FAO Water

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Name Land and Water Division / Water Development and Management Unit (Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO))
Logo Image:FAOLogo.gif
Geographic Scope Global
Subject Focus Expertise Agricultural water management, water use efficiency/productivity, and water use and conservation best practice.
Contact E-mail: FAO-water@fao.org
URL http://www.fao.org/nr/water

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In the face of increasing water scarcity, and the dominance of agricultural water use, FAO is in the forefront to enhance global agricultural performance while promoting the sustainability of water use for food production.

The Water Development and Management Unit (NRLW) is engaged in a programmatic approach to agricultural water management addressing water use efficiency and productivity, and best practices for water use and conservation, throughout the continuum from water sources to final uses. Specific target areas include integrated water resources management, water harvesting, groundwater, use of non-conventional water, modernization of irrigation systems, on-farm water management, water-quality management, agriculture-wetlands interactions, drought impact mitigation, institutional capacities, national water strategies and policies, river basin and transboundary waters management.

NRLW collaborates with all other technical departments of FAO in order to generate a coherent and comprehensive FAO-Water programme effectively contributing to the achievement of the related Millennium Development Goals.

Importantly, FAO Water provides knowledge and information, policy advice and technical assistance:

  • Policy advice

FAO provide assistance to countries in shaping their agricultural policies, in relation to land and water management. Of specific importance is the linkage between water and agricultural policies, and the need for enhancement of agricultural productivity in a situation of rapidly growing water scarcity. They assist countries in developing targeted investment policies in agriculture that respond to the development needs of rural populations in a sustainable way.

  • Technical Assistance

Technical assistance is provided in the following areas:

    • Assessment of national irrigation potential
    • Contribution to global freshwater assessment
    • Introduction of efficient water-use technologies
    • Improvement of irrigation management practices
    • Reorganization of irrigation institutions
    • Water quality and pollution control.

FAO maintains a strong technical expertise in the field of water management, with special focus on enhanced agricultural productivity, poverty eradication and environmental sustainability. Technical fields include the development of water resources through small scale irrigation and appropriate water control technologies; modernisation of large irrigation schemes, best practices for sustainable water use and conservation (including dryland management) water harvesting, integrated water-soil fertility management, and conservation agriculture approaches.

Watershed management and multiple use of water including agriculture-aquaculture integration are also promoted in FAO projects. Expertise in environmental impact management includes wastewater treatment and reuse, drainage and salinity control. At field level, FAO has adopted the “Farmer Field School” approach, promoting a participatory approach to water management based on the principles of efficiency, equity, and empowerment.

Some specific areas: Water development for food security In many countries, particularly in Africa, the gap between local food consumption and production is growing. Water development and particularly irrigation, from simple water harvesting to modern piped irrigation, could make a major contribution to food security. The primary objective of this set of activities is to develop a strategy for irrigation expansion in order to promote food security, focusing on Africa. In order to promote and facilitate technology transfer concerning cost efficient irrigation, FAO:

    • provides policy advice;
    • assists in developing sector strategies and investment plans;
    • introduces efficient, low-cost technologies;
    • develops and supports innovative approaches to resource mobilization and capacity building in planning and management;
    • initiates the reassessment of irrigation potential in Africa;
    • provides guidelines on valley-bottom development;
    • provides case studies and audio-visual material on successful irrigation.

These activities are undertaken in co-operation with financing institutions, international and bilateral agencies, NGOs and research centres.

Special Action Programme on Water and Sustainable Agricultural Development The overall objective of the Special Action Programme on Water and Sustainable Agricultural Development (SAP-WASAD) is to assist Member Nations to improve the management of their water resources in order to achieve food security and sustainable agricultural development. While providing a general framework for FAO's water programme, the SAP provides:

    • FAO's response to Agenda 21 in relation to water resource management;
    • assistance to Member Nations for the formulation and implementation of national action plans on water and sustainable agricultural development;
    • a multi-disciplinary approach to the management of rural water within FAO and interagency coordination.

The mission of the Land and Water Development Division of FAO is to promote the efficient use and conservation of water resources to achieve food security and sustainable agriculture and rural development.

