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Proposed Ramsar set of questions on water, wetlands and agriculture for CA to address

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Key issues to consider in formulating the questions

  • Basis of the CA: The main water challenges for the coming 25 years are to find ways of managing this limited resource to:
  • Improve rural livelihoods
  • Ensure environmentally sustainable water-agriculture practices
  • Grow more food with less water
  • Main information needs of the Ramsar Convention in guiding Contracting Parties in future in the area of water, wetlands and agriculture.


  • Need a vision statement to identify what Ramsar expects to learn from delivery of answers to the questions posed, and how it intends to use the outcomes.
  • Scope when dealing with the questions should encompass, as far as possible: (1) the full range of different wetland types, both natural and human-made, as defined under the Ramsar Convention, and identification of which are most pertinent for each question and why; (2) the implications of the answer for the future of wetlands management; (3) biogeographic regional differences and/or similarities.
  • Agriculture should be considered in its broadest sense, to include crop production, agroforestry, live capture fisheries, aquaculture, and livestock farming.
  • Where relevant, the different kinds of wetland impact should be assessed as sub-sections: (a) land use/cover and habitat, (b) water quantity, (c) water quality, (d) biodiversity, (e) technologies, etc.

Questions to be addressed

Agroecosystem-wetland inventory and baseline information:

How much land and water are required for future food security?

What is the current global extent of human-made wetlands that are related to agriculture and water resources?  What are the trends in changes in extent from past to present, and how are they expected to change in future?  Examples would include rice fields and reservoirs.  Multiple-use systems, such as those used for both agricultural and non-agricultural purposes, should be included.

    • Sources of information: World Commission on Dams (WCD) Report by WWF on the role of artificial waters (reservoirs) for waterbirds and other biodiversity; Agenda of the UNFFC (chapter on (a) wetlands including reservoirs, and (b) agriculture); FAO Geonetwork.
    • Ramsar STRP lower priority work for 2003-2005: (a) Task 15.2. Review the ecological roles played by reservoirs and other human-made wetlands, including their use by aquatic and other water-dependent biota, and to prepare (if indicated as priority by Standing Committee) guidance for Contracting Parties concerning the identification and designation of such wetlands for the Ramsar List, taking into account the experience gained by Parties that have already done so. [R10.1.xviii] (Resolution VIII.2); (b) Task 3.2: Environmental, social and economic impacts of dams.

How many Ramsar sites/other internationally important wetlands are man-made wetlands linked to agriculture (e.g. rice fields).  Analyses should be made for the different Ramsar regions.

What are the current and projected trends in the rates of conversion and loss of particular wetland types for agriculture, including crop cultivation?  What evidence is there that clearing or drainage of wetlands for agricultural development is the principal cause of wetland loss worldwide?  Analysis should include gains in man-made wetlands through conversion of wetlands or terrestrial lands to rice fields. 

What is the cumulative capacity for storage of runoff attributable to small dams (e.g. farm dams and tanks) in catchments (as opposed to medium to large-sized reservoirs) across the globe?

What is the extent of conversion of traditional salinas to aquaculture (finfish and non-finfish farming) sites?

What is the current extent of forest cultivation in wetlands?  A region where such cultivation is practiced is Latin America.

Integrated water resources management and basin productivity:

What is the status of application of Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) in different countries?  Attention should be given to the procedures and processes followed for the planning, development and management-based allocation of water resources to agriculture and other rural activities, the scale at which they are implemented, and to whether all user needs, including those of the environment and local communities, are taken into account.

To what extent is water productivity addressed at a basin scale rather than simply in terms of only agricultural production.  For example, to what extent are the production outputs from fisheries or livestock, and negative environmental externalities, considered when assessing the unit value of water?

What measures are taken at national and local levels to secure rural livelihoods and to ameliorate the socio-economic conditions of rural populations? How effective are they? What other socio-economic forces (e.g. urban development, changes in land use) work for and/or against maintaining sustainable livelihoods of rural populations in catchments?

