Knowledge for better food systems

The challenge of agricultural pollution: Evidence from China, Vietnam, and the Philippines

This report, edited by the World Bank, reviews the literature to explore the sources and impacts of agricultural pollution in East Asia and propose solutions.

Agricultural output has increased rapidly across East Asia in the last few decades, bringing many people out of hunger. This has come largely from intensification of production rather than expansion of land area used. However, some intensive farming practices are causing pollution, including:

  • Dumping of untreated manure
  • Release of excess nutrients, drugs, hormones and heavy metals into the environment
  • Inefficient application of fertiliser and the use of ‘highly toxic’ pesticides
  • Disposal of single-use agricultural plastics
  • Burning of crop residues

Agricultural pollution is particularly pronounced in China, with seas and freshwater lakes suffering from eutrophication. Vietnam has hotspots of water degradation near areas of intensive production. Livestock and other farms are the largest contributors of organic matter pollution in some bodies of water in the Philippines. Pollution affects human health, the climate and farm productivity.

This report sets out four strategic directions in which the public sector can control agricultural pollution:

  1. Integrate policy and resource across different government levels, departments and geographical areas, to better align government policies with each other and with the goal of tackling pollution.
  2. Encourage farmers to adopt greener practices, through laws, incentives and investment in helpful infrastructure and services.
  3. Examine and influence structural trends such as dietary choices.
  4. Invest in innovation, for both technology and policy, to continuously improve the range of options for tackling pollution.

Read the full report here [PDF file]. See also the Foodsource resource How do food systems contribute to water pollution?

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Asia is Earth's largest and most populous continent. It hosts many densely populated and large cities as well as enormous barely populated regions, which all together host over half of the human population. Agriculture as a source of income is of major importance in the region. In most Asian countries, agriculture is the biggest user of water and in some regions can be responsible for to 90% of total water consumption through irrigation.

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