Land & Water

Key findings

SOLAW 2021 offers several key findings related to the world’s land and water resources for food and agriculture:

1. State of land, soil and water

  • Land and water systems are under pressure: Advances in food systems require focusing on land, soils and water as interconnected systems.
  • Current patterns of intensification are not proving sustainable: High levels of pollution and greenhouse gas emissions are stretching the productive capacity to the limit and severely degrading land and environmental services.
  • Climate change: Evapotranspiration is expected to increase and alter the quantity and distribution of rainfall, leading to changes in land/crop suitability and greater variations in river run-off and groundwater recharge.

2. Socio-economic drivers of demand for land and water

  • Farming systems are polarizing: Large-scale commercial holdings dominate agricultural land use, concentrating many millions of smallholders in subsistence farming on lands susceptible to degradation and water scarcity.
  • Inclusive land and water governance underpin productivity: Land-use planning is urgently needed to guide land and water allocation and promote sustainable resources management.

3. Challenges run deep

  • Risks run deep: The slow-onset risks of human-induced land degradation, soil erosion, salinization and groundwater pollution are not perceived as urgent risks, but they run deep and are persistent.
  • Land degradation is reversible: Remedial land management is possible, but only under much reformed land and water governance. Planning a way out of this downward spiral of land degradation offers promise when combined with forward-looking climate finance for mitigation and adaptation.
  • Food security is threatened by water scarcity: Groundwater depletion affects vulnerable rural populations and national food security.
  • Risk awareness is key: Farmers and resource managers need to be much more risk aware and work together with planners in setting their responses and contingency planning.

4. Responses to risks and actions

  • Data are required to support planning: Tools for sustainable planning and management are available. Data collection needs to improve. Monitoring the effects of climate change in relation to agroecological suitability will prove essential for planning resource use along the entire food value and supply chains.
  • Agriculture’s “solution space” has expanded: Advances in agricultural research have broadened the technical palette for land and water management.
  • Four key action areas, taken together, can facilitate a transition to sustainable land and water management:

          1. Adopting inclusive land and water governance:

           •    Developing coordinated policy, legal and institutional arrangement,
           •    Devolving governance and addressing power differentials,
           •    Adopting adaptive governance and structural change;

          2. Implementing integrated solutions at scale:

           •    Planning land and water resources – a crucial first step,
           •    Packaging workable solutions,
           •    Avoiding and reversing land degradation;

          3. Embracing innovative technologies and management:

           •    Tackling problem soils,
           •    Addressing water scarcity and drought,
           •    Going beyond the farm;

          4. Investing in long-term sustainability.

  • No “one size fits all” solution exists, but there is a “full package” of workable solutions: However, these will succeed only when there is a conducive enabling environment, strong political will, sound policies and inclusive governance, and full participatory planning processes across all sectors and landscapes.