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


Anna Schulze. 2009. Land Legislation and the Possibilities for Pastoral Risk Management and Adaptation to Climate Change – The Example of Mongolia 30 March 2010 This paper addresses the impacts of climate change in Mongolia asking what legal instruments can help to assure the adaptation of pastoralism - being the predominanteconomic activity and mode of life of the rural population - to the changing conditions. Leading to more frequent disasters, climate change makes pastoral adaptation necessary anddisaster risk management a primary need. [more]
Sofia Monsalve Suárez, Leticia Marques Osorio, Malcolm Langford. 2009. VOLUNTARY GUIDELINES FOR GOOD GOVERNANCE IN LAND AND NATURAL RESOURCE TENURE. FAO 30 March 2010 The FAO initiative for the adoption of guidelines for land and natural resources tenure is therefore timely as it would fill a serious policy gap. Different constituencies like women, indigenous and tribal peoples, fisherfolks, peasants and landless, forest communities, pastoralists, urban poor and other communities have been organizing themselves in order to articulate their views and demands regarding land and natural resources tenure. [more]
FAO. 2008. Climate change, water and food security. High Level Conference on World Food Security - Background Paper HLC/08/BAK/2 30 March 2010 This Synthesis Paper is based on an Expert Meeting held in Rome 26–28 February 2008 as a preparation for the FAO High Level Conference (HLC) on World Food Security and the Challenges of Climate Change and Bioenergy in June 2008. This Synthesis Paper contains a necessarily rapid appraisal of the implications of the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (AR4-IPCC) for agricultural water management and, based on that evidence, offers a more operationally focused diagnosis. It provides a summary analysis of a baseline, including projected trends without climate change and mitigation measures; the anticipated set of climate change impacts; a set of possible responses; main findings and recommendations; and a set of options for decision-makers. [more]
FAO. 2008. Scoping agriculture - wetland interactions. Towards a sustainable multiple-response strategy 30 March 2010 Agriculture–wetland interactions (AWIs) are becoming more important as rising demand for food production exacerbates pressures on wetlands. The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) identified agriculture as the major cause of wetland degradation and loss. However, while some ecosystem services, such as regulating and supporting services may be reduced, agricultural development has considerably increased the provisioning services of wetlands. [more]

last updated:  Wednesday, December 5, 2012