The Challenge

Global agriculture is one of humanity’s great success stories. Never has the world produced so much food. Yet, agriculture has degraded ecosystems more than any other sector or activity, which in turn has negatively impacted the provisioning, regulating and supporting services provided by ecosystems that underpin every aspect of agricultural productivity, human livelihoods and equity.

Already, more than 3.5 million square kilometers of land has been degraded globally, affecting more than 1.5 billion people
Unsustainable use of water threatens the food security of 2.5 billion people, 40% of the world’s grain production and a quarter of the world’s economy
Non-renewable groundwater sources produce 33% of the world’s irrigated food supply
More than 100 million tons of nitrogen from agriculture and sewage is discharged annually into our already stressed freshwater ecosystems, and nearly 50 million tons of nitrogen and 9 million tons of phosphorous is exported to coastal ecosystems every yea
n 2011 alone, extreme climate events resulted in an estimated US$200 billion worth of damage globally, affecting the lives and livelihoods of millions of people

Our response

The CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE) promotes a new approach to sustainable intensification in which a healthy, functioning ecosystem is seen as a prerequisite to agricultural development, resilience of food systems and human well-being.

WLE’s vision is for agriculture to thrive alongside and within the vibrant ecosystems that support it, while it delivers enduring prosperity for farming communities.

WLE combines the resources of 11 CGIAR centers, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and numerous national, regional and international partners to provide an integrated approach to natural resource management research. WLE is led by the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), a member of the CGIAR System Organization, and is supported by CGIAR, a global research partnership for a food-secure future.

Our partners

Gender workshop in Ethiopia

The CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems works with a wide range of partners to generate evidence and engage multiple sectors to contribute to and influence decision making about agricultural development and the environment. Learn more about our partners.

Partners can learn more about the program, and retrieve guidelines, logos, and more, from the Partners Portal.

Program structure

WLE’s programming combines three different but interconnected components.

WLE program structure

First, its core research area focuses on using integrated ecosystem services-based approaches to sustainable intensification by increasing land and water productivity, revitalizing degraded land, reusing and recovering resources, and managing variability.

Second, the program’s core research is complemented by research under three strategic themes: ecosystem services and resilience; poverty, gender and institutions; and decision analysis and information systems. These themes help the program build capacity and partnerships, and they guide it toward its objectives.

Third, the program’s focal regions and its innovation fund, which is managed through open and competitive calls, encourage innovative, multi-disciplinary research, seeking to develop cross-regional and global tools, methods and analyses that can help improve investments and decisions on sustainable intensification.

WLE influences development choices to improve sustainable agricultural intensification through nature-based solutions by providing

  • evidence that sustainable solutions provide improved food security, equity, livelihoods and healthy landscapes.
  • integrated solutions to better manage risk related to rising shocks and competing uses. Models and scenarios to understand trade-off and synergies.
  • improved management practices achieved primarily through action research at the community and landscape level in order to promote learning and adaptive management.
  • institutional innovations to address inequity and gender imbalances, while promoting inclusive and sustainable growth.