What systems are in place for monitoring the various aspects of integrated water resources management in catchments, including the water uses and impacts of use (quantity and quality),  environmental and livelihoods impacts, etc.?

Agricultural management practices:

What is the future for wetlands with irrigation and others forms of agricultural intensification?  Is there likely to be continued large-scale irrigation and what are the international, regional and local implications for wetlands? 

Of the many forms of agriculture practiced throughout the world, irrigation is considered to have resulted in the most deleterious changes to wetland character overall.  What are the negative and positive effects of irrigated agriculture and its practices on wetlands and local livelihoods, including instances where wetlands are agroecosystems? For example, what evidence exists that diffuse agricultural pollution (through agrochemicals)in particular is a major source of negative impacts to wetlands and their biodiversity, as well as to human well-being through impacts on ecological services and human health?

What future technological developments can we expect in water management in agriculture, including technologies directed at minimising agricultural water use?  Particular emphasis should be given to so-called thirsty crops.

    • Sources of information: WWF work on thirsty crops. 

What are the tradeoffs between intensive irrigation and less intensive but sometimes more expansive forms of agriculture, such as rainfed agriculture, in terms of their impacts on wetlands?

What are the implications for wetlands in terms of their ecological character, and for the local communities that directly depend on them for their livelihoods, of the cumulative effects of large-scale adoption of small-scale technologies aimed at enhancing food production?  Technologies to consider would include groundwater treadle pumps and rainwater harvesting structures.

Are there any agricultural practices that are sustainable in that they maintain the ecological character of the wetlands on which they depend?  e.g. (i) natural wetlands that are used for agriculture (European marshes used for grazing) and (ii) man-made wetlands (rice fields).

Which are the wetland types that are most vulnerable to conversion for agriculture and for different agricultural uses?  What are the effects on wetlands of abandonment of certain agricultural practices?  The abandonment of established pastoral regimes (including grazing) and conversion of pasture to other land uses should form one element of the analysis.

What traditional wetland landscapes are being maintained by agriculture?  Which of them were agriculturally created and which depend on agriculture for their ongoing maintenance?  Examples would include the semi-natural European wet grasslands, meadows and salinas that have developed as a result of extensive management over centuries.

What are the impacts of shifting cultivation on wetlands?

To what extent do desert oases contribute to dryland agriculture and what are the ecological and livelihoods implications of their modification/expansion for agricultural uses?

What are the implications for wetlands of land cover change?  Particular attention should be given to: large scale modifications, such as conversion of agricultural land to plantation forest, deforestation, monoculture for trade; issues such as soil erosion; and regions that are considered ‘water towers’ (e.g. Cerrado ecoregion, Brazil).  Consideration needs to be given to the interrelated impacts of land use on the hydrological cycle and the effects of climate change.

What water resource management mechanisms exist/are in place to ensure that the water savings from improved agricultural practices (e.g. irrigation efficiency) are allocated (at least in part) to wetlands as an environmental water allocation?

What are the relative merits of keeping river floodplains unregulated (or minimally regulated) as opposed to highly regulated for irrigation?  Comparison of traditional flood recession agriculture and irrigated crop production.  What are the possible future scenarios of these two options in the longer term with respect to livelihoods opportunities (e.g. Niger inner delta).  Include accounting of the services in terms of water, nutrients and food delivered by floodplain wetlands versus crop production.

What effect does agriculture have on wetland water quality (e.g. agrochemicals such as pesticides, nutrient and sediment inputs) and conversely, what effect do wetlands have on the quality of water for agriculture?  What is the extent to which wetlands process the waste water from agriculture (natural, including floodplains in particular, and man-made wetlands).  Coastal wetlands and the nearshore coastal/marine zone need to be considered, with particular emphasis on sedimentation and eutrophication.

How valid is the assumption that where agroecosystems function as or are wetlands (e.g. rice fields), the negative environmental impacts of agriculture may be lessened and some benefits of agriculture to wetlands enhanced?

What traditional (typically small-scale) sustainable systems of agriculture exist and where are they being implemented?  Attention should be given to cultural landscapes and those aspects of system agriculture that represent part of the socio-cultural heritage of wetlands.

