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Water protection

Bank erosion like this can be stopped by planting buffer zones on each bank. (17Kb JPEG)
Bank erosion like this can be stopped by planting buffer zones on each bank.

Agriculture places a high demand on water resources. With a growing population demanding greater food production, water availability will have to be managed carefully. Making best use of these limited water resources and protecting the quality of water sources are crucial issues that need to be addressed.

At present, agriculture uses 70% of the water extracted from ground and surface sources. About 20% of the world’s cropped area is irrigated and produces 40% of food grown. It is vital that agricultural use of water is optimised, and that water draining from farmland does not contaminate water supplies. Water protection is a key element in conservation agriculture work in arid areas. This work provides farming systems that are designed to reduce soil erosion and aid soil moisture conservation.

Buffer zones support wildlife and prove a barrier between crops and water courses, preventing the movement of sediment, fertilizers, manures and chemical residues from farming activities into rivers.

River bank quality is key to filtering water draining from cropped fields and maintaining the quality of the water. These buffer zones have the dual benefits of supporting wildlife and providing a barrier between crops and water courses. This prevents the movement of sediment, fertilizers, manures and chemical residues from farming activities into rivers. A buffer is created by the simple act of planting vegetation (Trees and shrubs) alongside water courses. Minimising the risk of crop protection products entering water courses or underground aquifers is an important component of any water protection strategy. Cooperation between stakeholders to identify potential issues and develop steps to reduce the risks is the way forward. Practical measures effectively keep fertilizers and crop protection products in the field where they are necessary and, as a result, protect the quality of water courses.

View the case study: Protecting water in Europe: TOPPS Project

Example: clean water from Brazilian springs

Water availability and quality are now key issues facing the Brazilian government and the country’s farmers. In some areas adverse effects have been so severe that once productive farmland has been subject to periods of prolonged drought and disastrous yield loss. This in turn forces farming families to leave the land. A 2004 survey showed that in some areas up to 90% of field water sources were contaminated. Deforestation of slopes, devastation of vegetation alongside rivers and poor land management has aggravated the situation. The number of springs producing useable water is decreasing at an alarming rate. Working with farmers and Coopaval, Syngenta has instigated a project called “Agua Viva” to protect springs from further degradation and to provide an ample supply of clean quality water. The project looks far beyond the usual boundaries of crop management and protection to seek a sustainable comprehensive solution. Replanting selected natural vegetation above springs enhances water infiltration to the soil. This reduces run off and soil erosion and cuts down on loss through evaporation. Coupled with this, conservation agriculture and other measures practiced in the fields themselves are designed to improve the moisture holding capacity of the soil and reduce rapid water run off and soil erosion. Social initiatives are also taught as part of the programme.

Coopaval President, Dilvo Grolli, believes the project has made a significant impact in improving drinking water supplies and quality of life for rural villages. He says:
“I particularly appreciate private enterprise when its activities create a balance between economic and social aspects and this project is a great example of this mentality”.