A multi-partner report explains that agriculture, not human settlements or industry, is the biggest source of water pollution.
Aiming to increase understanding of the causes and effects of agricultural water pollution and the means to prevent it, the report covers cropping systems, livestock and aquaculture production, as well as the expansion of irrigation, fertilizer, and pesticide use.
It calls for a variety of data-driven outcomes to support science-based policy approaches.
23 July 2018: Water pollution from unsustainable agricultural practices threatens human health and ecosystems, according to a report published by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) and the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) on behalf of the CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land, and Ecosystems. Noting that the role of agriculture in water pollution is often underestimated by policymakers and farmers, the report titled, ‘More People, More Food, Worse Water? A Global Review of Water Pollution from Agriculture,’ explains that agriculture, not human settlements or industry, is the biggest source of water pollution. Nitrate from farming is the most common chemical contaminant found in groundwater aquifers.
The report aims to increase understanding regarding the causes and effects of agricultural water pollution and the means to prevent its occurrence. It covers agricultural sectors, such as cropping systems, and livestock and aquaculture production, as well as the expansion of irrigation, and fertilizer, and pesticide use. It examines water pollution drivers, pressures and changes in water bodies, impacts on human health and the environment, and responses to prevent water pollution and mitigate its risks. The report explains that annual costs of water pollution from agriculture are in the billions of dollars.
Annual costs of water pollution from agriculture are in the billions of dollars.
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the report notes, is expected to influence future policies and strategies and help ensure that water pollution control is prioritized internationally and nationally. In particular, the publication references SDG target 6.3 on improving water quality by reducing pollution.
The publication is structured using the ‘Drivers, Pressures, State, Impact, Response’ (DPSIR) model, a framework for describing interactions between society and the environment that provides a structure for presenting indicators to provide feedback to policymakers on environmental quality and the impacts of policy choices.
Regarding responses, the report discusses policy-level mitigation and remediation responses, such as regulations, economic instruments, cooperative agreements, education and awareness; farm-level responses, such as best practices for agricultural inputs or for erosion control; off-farm responses such as vegetated buffer zones or constructed wetlands; and a systematic methodology for policymakers and practitioners that is applicable at the country, river basin or watershed levels.
The report provides, when available, data and information on pressures and impacts presented by pollutant type, including nutrients, pesticides, salts, sediments, organic matter, pathogens, and emerging pollutants. It also reviews existing models and their potential role, scope, and application. The report highlights concerns related to excessive nutrient application, pesticide overuse, salinity, increased erosion and sediments, and increasing consumption of meat and dairy products.
In its conclusion, the report calls for a variety of data-driven outcomes. They include system-based modeling approaches to support science-based policy; new models capable of simulating interactions between production systems and agricultural inputs; increased data collection to help develop water quality models and translate their results into better water policies; and more education, awareness, and economic incentives for farmers.
The publication also calls for limiting pollutants at the source or intercepting them before they reach vulnerable ecosystems. It recommends ensuring that policies addressing water pollution from agriculture are central to overarching water policy frameworks at the national or river-basin scale and that they influence food security and nutrition policies to encourage the adoption of more sustainable diets.