FAO Regional Office for Near East and North Africa

Increased pressure on land and water resources in rural and urban areas is due to human activities and climate change, the FAO’s report states

FAO presented today at COP27 the first edition of the State of Land and Water Resources for Food and Agriculture in the Near East and North Africa region

11 November, Sharm El Sheikh - The first edition of the State of Land and Water Resources for Food and Agriculture (SOLAW) in the Near East and North Africa region, presented at COP27, indicates that pressure on land and water resources in rural and urban settings is constantly increasing due to human activities and climate change.

This flagship publication presents up-to-date information and analysis on the current state, trends and challenges facing two of the most important agricultural production factors: land and water.

According to the report, rapid population increase, urbanization, climate change and low public and private investments are among the main drivers that affect land and water use in the region.

“Climate change hits this region harder than many others, but we cannot blame climate change for everything. We need to adopt a much more sustainable use of our resources,” JeanMarc Faures, FAO’ programme leader for the Near East and North Africa said during the launch of the report.

The report highlights that NENA’s population has increased sixfold since 1950 and is expected to continue to grow until 2050. At the same time, rural populations have declined since 1970, from 60 percent of total population lived in rural areas to 40 percent in 2018.

Land and water challenges in the NENA region

Water availability is a major challenge in all countries of the Near East and North Africa (NENA) region. The report highlights that eight countries are on the list of the top ten countries in the world with the highest levels of water stress. Per capita freshwater availability has decreased by 78 percent in the past 50 years. 

According to the report, arable land constitutes less than 5 percent of the total land area in the region and less than half that of the world. There is a considerable variation in arable land per capita across countries, however over the period 1961-2018, all countries experience a decrease. 

Forest land cover is limited in the region, covering 2.47 percent of total land area in 2018, having declined by 13 percent in the past 30 years. 

Unsustainable agricultural practices also affect soil and water quality. Excessive use of pesticides and fertilizers can have environmental implications. Six countries from the region are among the highest 20 countries in the world in terms of fertilizer consumption (kilograms per hectare of arable land).

Climate change is one of the major drivers of changes in water- and land-use. The report highlights that climate change vulnerability is high, with NENA ranked as the world’s most arid region. It also underscores that the region will experience an average mean temperature increase of 1.7 °C to 2.6 °C under Representative Concentration Pathway (RCP) 8.5 as well as an increase in drought frequency.

The report focuses also its attention on urban and peri-urban areas and examines how cities are interacting with rural areas for food production, distribution and consumption. Infrastructure development in cities is often at the expense of fertile agricultural land. 

“The region’s environment is extremely fragile, and in many places, we have exploited it much beyond its capacity. It is time to return to a more sustainable use of our natural resources,” Faures highlighted. 

Responses to enhance land and water management

Sustainable agricultural practices along with strengthening mechanisms and processes at the policy level are essential to address the challenges and ensure sound use of land and water in the Near East and North Africa region.

The regional SOLAW highlights the elements of land and water resource management that are of critical importance to ensuring food security and resilience of agri-food systems in the face of multiple interconnected crises such as global food crises, pandemics, and climate change.

The report calls on countries to adopt sustainable land and water practices and implement nature-based solutions (NbS) to transform agri-food systems, adopt a circular economy approach and strengthen urban-rural interface, while adapting to climate change.