What is the current status of agricultural cultivation in wetlands (e.g. dambos and river valley bottoms in SubSaharan Africa)?  What strategies are adopted by rural, poor communities to use wetlands for food production?  Of these, which ensure food and broader livelihoods security without compromising wetland ecological character?

Which co-operative management strategies and other actions involving local communities in wetlands characterised by multiple use have a critical role to play in fostering agricultural-wetlands interactions that are sustainable in the long-term?

To what extent and how do existing different systems of land tenure (including no tenure) positively and negatively affect wetlands and their wise use.  Emphasis should be given to the rural poor in developing countries.  Particular attention should be given to the landless people undertaking cultivation in wetlands (e.g. cultivation on river shores during low water seasons in the Mekong and Niger river systems), and to livestock and fisheries implications.

In what ways has agriculture been responsible for the drainage of wetlands?  Consideration should be given, for instance, to the peat and mire-based wetlands of Europe and the North, peatlands in SW Uganda, and impacts of oil palm cultivation in SE Asia.

What are the implications for wetlands of livestock fodder production and overgrazing?

Certain crops are grown in areas that are inappropriate and where another crop type(s) would be more economically and/or environmentally sustainable.  What are the impacts on wetlands of growing crops in such areas?


How much of the future irrigation demand will be met from groundwater?

What are the effects of groundwater exploitation on groundwater-related wetlands, and the converse?  All types of groundwater-related systems should be included (e.g. cave and other subterranean habitats, phreatic zone)?  Emphasis should be on both quantity-related impacts and groundwater pollution (changes in water quality) to wetlands, and on the importance of wetlands and their ecological condition for groundwater management.

Non-crop forms of agriculture:

Can aquaculture (e.g. shrimp and seaweed farming) be increased as a form of agriculture, while maintaining the natural ecological character of mangrove forests and other relevant coastal wetlands?  Which of the various aquaculture techniques and methodologies in use or under development are most wetland-sensitive?  Aquaculture intensification and/or expansion and relative sustainability of methods should be addressed.  Case studies are available for Indonesian mangrove shrimp pond restoration.

What are the predictions for changes, particularly increases, in inland and coastal aquaculture in, or impacting on, wetlands?  Differing regional trends, for instance between southeast Asia and subSaharan Africa, are important to consider.

What have been the impacts of the use of non-native species for aquaculture?  What potential exists for the introduction of indigenous fish and other species into aquaculture?  Attention should be directed at issues such as the live harvest of fish and non-fin fish stocks from wetlands for aquaculture purposes.

To what extent have coastal aquaculture, and other forms of agriculture, affected the capacity of wetlands to assist in the mitigation of natural disasters?

What are the effects of coastal and inland fisheries bycatch on wetland biota and ecosystem character?

What is the economic value of artisanal fisheries and to what extent had it been taken into account (e.g. Mekong River system, Inner Niger Delta).  The implications in terms of the extent to which current fishing practices are non-sustainable should be incorporated in the analysis.

To what extent can damage to wetlands be mitigated through natural breeds of livestock?

Biodiversity and ecological services:

What are the two-way, positive and negative implications of the interaction of the natural biota of wetlands with agricultural systems and their agrobiodiversity?  What positive contributions can agriculture make to the conservation of (wild) biodiversity in managed landscapes (e.g. small dams/tank systems; rice fields)?  Attention should be given to estimates of the wild biodiversity associated with wetland agroecosystems (e.g. data for rice fields, small tanks, reservoirs, genetically important wetland crops such as wild rice).  It should be established whether or not the contribution made by agroecosystems to biodiversity is a greater, lesser or equivalent contribution than that of natural wetlands.

What are the impacts of particular agricultural plants (e.g. alien pasture species) that become weeds in wetlands, and of faunal species introduced for pest control in agricultural systems (e.g. invasive golden apple snail), on natural and man-made wetlands?

What are the changes occurring in the life history patterns of faunal and floral organisms (a) when agriculture is practiced, and (b) when it ceases to be practiced (e.g. abandonment of agriculturally managed wetlands)?

