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Nearly half of the world’s wetlands used for crops

Wetlands used for crops have expanded significantly over the past eighty years. According to a new study in the open-access journal Tropical Conservation Science, wetlands being utilized for crop production has jumped from 25 percent in 1926 to 43 percent in 2006 of the world’s wetlands as identified by the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands.

According to the study’s authors, “in the past [i.e. 1926] the wetlands ecosystems represented well both the agriculture and the biodiversity sectors”, however today agricultural expansion “to meet the food demands of the burgeoning global population has impacted on wetlands with many being converted to agricultural production.”

Given wetlands important role in purifying freshwater, preserving biodiversity, and carbon sinks, the study calls this trend an “indisputable concern” and asks whether society should “re-investigate agriculture activities as a future threat to the identity of wetlands ecosystems” or attempt to balance the need for crops while maintaining the health of wetlands.

Using India as an example, the paper further highlights how obtaining more detailed information, including investigating neglected sources and employing GIS technology, could provide officials with a better way forward on how to manage wetlands.

CITATION: Nidhi Nagabhatla, Rohan Wickramasuriya, Narendra Prasad, and C. Max Finlayson. 2010. A multi-scale geospatial study of wetlands distribution and agricultural zones, and the case of India. Tropical Conservation Science Vol. 3 (3): 344-360.

Cow stands in Brazil’s Pantanal, the world’s largest wetland which is threatened by cattle ranching and agriculture. In 2006 it was announced that 17 percent of the Pantanal had been lost to deforestation. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.

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