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Land, water and the SDGs

FAO’s engagement in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) addresses the improved management of land and water resources. The SDGs on increasing food production using less water (SDG 6) and reversing land degradation and increasing the sustainable management of soils (SDG 15) are at the core of FAO’s work.

FAO also works to increase cross-sectoral coherence between SDGs 6 and 15 and other SDGs, such as SDG 1 (“end poverty”); SDG 2 (“end hunger”); SDG 5 (“achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls”); and SDG 13 (“combat climate change”). FAO focuses on the drivers of improved resource governance – such as smallholder farmers, rural women, rural investment, and improved technical information for policymaking.

SDG 6 (Water)

Freshwater resources face increasing competition due to rising demographic pressure and ongoing economic development. At the country level, there is competition for available freshwater resources in and between economic sectors such as agriculture, industries, services and households. There is also competition for water among social groups and a need to allocate water for environmental purposes.

Competition for limited freshwater resources exists between countries that share river basins, with the potential to lead to dangerous transboundary tensions. Target 4 of SDG 6 aims to reduce the potential for conflict by ensuring sustainable withdrawals of water and increasing water-use efficiency, with the objective of reducing the number of people suffering from water scarcity. FAO is the custodian agency for the two indicators of target 6.4. As such, it is supporting member states in developing and reinforcing their monitoring capacity, with the aim of having better and more consistent information to support their policy decisions. Among the initiatives of FAO on this matter, the AQUASTAT database is very well positioned to provide an established platform for the integration of the different types of data required for the computation of the indicators. The GEMI project, implemented by FAO in the context of a multi-agency UN effort, is providing methodological support and capacity development assistance to the member countries. Beyond the support to monitoring, the Organization is supporting the implementation of measures to ensure that countries meet the target, including the water scarcity initiative and the water productivity project.

SDG 15 (Sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems)

Member countries have mandated FAO to address land degradation and sustainable soil management through a country-driven approach. In the past, FAO has produced a wide range of guidelines, methodologies, tools and statistical information to support the development of country capacity to assess and monitor land degradation and promote sustainable land management. Existing national and global efforts, therefore, are already fulfilling some of the information needs for monitoring SDG 15, and these will be expanded where necessary.

The indicator for SDG target 15.3 (“land degradation neutrality”) is the “proportion of land that is degraded over total land area”. This is a suitable metric for monitoring and reporting on restoration, combating desertification and achieving land degradation neutrality. Areas with declining productivity or biological stocks (e.g. above-ground and below-ground biomass, soil carbon, and other carbon pools) are considered “degraded”, and areas with increasing productivity or biological stocks are considered “improving”. Land degradation can have a major impact on resilience, especially in rural populations: FAO’s approach is to not leave anyone behind in achieving SDG target 15.3.