In rural areas water equals life

IFAD calls for more comprehensive approach to water scarcity issues on World Water Day

Rome, 20 March 2012 – Marking the United Nations World Water Day, the President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), Kanayo F. Nwanze, will call for more comprehensive approaches to water resource issues for rural communities. Nwanze will speak at the World Water Day event at the Food and Agriculture Organization headquarters in Rome on 22 March.

“For smallholder farmers in developing countries, water and land cannot be treated as separate issues,” said Rudolph Cleveringa, Senior Technical Adviser for Rural Development. “If we are to reduce poverty in rural areas, we must develop a holistic approach to focus on water in all of its contributions to development such as in areas of health and agriculture.”

Earlier this month the United Nations announced that the goal of reducing the number of people without access to safe drinking water was achieved ahead of the 2015 deadline for reaching the Millennium Development Goals. The target for sanitation, however, has not been met, and still almost one billion people lack access to safe drinking water.

Approximately 70 per cent of the world’s water resources are used for agriculture, and by 2025, two-thirds of the population could be living under water-stressed conditions. In addition, because of increased migration to cities, a growing population and climate change, the demand for water is expected to rise by 55 per cent.

‘Absolute water scarcity’ affects 12 countries in South Asia and the Middle East, the latter depending on water coming from outside the region. The region imports a high percentage of its grain consumption and agricultural productivity could be cut by a quarter by 2080.

“When we are looking at solutions to water-resource problems, we must focus on the people who deal with these issues and their needs,” Cleveringa added. “We must tailor local water solutions for rural communities to ensure their food security and nutrition.”

Irrigated agriculture represents 20 per cent of the total cultivated land but contributes to 40 per cent of the total food produced. For many poor rural people, water is life. The lack of water limits farmers’ ability to produce enough food to eat or earn a living.

IFAD-supported projects focus on more than agricultural production, ensuring that its work is people-centered rural development, by working together with rural communities to identify their needs and seek solutions. In addition, IFAD-supported projects are helping rural farmers not just to adapt, but also to thrive by introducing irrigation schemes and technologies to provide efficient water for agriculture.

For example, in India, Guatemala and Madagascar, IFAD supports micro irrigation, which helps smallholder farmers – particularly women – save water and fertilizer by providing a low, regular flow of water. It is less labour intensive, less expensive and more efficient than traditional irrigation.

With micro irrigation, farmers are able to irrigate larger areas, improving their crop productivity and yields, and ultimately their income and nutrition. Liquid organic fertilizer can also be applied by drip lines, providing micro-nutrients to boost farm productivity.

Press release No.: IFAD/25/2012

The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) works with poor rural people to enable them to grow and sell more food, increase their incomes and determine the direction of their own lives. Since 1978, IFAD has invested about US$13.7 billion in grants and low-interest loans to developing countries through projects empowering about 405 million people to break out of poverty, thereby helping to create vibrant rural communities. IFAD is an international financial institution and a specialized UN agency based in Rome – the United Nation's food and agricultural hub. It is a unique partnership of 168 members from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), other developing countries and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).