Thiaye, Senegal - A woman watering soil to prepare the ground before planting cabbage © FAO / Olivier Asselin

We as humans can survive on a few sips of water a day, but the 'water we eat' daily through the food we consume is much more: just think of 15 000 litres needed to produce one kilo of meat.

This is why, with a growing population increasingly changing its diet towards 'water-hungry' products, all efforts must be made to improve the way we use water in agriculture to make the best out of the limited water resources.

FAO's role in water

Agriculture faces complex challenges between now and 2050 to satisfy an estimated population of nine billion. One certainty, however, is that more water will be needed to produce the estimated 60% of extra food needed.  FAO’s work in water focuses on a more efficient, equitable and environmentally friendly use of water in agriculture.

 Issues around water that need to be addressed include:

  • producing more food while using less water
  • building resilience of farming communities to cope with floods and droughts
  • applying clean water technologies that protect the environment


Irrigated agriculture plays a key role in food production.  We work with governments, water managers, engineers and farmers to modernize their irrigation systems so that they are more productive and less damaging for the environment. For many rural people, water is often the primary production factor that needs to be secured. FAO promotes easily affordable agricultural water management solutions that increase rural income and food security.

Water resources

Tremendous progress in food production in recent years has made it possible to provide better quality food to more people than ever before.

Too often, however, this is achieved at the expense of water resources and of the health of the ecosystems they sustain.

To address this challenge, FAO is supporting intensification models that are clean and resource-efficient, raising the productivity of water across the domestic, industrial and agricultural uses.

Water governance

FAO supports programs that improve the governance of water for more efficient, transparent and equitable use of water for agriculture.It addresses competition for water between sectors through the water-food-energy nexus approach, building upon multi-sectoral policy dialogue and conflict resolution work. 

For example, our program on groundwater governance focuses on delivering policy and institutional guidelines designed at local, national and transboundary levels. We aim to promote best practices in groundwater governance as a way to achieve  sustainable management of groundwater resources.

Climate change and variability

Climate change will lead to more frequent and intense weather extreme events like droughts and floods, with devastating impacts on food production systems. Sound water management is essential for building societal resilience against such increased risks.

FAO’s work focuses on:

  • promotion of pro-active drought and flood risk management policies  
  • capacity building on early warning and regular information on threats
  • support to increased water storage to buffer climate variability and change


The awareness of the interactions between food, energy, poverty, environment and climate change is increasing, as well as the recognition that water plays a central role in all these issues. FAO operates and maintains AQUASTAT, the most comprehensive and quoted source on global water statistics.

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