FAO Regional Office for Europe and Central Asia

Regional leaders discuss protection of precious land and water resources

©FAO/Victor Sokolowicz


In Europe and Central Asia, Members of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) talked about improving the management of land and water resources at the Forty-third Session of the European Commission on Agriculture, held in Budapest from 27 to 28 September. The meeting marked a significant step towards Member Nations enacting their commitments to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Agriculture faces a multitude of challenges. Soil degradation, the severe impacts of intensive farming practices on water and land quality, access to arable land and reliable water resources, population growth, demographic shifts, industrialization and gender inequities in control over productive resources such as land, credit, training, and agricultural inputs are some of the outstanding issues and trends to overcome.  All these issues are exacerbated by the negative impacts of climate change: rising temperatures, extreme weather events, unpredictable rain patterns, and increased natural disasters . Smaller farms and family-run operations, common in both Europe and Central Asia, are especially vulnerable to this complex context.

The current session of the biennial Commission, convened by FAO, is a forum to discuss the region’s agricultural trends and realities. This session discussed integrated, sustainable land and water management,  governance of natural resources and land tenure. Proper management of the region’s precious – and finite – resources could contribute to more resilient food systems, increased ecosystem services and biodiversity, as well as improved food production and livelihoods.

“Through the active collaboration and involvement of over 35 countries, Europe and Central Asia are working diligently towards a sustainable future. While there's a pronounced emphasis on SDG 6 (water and sanitation) and SDG 15 (life on land), it remains a collective journey towards achieving these goals – not only in the region but globally," said Nabil Gangi, Officer in Charge and FAO Deputy Regional Representative.

The path to sustainable agriculture

In Europe, land use changes due to increased urbanization with its development of new infrastructure, and soil erosion, especially in the Mediterranean region, are the major underlying causes for land degradation. In Central Asia, unsustainable agricultural practices, such as overgrazing, the excessive use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, improper irrigation techniques, and monoculture farming, are contributing to the decline of the quality of agricultural land.

“Closer cooperation and a more integrated approach towards land and water management could help improve efficiency and save money in the agriculture sector, especially in Central Asia,” emphasized Sara Marjani Zadeh, FAO Land and Water Officer.

Recognizing the urgency of the situation, Members of the European Commission on Agriculture looked at the potential of harmonized policies and regulations across sectors, countries and territories, and  considered the establishment of appropriate financial incentive structures to encourage sustainable practices. Countries also discussed a stepwise creation of a coordination and planning framework for land, water, and energy issue at the regional level.

Land degradation and the fragmentation of agricultural land are major obstacles to decent rural livelihoods and economic growth, as well as to biodiversity restoration and conservation. The Commission assessed the potential to improve land governance – the rules, processes, and structures through which decisions are made about access to land and its use – as well as how to avoid or reduce land degradation through an integrated approach that also supports women and youth.

Beyond moving towards land degradation neutrality — the point at which no healthy and productive land is lost —  to the strengthening of the security of land and water tenure, in line with the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure, and the fostering well-functioning agricultural land markets and increase investments into sustainable land management were also on the agenda. The promotion of multipurpose land consolidation instruments for integrated land and water management is a key aspect of this work.

Participants also reviewed FAO’s work on promoting gender equality in the food and agriculture sector. The Commission considered modalities that can address ongoing gender-based gaps and support the empowerment of women through better legal and policy frameworks, and improved social protection systems. More efficient and effective gender mainstreaming can change the discriminatory social norms and conventions that underly the gendered inequities in the agriculture sector. The Commission was briefed about the new Regional Gender Action Plan for 2023–2026 that calls for more systematic and concerted steps in the empowerment of rural women and girls at regional, subregional, and country levels. These actions aim at addressing the structural causes of inequalities, such as discriminatory gender roles and harmful practices, and thus are essential to end hunger and rural poverty.

The session concluded with the election of Lidija Popandonova as the Chairperson, Serkos A. Haroutounian as the first Vice-Chairperson, and Andrea Angeli as the second Vice-Chairperson of the European Commission on Agriculture.