Key Resources


Aquastat - FAO's global information system on water and agriculture. It provides users interested in global, regional and national analyses with comprehensive information related to water resources and agricultural water management across the world, with emphasis on countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean.
Aquastat Online Glossary
CropWat - a decision support system developed by the Land and Water Development Division of FAO. It is a practical tool that calculates reference evapotranspiration, crop water requirements and crop irrigation requirements; in order to develop irrigation schedules under various management conditions and scheme water supplies, and evaaluate rainfed production and drought effects, together with the efficiency of irrigation practices.
Climwat - a climatic database with data from a total of 3262 meteorological stations from 144 countries. Used in combination with the computer program CROPWAT, it allows the ready calculation of crop water requirements, irrigation supply and irrigation scheduling for various crops for a range of climatological stations worldwide.
Capacity Development for Water in Agriculture - a joint initiative of the Water Resources, Development and Management Service of FAO and the International Programme for Technology and Research in Irrigation and Drainage (IPTRID). It is a meeting point for both, people in search of capacity development opportunities for water in agriculture and those offering courses/events in this area. The database contains relevant information on course/event provider, duration, target group as well as contact information in order to obtain further details.
Irrigation Equipment Supply - seeks to establish an up-to-date list of Suppliers/Manufacturers providing irrigation equipment worldwide.
Wastewater Database - contains information on wastewater production, treatment, re-use, as well as economic information provided by member states. Published data in peer-reviewed papers, workshop/conference/meeting proceedings, and FAO's related databases such as AQUASTAT and FAOSTAT are also included. Information is sorted by region and country containing fields on wastewater production, treatment technologies, and financial/economical parameters by country.

Graphs and Maps

Map:Potential for poverty reduction through water interventions in sub-Saharan Africa - represents the potential for poverty reduction through water-related interventions in different livelihood zones in sub-Saharan Africa.
Graph: Estimated World Water Use - displays the estimated world water use in Reservoir losses, Municipal, Industry & Agriculture areas.
Global Map of Irrigation Areas - shows the amount of area equipped for irrigation around the turn of the twenty-first century as a percentage of the total area on a raster with a resolution of 5 minutes. In global studies related to water use, food production or climate change, knowing the location of irrigate agriculture is important in order to assess better the impact of water use on available water resources.
Map: Areas of Physical and Economic Water Scarcity - unveils areas of physical and economic water scarcity in varying degrees of severity. Taken from the Comprehensive Assessment of Water Management in Agriculture.

Interactive Maps

Interactive Maps: Aquastat Water Resource Analysis - enables you to make easy and quick comparisons of population and water indicators using animated Aquastat Maps.
Interactive Map: Water and the Rural Poor - enables users to make comparisons between various categories of mapped data such as Rural Food Insecurity and Livestock/People Ratio, in order to establish simiarities and patterns in areas involving water and rural livelihoods.
Interactive Map: Typology of climate change impacts and response options for agricultural water management in selected agricultural systems - displays the typology of climate change impacts and response options for agricultural water management in selected agricultural systems around the world.

Publications & CD-Roms

FAO Water produces a multitude of publications. These include;

  • Guidelines
  • Manuals
  • Water Reports,
  • Brochures,
  • Land and Water Bulletins,
  • FAO Legislative Studies,
  • Irrigation & Drainage Papers,
  • Land and Water Discussion Papers and Miscellaneous Papers

In addition the organisation has published various Land and Water Digital Media in the form of CD-ROMs.


ANIMATION: Water at a Glance - A brief animated introduction to some of the issues facing FAO water including the relationship between water, agriculture, food security and poverty. One can also learn about effective ways of managing agricultural water.
ANIMATION: The Water Cycle - displays how the water cycle works and how humans often disrupt it.

See also FAO's collection of videos on numerous water issues

Work on the Ground

Major current Projects

Somalia Water and Land Information Management (01/08-12/09)
UN-Water (01/07-12/09)
IPTRID (ongoing)
Environmental Protection and Sustainable Management of the Okavango River Basin (11/04-01/09)
Andhra Pradesh Farmer-managed Groundwater Systems (08/04-10/09)
Emergency Irrigation Rehabilitation Project (07/04-01/09)

Selected other Projects

Information Products for Decisions on Water Policy and Water Resources Management in the Nile Basin (12/04-12/08)
Information and reporting system for water and agriculture in Asian monsoon area (01/03-12/08)
Strengthening national water monitoring capacities, with emphasis on agricultural water management (04/08-03/09)
Water the Rural Poor (07/04-01/09)


See also

External Resources


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