation have been traditionally viewed as incompatible. However, flora and fauna play a vital role in the optimal functioning of a healthy ecosystem. The role of biodiversity in agriculture is multifunctional, and plays an essential role in ecosystem services, such as pollination and biological control. Structurally complex ecosystems enhance agricultural production, health and resilience to adversity.
The climate is a key determinant as to what biophysical resources exist in a region, their quality and quantity. Projected climate change impacts include changes to rainfall and temperature patterns, carbon dioxide levels and other climatic variables, that if realised are likely to affect forage, food and fibre yield, animal welfare, and proper ecosystem functioning.
Advances in information and communication systems, services that provide greater efficiencies, and technologies to enhance agroecological systems are vital moving forward. Access to knowledge, goods and services must be available for every farmer in order to make the most out of their agricultural business without resource degradation or exhaustion.
Traditional practices and indigenous knowledge provide an integral role in the planning, design and implementation of local sustainable practices. However their intrinsic value is often overshadowed by a narrow mindset focused on tangible assets and economic growth. Agrarian communities that embrace culture and heritage factors can build resilience to change, stabilize communities, and improve agricultural security.
The impact of climate change and land degradation on agriculture has consequences that extend far beyond food supply. The economic health of many countries and their peoples is linked closely to the productivity of their farming communities. Instability of agricultural systems results in greater sensitivity to extreme events (droughts, floods, fires), migration to urban areas and across borders, as well as political and economic volatility.
Access to markets affects the ability of farmers to sell their goods, and the supply of these goods to consumers. Without coordinated and just food systems, efficiency suffers, wastages increase, and food insecurities linger.