Enabling poor rural people
to overcome poverty

Woman carries water for her household from a well in rural Niger. ©IFAD/David Rose
  Woman carries water for her household from a well in rural Niger. ©IFAD/David Rose
ROME, Italy, 24 August 2012 – Experts, opinion leaders and decision makers from every corner of the planet are now converging on Stockholm, Sweden for World Water Week, 26-31 August. The global gathering, held annually, focuses on big issues and practical solutions. It attracted nearly 3,000 participants last year.

The conference theme for 2012 – water and food security – is closely linked to IFAD’s work on smallholder agriculture and rural development. IFAD will play a key role in the week’s activities, both on the ground in Stockholm and internationally via social media (under the hashtag #ifadwater).

Following is a closer look at the connections between water, agriculture and food security, and IFAD’s responses to the challenges they pose.

A finite resource
Agriculture is a thirsty business, with irrigation alone accounting for about 70 per cent of freshwater withdrawals. Meeting demand from a world population expected to top 9 billion by 2050 will require a 10 per cent increase in water for agricultural uses.

But water is a finite resource. By 2025, around 1.8 billion people will be living in areas with absolute water scarcity. Enormous efforts will be needed to reduce water demand and improve water-use efficiency.

And access to water is not evenly distributed. The poorest people in the remotest areas of developing countries usually have the most limited access to water and the fewest water rights. Water scarcity and low soil fertility curb the productivity of the land cultivated by poor smallholder farmers, and climate change is worsening the situation.

Smallholders in Guatemala use rainwater catchment system to water their tomato nursery. ©IFAD/Santiago Albert Pons
Smallholders in Guatemala use rainwater catchment system to water their tomato nursery. ©IFAD/Santiago Albert Pons

Solutions and interventions
From rainfed agriculture to micro-irrigation, from rangeland management to livestock watering points, IFAD supports practices that help poor farmers in developing countries to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of their water use. For example, grey water filtration in Brazil recycles washing water for agriculture; and integrated rice and fish production in South-East Asia allows farmers to optimize water productivity.

IFAD-supported water projects focus on often forgotten stakeholders – including poor smallholders, women and indigenous peoples – as well as traders, retailers and local governments. By bringing these groups together and working to address their diverse needs, projects are more likely to be sustainable, and the benefits more likely to continue even after the project has closed.

Commercially viable interventions can also produce benefits. A low-cost technology such as micro-irrigation equipment, made locally from available materials, creates jobs for small businesses while giving poor farmers’ access to technology and services that could be too expensive at import prices.

Scaling up success
The IFAD-supported Scampis project, for example, changed the lives of 30,000 vulnerable farmer households after they adopted low-cost, user-friendly technologies. Old flip-flop sandals were collected by otherwise unemployed people and used as material to make parts for micro-irrigation equipment in Madagascar. Besides aiding irrigation, this activity promoted recycling and created jobs for street workers who collect the old sandals, and for small businesses that make the irrigation parts.

Successful projects are not enough, however. They need to be broadened or scaled up to reach more people. Real scaling up, at a level that addresses food security, needs field testing to prove to farmers and governments alike that the innovation actually works. Once an innovation has been proven, it must be supported by the creation of favourable conditions and policies so that it can be adopted and mainstreamed though local and national institutions.

The international community can also make precious water resources go further by reducing wastage. Around 30 per cent of the food produced worldwide – about 1.3 billion tons – is lost or wasted every year. This can be changed by improving storage and transportation in developing countries and raising consumer awareness in developed countries about the resources needed to produce food.

In Jordan, a “polishing pond” used to expose water to the sun for a month to remove bacteria. ©IFAD/Lana Slezic
  In Jordan, a “polishing pond” used to expose water to the sun for a month to remove bacteria. ©IFAD/Lana Slezic

Ensuring access to water
These are just a few examples of the links between water and food security, and the ways in which IFAD and its partners – including smallholder farmers themselves – are addressing them. The solutions to water scarcity and food insecurity will require investment and commitment to rural areas made by central and local governments, and by local populations. Long-term support from institutions such as IFAD can help sustain and scale up these solutions.

“As we focus our attention on water, let us remember that water security goes hand-in-hand with food security,” IFAD President Kanayo F. Nwanze said earlier this year. “Let us work for a world where everyone has access to sufficient clean water, for a world where every woman, every man and most importantly, every child, has enough to eat and drink, where they can live healthy lives and fulfil their potential.”