WLE's Challenge

Agriculture is one of humanity’s great success stories, yet it is one of the lead causes of environmental degradation and social inequity. Business as usual is clearly unsustainable - we cannot afford to produce food the way we are now if we are to survive as a planet or a species.

The CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE) promotes a new paradigm, in which sustainably managed agricultural food systems are the key to healthy, functioning ecosystems and human well-being. Agriculture doesn’t have to be the cause of degradation - it can be part of the cure. To learn more about WLE's approach, pathways and outcomes see our 2017 to 2018 Annual Report below. 

WLE's Consortium

Led by the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), WLE is a member of the CGIAR, a global research partnership for a food-secure future. It finished its first phase at the end of 2016 and began its second phase of work in January of 2017.

WLE combines the resources of 11 CGIAR centers, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the RUAF foundation, and numerous national, regional and international partners. Through these partners, we provide evidence and solutions on natural resource management in order to influence key decision makers, including governments, international development organizations, and financiers. Read our partnership strategy.

Our mission is to help make agri-food systems environmentally and socially sustainable. We do this by taking scientific findings from across disciplines and applying this knowledge in order to effect large scale changes in how agricultural interventions and investments are made. In so doing, we work to increase the resilience of communities and farmers who are part of these systems. ​

WLE's Research for Development Programs

WLE supports implementation of multiple Sustainable Development Goals and works in the following research programs:

  • Regenerating degraded landscapes works to restore degraded landscapes as well as enhance ecosystem services and related benefits, such as food, energy, clean water, carbon sequestration and livelihoods.
  • Land and water solutions works to strengthen the resilience of farming communities by developing productive agricultural land and water management solutions that can be sustainably applied at scale.
  • Rural-urban linkages addresses challenges related to urbanizing landscapes, such as ways to close water and nutrient loops by reusing organic waste and wastewater, and addressing city food system challenges, competition and pollution.
  • Variability, risks and competing uses aims to reduce risks and losses from water-related disasters and to help farming communities manage trade-offs from competition over resources 
  • Enhancing sustainable agriculture synthenizes WLE’s learning and supports development decisions and investments for more sustainable agricultural landscapes by developing user-friendly approaches and tools to assess and manage effects at scale.
  • Gender, youth and inclusivity is a priority integrated across all research and is examined independently to ensure research and solutions result in impacts and benefits that are fairly distributed.

WLE's Solutions: Responding to new, interconnected challenges

Climate change: WLE is working on solutions that manage climate related impacts such as droughts, water scarcity, floods and unpredictable weather. These include small-scale irrigation technologies to increase drought resilience, along with farmer-government-private sector platforms to better manage resource use. In Zimbabwe, this has led to 30% water use reduction and 25% yield increase, amidst unpredictable weather patterns. WLE also works to mitigate climate change by better understanding soil carbon storage. Up to 7 billion tons can be removed from the atmosphere each year through better farm soil management, WLE found. Researchers are identifying areas with the highest potential and supporting improved farming practices that reduce carbon loss from soils.

Migration: In Africa and much of Asia, increasing male migration to cities has transformed agriculture, making it the domain of the women and elderly who stay behind. Male out-migration changes gender roles in agriculture and impacts the management of natural resources. WLE researchers are working to supply policy makers and investors with evidence on the consequences of migration on natural resource management so that new policies and investments can respond to these changes.

Vulnerability of smallholders, especially women: Rural communities such as women and poorer farmers often bear the brunt of climate impacts, resource scarcity and social change. Research to understand the factors that affect farmers’ decisions can support the design of context appropriate investments that strengthen smallholder farming’s contribution to poverty alleviation, food security and equity. For example, WLE is boosting agricultural production by helping farmers access groundwater through irrigation technology. At the same time, WLE is developing tools and policies to protect those groundwater resources from depletion, and designing programs so that women and marginalized groups share in the benefits.

Urbanization: By 2050, two thirds of the global population will live in cities. This is creating rapidly escalating challenges. Municipalities in developing countries are looking for solutions that decrease waste, reduce environmental pollution and recover costs of waste management. WLE is examining and piloting ways to turn waste into wealth and has supported the first commercial co-composting plant in West Africa that makes fertilizer from fecal sludge and organic waste. Researchers also helped Sri Lanka develop its new sanitation policy, incorporating options for recycling and reuse of human waste into safe, organic fertilizer.

Sustainable intensification of agriculture: Agriculture is a major driver of environmental degradation and social inequity. More than 70% of global freshwater is used for food production, while 25% of the world‘s land is already, or is on the way to being highly degraded. Such environmental losses undermine agricultural productivity as well as resilience to climate change. WLE works to find agricultural solutions that enable us to feed the world while enhancing our natural resources and well being. WLE's solutions, recommendations and research in our Sustainable Intensification Synthesis Briefs. our tools and approaches, and our publications.


WLE and partners appreciate the support of CGIAR Trust Fund Donors, including: ACIAR, DFID, DGIS, SDC, and others. Visit our donors page.

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