Soil and Water

@FAO/Giulio Napolitano

Climate change adaptation for agricultural cropping systems requires a higher resilience against both excess of water (due to high intensity rainfall) and lack of water (due to extended drought periods). A key element to respond to both problems is soil organic matter that improves and stabilizes the soil structure, so that the soils can absorb higher amounts of water without causing surface runoff, which could result in soil erosion and, further downstream, in flooding. Soil organic matter also improves the water absorption capacity of the soil during extended drought.

FAO promotes low tillage and maintenance of permanent soil cover that can increase soil organic matter and reduce impacts from flooding, erosion, drought, heavy rain and winds. A broad range of agricultural water management practices and technologies are available to spread and buffer production risks. Enhancing residual soil moisture through land conservation techniques assists significantly at the margin of dry periods while buffer strips, mulching and zero tillage help to mitigate soil erosion risk in areas where rainfall intensities increase.

FAO's activities


  • The development of modelling tools (global agro-ecological zoning) for assessing the suitability of crop cultivation, including biofuel crops, under differing soils, climatic and terrain conditions.
  • The development of global databases on land-use statistics (crop production, area harvested and yields) at sub-national level, that are useful for modelling the impacts of climate change on the current centres of food production and subsequent changes in land use (agricultural production) systems
  • The development of global and national soil databases and making available guidelines and building capacity for assessment of soil carbon sequestration potential
  • The development of a global database on water statistics, facilitating the assessment for increased cropping intensities through irrigation (and hence reduced pressure for expansion of croplands to areas with greater carbon sequestration potential e.g. forested areas)
  • Promotion of techniques for improving the productivity of the resources base (through improved sustainable land management & soil and water conservation), thereby reducing expansion of crop lands to currently forested areas


  • Promotion of technologies/management practices for improved water-use efficiency
  • Promotion of sustainable land/agricultural (crop, livestock, pasture and range, and forestry) management practices and technologies to enhance carbon sequestration
  • Development of adapted, practical more comprehensive frameworks for land evaluation and participatory land and water use planning, including appropriate land tenure reform, to enable communities to cope better with the expected impacts of climate change


last updated:  Wednesday, December 5, 2012