Agriculture is both a victim and a cause of water scarcity. Water of appropriate quality and quantity is essential for the production of crops, livestock, and fisheries, as well as for the processing and preparation of these foods and products. Water is the lifeblood of ecosystems, including forests, lakes, and wetlands, on which the food and nutritional security of present and future generations depends. At the same time, agriculture is the largest water user globally, and a major source of water pollution. Unsustainable agricultural water use practices threaten the sustainability of livelihoods dependent on water and agriculture.
Additionally, climate change will have significant impacts on agriculture by increasing water demand, limiting crop productivity, and reducing water availability in areas where irrigation is most needed or has a comparative advantage. A growing number of regions will face increasing water scarcity. Climate change will bring greater variation in weather events, more frequent weather extremes, and new challenges requiring the sector to take mitigation and adaptation actions
Carbon farming and soil-friendly farming practices have become the calling card for climate change adaptation and mitigation for a simple reason: healthy, productive soils require carbon while a stable climate requires less carbon. Some of these practices have been well-known for some time but have not been adopted at the necessary scale, or have been discouraged by incentives and input subsidies that perpetuate unsustainable practices. No-till is one such practice
The concept of no-till agriculture resonates around minimizing soil disruption through obviating plowing of fields. Every year, roughly 60 gigatons of carbon enters the soil organic carbon sink as decomposing plant matter. Nearly 61 to 62 gigatons of carbon are lost from this pool as soil organic matter is oxidized by the atmosphere through tillage and erosion. Instead of plowing, farmers leave crop residue on fields after the harvest where it acts as a mulch to protect soil from erosion and a source of organic matter. This mulch reduces evaporation, which promotes water conservation and can be extremely useful in arid areas where water availability is limited. Crop residue furthermore provides soil organisms a source of food resulting in increased diversity of soil flora and fauna. Organisms like worms create channels in the soil that foster root growth and alongside the lack of tilling, contribute to a more stable internal structure that is resilient to environmental stressors and improves capacity for growth.
Under the right conditions, no-till is a climate-smart agricultural technique that supports food and nutrition security while providing resilience to climate change.