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Water Stewards in France Engage in Collective Action to Protect Local Drinking Water

Apr 26th, 2016 |

Within the frame of the recently launched CAPWaSA platform, which is currently exploring some of the best examples of river basin partnerships in Europe, EWP had the opportunity to visit the fields of farmers in Almayrac, France at the end of March to witness the work of a group of water stewards, farmers together with; national farmers group, APAD, a local environmental organization, Cegaia, the local Water Agency Adour-Garonne as well as the local syndicat de rivière (authority charged with monitoring the water quality in the Cérou-Vére River) and other local authorities such as the City Council.

The project, Sol et Eau en Ségala, supports a group of farmers in the region who have stopped tilling their fields and simultaneously implemented the use of cover crops to reduce the vulnerability of highly erosive fields and protect local sources of drinking water in the area. Authorities have designated the local catchment, which has long suffered from erosion and pollutions problems, as a priority catchment due to the water’s primary use as drinking water. In the area where 74% of the territory is occupied by agricultural use surfaces, a mix of grasslands and crops which require heavy tillage and pesticide use, are causing diffuse pollution and creating numerous challenges in the drinking water catchment downstream. Thus, agricultural practices play an important role in addressing key water challenges.

The project is exemplary of three pillars of sustainability; economic, social and environmental. A combination of nutrient-fixing cover crops which bring nitrates to the soil and help create more biomass for the soil makes business sense for farmers by using less pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers and possibly also increasing their yields as the vitality of the soil increases. The Food and Agriculture Organization reports that farmers who have adopted these conservation agriculture practices could improve their field yield from 26%-100%  in as little as three years as the degraded state of the soil improves.

Furthermore, EWP witnessed how creating a stable soil environment not only reduces the likelihood of erosion, but gives soil a higher retaining capacity, both for moisture and any products applied. This means less of chemicals end up in the nearby surface waters and in some cases soil can even use these products as a reserve. There is even some evidence that healthier soils which are rich in microorganisms provided by cover crops can degrade pesticides more rapidly, thereby decreasing the chance they have to have any impact on the local environment.

Beyond the implementation of these best practices at farm level, the project has also engaged in educating local citizens on the status of the protected catchment as well as training the next generation of farmers to make them aware of the opportunities provided by soil conservation agriculture. The aim of Sol et Eau en Ségala is to create and maintain a close knit community that simulates a virtual platform to share knowledge and experiences, particularly when problems arise; there is easy access for farmers to potential solutions. It also creates the opportunity to jointly monitor and evaluate the benefits of such practices, economic, social and environmental.

Participants of the project were aware for the potential for the project to have an even greater impact as more and more farmers apply the same techniques. Targeting a shared challenge, like the protection of a drinking water source, with widespread implementation of best management practices, where a wide range of stakeholders are engaged is essential to ensure the longevity of the solution. As one farmer put it “When it comes to pesticides, I know that we are part of the problem, but I also know that we are the solution.”


1.FAO. 2004. Conservation of natural resources for sustainable agriculture: training modules. FAO Land and Water Digital Media Series CD-ROM 27. FAO, Rome.

2.Shetto, et al.2007. Conservation Agriculture as Practices in Tanzania.Three Case Studies.

3.Unger, P. W., Langdale, D. W. &Papendick, R. I. 1988 Role of crop residues—improving water conservation and use. Cropping strategies for efficient use of water and nitrogen, vol. 51 (ed. W. L. Hargrove), 69–100. Madison, WI:American Society of Agronomy.

4.Bissett M.J, O’Leary G.J. 1996 Effects of conservation tillage on water infiltration in two soils in south-eastern Australia. Aust. J. Soil Res. 34, 299–308.
5.Shahgholi, H, Ahangar, A. 2014 Factors controlling degradation of pesticides in the soil environment: A Review. TI Journals Agriculture Science Developments. Vol 3, No 8, 273-278.

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