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Statement by IFAD President to side event organised by WEC-TERI-Yale on climate change and water vulnerability: strategies and practices for emerging water management and governance challenges

Location: Copenhagen

11 December 2009

Thank you Dr Rajendra (Pachauri).

Water is the primary medium through which climate change influences the Earth's ecosystems. It is fundamental to the livelihoods and well-being of all people. But for the world's poor people, the majority of whom live off the land, water is life. And one which is threatened by climate change.

There are some 500 million smallholder farms worldwide which support the lives and livelihoods of two billion rural people. These people farm 80 per cent of the farmland in Asia and Africa, produce 80 per cent of the food consumed in the developing world and feed one third of the global population.

These poor rural people face the almost impossible challenge of doubling their food production by 2050, particularly under unpredictable rain-fed agricultural systems.

What does this mean to poor rural people? They lack the institutional and financial capacity to withstand shocks and they are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

For example:

  • In some countries, yields from rain-fed crops could be halved by 2020; shorter growing seasons and lower yields will simply worsen hunger in Africa.
  • That is why one of the primary challenges that we must urgently address is how to increase the productivity of smallholder farmers while reducing their vulnerability to climate change. The answer lies in additional resources for climate change adaptation and mitigation.
  • A second challenge we need to address is better water management – especially in the drylands.
  • In arid and semi-arid zones, where, short growing seasons alternate with very hot and dry periods.  Rains are irregular, soil fertility is poor and crop pests abound. Roads and markets are sparse. The challenges facing the more than 2 billion people who live here are extreme. These are the marginal environments. We at IFAD invest 70% of our resources where over 50% of our portfolio incorporates rural water for production, livestock, transformation and consumption.
  • So what can be done to alleviate these challenges? What reforms could help improve water management in arid and semi-arid zones, boost smallholder productivity and reduce the vulnerability of poor rural people in the face of climate change?
  • Water security is the answer. For the smallholder agricultural sector, for sustainable production, water resources must be managed more effectively and efficiently.

In particular:

  • we need to increase basin-wide water efficiency by investing in pro-poor water allocation mechanisms, complemented by more water saving irrigation and drainage systems, such as drip or micro-irrigation; and/or re-use of water;
  • we need  to support the appropriate policies, governance, and institutional structures to improve water demand management, such as through support to water-user associations;
  • we need  to accelerate the strengthening and delivery of reliable water-related services, especially those run by farmers and private operators;
  • we need  to lower post-harvest and ‘field-to-fork' losses, as these represent enormous quantities of ‘virtual' water lost to other uses;
  • and we need to consider water security throughout the value chain, in other words, from production to waste disposal.

IFAD's approach to water security is an integrated one. It is designed to get "more income per drop" as well as more nutritional value per drop. We support rural water institutions and water infrastructure. We promote the rational use of available surface water and groundwater resources (whether fresh, brackish or saline). And we encourage the recycling of grey water in marginal areas.

We also promote partnerships between farmers and the local private sector, in order to deliver goods and services around the value chain of water.

This integrated approach is central to IFAD's operations. It has helped poor rural people cope better with the impact of climate change on their water supply. It has helped smallholder farmers to increase their yields in spite of climate change. But more can be done.

We need wider international recognition of the potential of smallholder farmers. And we need greater investment to back up this recognition.

The commitments made at recent international summits, including in L'Aquila and Rome, have been a step in the right direction. We also need a comprehensive and ambitious outcome the meetings here in Copenhagen to ensure that smallholder farmers are made part of the solution not only to climate change, but also to poverty reduction and global food security.

Thank you.

Copenhagen, 12 December 2009