FAO promotes development of monitoring systems, based on universally accepted indicators, that provide the information required for sound decision-making for the sustainable management of land and water resources, and also for understanding better processes and trends in their use and degradation. This enables more timely and effective prevention, control and restoration.
Yet current national-level data on land and water have large gaps and are often of poor quality, especially in the less developed countries. Baseline information on land quality and the state of land degradation and erosion, and of the soil fertility status of cultivated lands, are limited, and information on current land use does not exist in many of these countries.
Data needs. User requirements are different at international, national and local level. At international level, improved global data sets are required for assessment of land and water resources potential and to provide information for perspective studies and global studies on the state of natural resources.
At national and sub-national levels, information is mostly needed for planning and monitoring of land and water resources by national and provincial authorities. At local level, more data is needed for better management of resources, and for planning of the use of these resources by farmers, farmers groups, NGOs, district planners and specialists.
Governments that are signatories of various UNCED initiatives - Convention on Biological Diversity, Convention to Combat Desertification - are confronted with decisions to be made on land use conflicts involving claims for identification, demarcation and control of nature reserves and claims for agriculture and other uses. Thus, they need reliable information on the potential and constraints of land resources in order to make adequate decisions on their allocation and use.
Without quantitative knowledge of water balance and the performance of irrigation systems, the potential to improve them remains largely unknown. A major effort is required for understanding water systems and the implications of reallocation of water to increase efficiency of use. Full understanding of the processes, based on river basin data, is needed for devising adequate policies and management action.
Both water-scarce countries and those plagued by excess water need more comprehensive, more accurate and better integrated water information for planning, development and management of a more productive agriculture. As global trade expands and food security comes to rely increasingly on trade, global land and water data and information are needed to monitor changes and trends in the state of the world's natural resources.
Data and information gaps. FAO warns that existing global land and water resource information is partly outdated. Information on land degradation is more recent but lacks detail, while land use information has never been systematically compiled nor harmonized worldwide.
Soils Information Centre and World Soil and Terrain Database (SOTER). FAO, UNEP and the International Soil Reference and Information Centre agreed in 1995 to produce a first version of SOTER by the year 2002.
Global Agro-Ecological Zone (AEZ) Database. FAO is co-operating with IIASA in upgrading its global AEZ methodology and database for use in regular assessment of arable land potentials.
World Overview of Conservation Approaches and Technologies (WOCAT). Since 1992 WOCAT has been used as a tool for improved decision-making on land management and transfer of appropriate technology.
Rural Water Use Database (AQUASTAT). FAO's AQUASTAT assembles systematic information on water resources and rural water use. About 90 percent of the global irrigated area is covered.
AFRICOVER programme is a collaborative effort between FAO and African regional and national institutions to produce updated land cover maps of individual countries.
Uganda soil map (detail) produced as part of SOTER
FAO says monitoring the state of use of land and water resources - and the future sustainability and vulnerability of their development - require that adequate land and water resources information be assembled. The information should be collected on a country basis, using existing systems as far as appropriate, and stored in geographic information systems. For compatibility with water accounting, land data needs to be recompiled in terms of river basins and water divides.
For International data collection, all data should be comparable as regards units and criteria for measurements and assessments, and use comparable time periods for time series. To facilitate data integration by users and cost-effective data collection, data standards are needed, including a procedure for data quality control and a way to calibrate and verify the accuracy of information based on them. Guidelines are needed on how to build and maintain data sets.
Promise of technology. Natural resources management issues have become increasingly complex and interdependent and require integration of land and water information with sectoral information and improved decision-support tools. New technology allows the creation of comprehensive integrated systems, which give access to multi-scale information and multi-purpose analysis in support of decision-making in land and water.
For example, Satellite Based Positioning System (SBPS) navigation and remotely sensed image display and analysis can be incorporated to enhance the capability - and broaden the applications - of the integrated systems. Similarly, technologies for site-specific agriculture at local or field level will play an increasing role in raising land productivity.
With new low-cost technologies and tools now available, development and implementation of rapid and effective land and water monitoring has become accessible. The success of the concept relies on integrating recent advances in information technology (rapid data capture through remote sensing and SBPS, fast workstations and software, rapid development of applications, and multi-media for speedy dissemination of information) with local researchers and land and water resources planners and managers.
FAO has a specific and recognized capacity in assessing land and rural water use and integrating land and water issues within inland fisheries, forestry and rural development. FAO is also the leading agency in building soils and terrain databases and applying these in global and national agricultural studies. As part of its normative activities, FAO has initiated a six-year project "Development of information and decision-support systems on integrated land and water resources management" which provides the framework for all future FAO initiatives in the area of land and water information and monitoring.
Published January 1999