Threats to rivers are threats to food security

Irrigation machine on a farm field
Pie chart illustration

About a quarter of food produced globally comes from croplands irrigated by river water.
Three-quarters of those river-irrigated crops are grown in water-stressed areas.


Deltas—some of the world’s most productive agricultural land—are formed by layers of sediment carried by rivers. Dams trap and block the flow of sediment needed to maintain deltas, causing these ecologically vital areas to sink and disappear.

Today, nearly one-third of all food production depends on rivers. In addition to nourishing agricultural land and crops, they supply one-fifth of the global fish harvest. But as freshwater ecosystems face intensifying pressures, our food security is at risk, according to WWF’s Rivers of Food report.

Unsustainable agricultural practices are a primary threat to rivers. Over-extraction for crop irrigation reduces the water available for other uses, such as natural flows that support fisheries, and contributes to water shortages. Meanwhile, excessive fertilizer use creates runoff that pollutes water and can harm aquatic ecosystems.

Only by protecting and restoring rivers can we hope to feed our growing population. To do that, WWF experts say, we must support nature-positive food production (e.g., grow crops in climates that naturally support them); prioritize sustainable fisheries and aquaculture; maintain free-flowing rivers; and adopt diets that reduce demand for freshwater resources.

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