Sri Lanka offers integrated solutions to land and water challenges

Sera Ella Falls in the Knuckles mountain range of Sri Lanka. Photo by Dhananjaya Chaturanga/Flickr

Named for its geographical resemblance to a closed fist, Sri Lanka's Knuckles mountain range is shrouded in mist and trees, its folds and peaks detailing a wide range of landscapes and ecosystems. These include five main forest types that are home to large numbers of endangered and/or endemic species – among them the purple leaf monkey. [Semnopithecus vetulus]Grizzled giant squirrel [Ratufa macroura]and the red slender loris [Loris tardigradus].

Like these unique creatures, the people of Sri Lanka depend on these landscapes – albeit a little less directly. The mountain range is fed by streams and rivers that irrigate the country's rice fields and support its food security. They provide cheap and relatively stable electricity from a series of hydroelectric plants located downstream.

These important water bodies are not flowing as smoothly as before. Increased rainfall caused by climate change, along with prolonged agricultural practices that reduce soil fertility and degrade its structure, have caused erosion, leading to rapid sedimentation in upland reservoirs, reducing their storage capacity. Meanwhile, high temperatures and frequent and severe droughts in the arid plains raise the irrigation needs of rice farmers.

An ecosystem-based adaptation (EbA) initiative by the Ministry of Irrigation, Sri Lanka Center for International Forestry Research and World Agroforestry (CIFOR-ICRAF), support Green Climate Fund (GCF), works to address these impacts by taking a holistic approach to land and water management, protecting upland watersheds while promoting climate-resilient practices. Its work was once explored session Annual UN At the Climate Change Conference (COP28)

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A key aspect of the scheme is to develop payment mechanisms for ecosystem services (PES). For example, encouraging electricity boards to fund soil and water conservation practices by upstream farmers. current

„If there is more soil and water conservation in the upper aquifers, sedimentation will be reduced, so the reservoirs don't need to be drilled as often, and by avoiding dredging, you get more electricity for your utility,” he explained. Prashanthi Gunawardena is Professor of Environmental Economics in the Department of Forestry and Environmental Sciences, Sri Jayawardenapura University.

„So we have a strong economic case between farmers and the electricity board because the board can pay landowners to implement soil and water conservation, which will result in higher water yield,” Gunawardena said.

Peria Lemona, senior expert on landscape governance and investment at CIFOR-ICRAF, said the project would also qualify for broader biodiversity and carbon funding. He noted the importance of taking a participatory action research approach, „ensuring equitable access to prevent exclusion of marginal stakeholders, including smallholders, who are considered key beneficiaries of the initiative.”

Leel Rantheni, Director of Climate Change at Sri Lanka's Ministry of Environment, provided an overview of the country's priorities for adapting to climate change and shared how the program aligns with these. Fergus Sinclair, Chief Scientist and Co-Coordinator, CIFOR-ICRAF A transformative partnership platform on agroecology (Agroecology TPP), then gave a detailed explanation of the project, while explaining how agroecological practices positively contribute to and impact food security and nutrition.

This work highlights the relevance of recent International Water Management Institute The (IWMI)-led initiative, supported by the Transformative Partnerships Platform for Agroecology (Agroecology TPP), seeks to address the lack of agroecology research focusing on water management and aquatic foods, most importantly integrating them. 13 Principles of AgroecologyDeveloped by a consortium led by FAO in 2019.

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„We argued that neglecting water and aquatic foods in agricultural research equates to their neglect in strategy, planning and decision-making – so we are missing the most important aspects of agricultural food systems,” said Matthew McCartney of the research team. Chair in Sustainable Water Infrastructure and Ecosystems at IWMI during the session.

A more holistic and integrated approach recommended by the study „requires thinking about factors beyond the farm — looking at landscapes and considering the impacts of our agricultural practices on downstream aquatic and marine environments,” McCartney said.

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