Water scarcity and Forests:
- Cape Town, South Africa: Nearly 4 million people in a major urban center with a modern infrastructure are about to have no running water. The current and still ongoing water crisis has been in the news around the world for the past weeks. This situation is dramatic but not unique or restricted to developing countries: Las Vegas, Mexico City, Lisbon, Bangalore or Sidney, are some of the agglomerations around the world facing disrupting water shortages. Urban expansion, economic and population growth increased the demand for water, which is being affected by variations in rainfall patterns and diminishing freshwater supplies.This creates major stresses and disruptions to agricultural output, urban water supply, energy production and industry, as described in the United Nations Water program.
- As explained in the CIFOR video above, forests play a crucial influence in water availability. A recent scientific article called “Trees, forests and water: Cool insights for a hot world”, provides a comprehensive view of the many fascinating mechanisms involved. Did you know that biological particles released by forests into the atmosphere help to condense water vapour and cause rain?
- Historically, many countries recognised that ensuring adequate water supplies was a strategic and vital interest and that forests played a part. For this reason, many watershed management approaches in the USA (like in the New York state) and parts of Europe, were based on keeping larger areas forested and somewhat untouched. The declared goal was to regulate the precipitation and natural collection and filtration of rainwater using what is nowadays called “green infrastructure”. The added benefits of combining man-made with natural infrastructure are becoming clearer and being integrated into financing approaches (like payments for ecosystem services), risk management tools and sustainable development strategies. The positive, cost-effective impact of forests in ensuring access to clean water – a human right and one of the sustainable development goals – seems to be another good reason to support large-scale reforestation and ecosystem restoration efforts.
- Another thing that is often said about trees is that they are the lungs of the world. But for Roger Leakey, an agroforestry expert, forests also function like the skin and organs of the Earth. He has observed how agroforestry—in addition to carbon sequestration—brings many benefits, such as increased food security, biodiversity, thicker topsoil layers, medicine and fiber production.
- Agroforestry is a land-management system where trees (and shrubs or other woody perennial plants) are cultivated together with agricultural crops or animal production. By keeping these together in a dynamic and multifunctional system, there are many positive environmental and economic benefits. There are different variations, involving different numbers of species and integration. Some have long traditions (check our read more section) and are now being rediscovered or reinvented, in order to make food production systems more sustainable, resilient to threats or – as highlighted by FAO here – even to assist in ecosystem restoration efforts.
- In Europe, more and more studies are demonstrating not only the environmental benefits (water and soil conservation, biodiversity improvement, carbon storage, etc.) but also the higher profits of agroforestry farms.
- We’ll be covering this topic further in the coming editions of our newsletter.
Forest restoration and disaster risk reduction
- The importance of natural areas for protection against environmental hazards is recognised accross the spectrum from industry to science. This IUCN publication shared in the website of SwissRe – one of the world’s largest reinsurers – compiles 18 case studies around the world, ranging from crop security to the protection of coastal urban areas.
- In Europe, during the 19th and 20th centuries, traditional floodplains were extensively converted into agricultural areas and later on into urbanised areas. As a result, floods like the ones sweeping the Danube basin have increasingly dramatic impacts and costs, disrupting agriculture, fisheries and wildlife habitats. Renaturation is a seen as a cost-effective strategy to reduce flood risks and impacts. A good example is the WWF Danube-Carpathian Programme, where they are restoring remaining floodplains by planting native trees in Hungary.
- Mangroves are also well-known for decreasing the risks of flooding and erosion by reducing the impact of waves hitting coasts. But is mangrove restoration a cost-effective approach to coastal risk reduction and adaptation? A report by the World Bank and The Nature Conservancy assessed evidence available at national and global scale and found that mangrove restoration is economically more viable than building walls and other “gray infrastructure”. A motivating bottom-up example comes from Indonesia: Hidayat Palaloi has been helping communities to replant mangroves for more than twenty years, after seeing how his hometown was hit by erosion due to conversion of mangroves into ponds for raising fish and shrimp. In addition to risk reduction, these restoration projects are also bringing economic advantages, such as higher crab and fish yields.
Events to note
- April 7th, Stans – Switzerland: The Potential of Perennials for Food System Resilience (link and registration)
The term perennials refers to plant species which live for longer than 2 years, many of which were traditionally part of our diet. This day-long symposium will focus on how we can bring these species back into the current food production systems, increasing the options on our table with local and seasonal varieties while helping to improve soil, productivity, biodiversity and the resilience of these systems. Set in the beautiful mountains of central Switzerland, this day-long symposium with talks, focus discussions and tasting experiences will bring together a diverse group of stakeholders and seasoned practitioners from Science, Civil Society, Private Sector and Government.