Agriculture and wetlands in India and the rest of the world should be managed in unison to tackle poverty and conserve ecosystems, says a new report.
Around six per cent of the world's landmass is classified as either permanent or seasonal wetland. Millions of people directly depend on them for food, water, and other purposes.
Researchers estimate that wetlands are worth around USD 70 billion globally each year.
However, these areas also face a number of threats, the most serious of which is agriculture, the 'Wetlands and People' report unveiled today said.
"Wetlands and agriculture can and must coexist," said Matthew McCartney, a hydrologist at the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), a CGIAR centre, and a contributor to the report.
"We need policies on wetlands that support ecosystems, sustain rich biodiversity, and simultaneously improve the livelihoods of farming communities who depend on wetlands or whose activities directly affect them. We need to find a way to have the best of both worlds," he said in the report.
Noting that outright protection of wetlands is incompatible with farming and undermines livelihoods, McCartney said: "But there are landscape approaches and agricultural practises that can support and sustain healthy wetlands, and vice versa. Working with local communities will help us find the best solutions."
As per the report, India has 26 wetland sites of global importance. These include well-known lakes - Loktak in Manipur, Chilika in Odisha and Wular in Kashmir.
It is estimated that in the last century alone 50 per cent of the nation's wetlands have been lost. A similar situation prevails in Southeast Asia.
In the report, researchers highlighted a number of examples of the value of wetlands to poor, rural communities in Asia, Africa and Latin America. They also outlined ways to manage them sustainably for current and future generations.
IWMI said the debate around conservation of wetlands has been polarised for years, with agriculture implicated as one of the greatest threats to their survival.
It said now there is a growing consensus that a 'people-centred' approach that seeks to optimise e benefits for small-holder farmers and reduce poverty, while simultaneously protecting ecosystems, represents the most promising future for long-term conservation of wetlands.
CGIAR (The Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research) is an international body that funds and co-ordinates research into agricultural crop breeding with the goal of reducing rural poverty and increasing food security.