Policy Support and Governance Gateway

Green Growth

Land and water resources are vital for everyone’s daily life: their quality and availability are central to agriculture and rural development – and intrinsically linked to food security and nutritious diets. Over 95% of our food is produced on land and begins with soil and water resources. Green Growth ensures that natural resources sustainably maintain the ecosystem services on which livelihoods, diets, and economic development depend. FAO estimates that in 2050, agriculture will need to produce almost 50 percent more food, feed and biofuel than in 2012.

FAO supports coherent and sustainable policy approaches for sustainable green production.

Major challenges, such as environmental degradation, soil and water depletion, contribute to large-scale food insecurity. Human-induced degradation affects 34 percent of agricultural land. This calls for sustainable land and water governance and policies to effectively manage our land and water resources. FAO works with a wide range of actors – including governments, civil society and the private sector – to foster informed, evidence-based policy-making. Analyses and synthesis of data is the centerpiece of FAO’s policy-work for Green Growth: it helps national institutions to develop knowledge management systems on land and water resources and to harmonize international work on Green Growth policy support.

Key policy messages

  • Drivers for Green Growth. Sustainable and resilient food, land, and water systems that deliver diverse, healthy, safe, sufficient, and affordable food, and ensure improved livelihoods and greater access to natural resources and sustainability of essential ecosystem services are among the key drivers for Green Growth. In recent decades, land-use changes – from urbanization, deforestation and unsustainable agricultural and water management practices - contributed to land, soil, and water degradation, loss of arable land, and rapid depletion of water resources. FAO encourages countries to adopt sustainable land, soil and water management to produce more with less – including decent yields, increased soil carbon sequestration, and reducing negative environmental impacts – to work towards a sustainable future for the planet and its people.
  • Sustainable land and water management (SLWM) in agriculture production systems. FAO supports governments to promote the adoption of sustainable natural resources management through agriculture nature-based solutions that can contribute to food security and nutrition while conserving and restoring nature. Nature-based agricultural practices harness the ability of nature to sustain ecosystem services for agricultural production, mitigating and adapting to climate change, and enhancing biodiversity. These practices contribute to the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda. For instance, SLWM can prevent soil erosion, capture nutrients and improve soil moisture to combat drought, restore habitats that are crucial to watershed and ecosystem health, and support biodiversity.
  • Soil carbon and regenerative agriculture. FAO promotes the application of the Voluntary Guidelines for Sustainable Soil Management to enhance soil health and the provision of multiple benefits to support Green Growth. For instance, by increasing water retention and filtration, enhancing nutrient cycling, enhancing soil biodiversity, and incrementing yields through soil organic carbon sequestration.
  • Circular green economy. FAO’s circular green economy approach maintains the value of products, materials, and recovery of essential resources. FAO provides countries with technical support to return natural resources to the product cycle at the end of their use. For instance, non-conventional water (NCW) – such as low-quality water – can play an essential role to mitigate the local water scarcity and climate change by implementing an integrated One Water One Health/Resource Recovery. This helps to recover essential crop nutrients such as N and P while capturing the GHG methane during wastewater treatment and removing pathogens and pollutants. Through the Green Cities initiative, FAO and its partners work to identify the linkages between urban and peri-urban areas to spur innovation under the water-food-energy nexus.

  • Governance challenges. A crucial challenge, which is also an opportunity, is to successfully manage trade-offs among land, soil, water, and vegetation/biomass use to avert degradation while ensuring food security and nutrition. However, fragmentation and conflict remain pervasive features of water and land governance systems; land and water users are distributed across multiple sectors and jurisdictions (e.g., energy, food, environment, trade, industry) and there is often a mismatch in the roles and response of public and private actors. Policy interventions for land and water management need to address the continued viability of smallholders, as it is critical for local food security in many low-income countries. Technical and managerial innovation can be targeted under the green growth agenda to address priorities and accelerate transformation. These encompass the adoption of new technologies and management approaches through digital data and AI - going beyond the farm gate to address governance.

    Responsible governance of land and water relies on processes that articulate the interests of citizens, mediate their differences, and ensure that their land and water rights and duties are exercised with transparency and equity, in line with the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests (VGGT) endorsed by the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) in 2012. Water Tenure has also gained wider recognition for addressing governance in relation to access to water resources.

    Ensuring adequate financing for land and water and promoting a strong enabling environment can help reduce risky investments and thus drive commercial investments. Important factors include coherent water policies, robust water allocation, water and land tenure and transparency on roles, water availability, and land suitability.

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