What are (or could be) the contribution of small restoration measures in improving agrobiodiversity and ecological services?

What evidence is there that irrigation or activities associated with irrigation can result in the creation or enhancement of important wetland ecosystems?

Wetlands are known provide many ecological services (e.g. hydrological services, biodiversity), that agriculture is dependent upon for sustainable food production.   Which services are explicitly recognised by the agricultural and water sectors and to what extent are they valued?

Climate variability and change:

How are increased climate variability and change expected to impact on agriculture and on water availability, and to what extent will the anticipated changes affect wetlands?  An example for consideration would be shifts in the type and location of crops that can be grown.

Is extensification of agriculture amplifying the effects of climate change?  For example, through large-scale land clearing/land-use change.

What are the relationships between climate change, increases in water temperatures and the effects on the plant species grown?

What are the climate-related implications of the promotion of agroforestry?

What are the agricultural impacts on wetlands in drylands in relation to drought?

  • Ramsar Resolution VIII.25.

Policies and institutions:

What is the existing suite of governance, institutional and jurisdictional models that deal with agriculture, water, and wetlands?  What are their relative strengths and weaknesses, with particular attention to cross-sectoral approaches?  To what extent do the agriculture, water and environment ministries work in isolation or are integrated (e.g. as in the UK).  What are the implications of different levels of integration?  Some attention should be directed at Ramsar Contracting Parties with national wetland policies where agricultural policies and agriculture, water and wetlands issues have been addressed.  Any differences in policies and institutions for managing human-made wetlands and natural wetlands should be considered (e.g. in China human-made wetlands are given low policy importance by the ministry responsible for natural resources, and are managed under the Ministry of Agriculture).

To what extent are perverse incentives in agricultural and water management leading to wetland degradation?  Both unintended perverse incentives from other sectors and incentives intended for agriculture should be considered.  Attention should be given to, for example, electricity subsidies, subsidies for water supply (e.g. Pakistan), pricing mechanisms, and the implications for wetlands of favourable pricing of certain crops.

What are the implications of virtual water trade on wetlands, including in terms of the impacts of associated altered patterns in water resource demand/use and crop production?  Attention should be given to country and regional aspects that have bearing on transboundary wetlands and water resources, and to both the priorities of the importing and exporting countries.  What is the potential for making changes in trade arrangements?  Are there any case studies illustrating changes in trade (or pricing)?

How do the various international agricultural policies (e.g. sugar protocol) shape the patterns of agricultural demand, and what are the implications for wetlands, including in terms of wetland policy and its implementation, and for local livelihoods (e.g. food shortages for local people)?

How are consumer demands for agricultural products changing, and what are the implications of different trade regimes for local management practices?  Local products, internationally exportable products, and consumer preferences should be considered.

What are the effects of imbalances (‘non-level playing fields’) in water pricing systems on agricultural practices that impact on wetlands?  e.g. In Western Europe, the agricultural sector pays less for water use than do other sectors.

Modified organisms:

What are the biotechnology implications and future risks associated with the introduction of genetically modified/ genetically enhanced organisms (GMOs) (e.g. particular species, pest-tolerant seed cultivars) into wetland systems?

Capacity building and learning processes:

A progressive move from more to less intensive agricultural systems has occurred in some parts of the world (e.g. environmentally sensitive areas in Europe).  How did that change happen, what were the drivers, and what was the (social) learning process involved?  How could it be used elsewhere?  The policy relevance should be addressed.  What is the role of changing consumer demand as a driver for policy changes (e.g. ‘wetland-friendly crops’).

What lessons can be learnt from cases where wetland restoration was implemented for previously abandoned agricultural lands?  An example is the Danube Delta.

What is the level of public awareness, especially among (a) decision makers and (b) the rural populations, on the importance of the sustainable use of water resources, and the need to maintain the ecosystem services of wetlands?

What levels of training and technical support are received by or available to rural populations in terms of planning and implementing water resource use and agricultural activities.  Emphasis should be given to support on environmental aspects.