It may be the greatest challenge of our era: how to feed 7 billion people and provide energy, water and other necessities in a world of growing demands but limited and, in many cases, declining resources. Agriculture is at the heart of this challenge; it provides food, animal feed, bioenergy, fibres and other crucial supplies, but it is also a major cause of land and water degradation and biodiversity loss.

In other words, even though we urgently need to increase agricultural productivity, the way we use the land is often reducing productivity – to the point that 24% of the world’s land, including more than a third of cropland, is degraded; 12 million hectares are lost to droughts or desertification each year. But land can also be restored; the GLADA study found that almost 16% of global land area was improving, including 20% of croplands – due to irrigation, forest plantations and land reclamation, and other measures.

This, the article argues, is where the “nexus” approach can be particularly valuable. To a great extent, unsustainable agricultural practices are the result of a narrow focus on a single goal in particular – to maximize crop yields and farm revenues. A nexus approach accounts for externalities and seeks to reduce tradeoffs and build synergies between different sectors and activities (water, energy, food), as well as natural resources (soil, land, water, carbon, nutrients) and climate regulation (e.g. through carbon sequestration).

The article also describes how farming practices might change under a nexus approach, and discusses the challenges of up-scaling such practices as well as opportunities to do so.

Read the article (external link to journal)