The Nile Basin stands at a crossroads. It will not be able to feed its growing population and support a rising urban middle-class by focusing on current water practices only. Instead, a comprehensive basin development approach must be chosen, involving rainfed and irrigated agriculture, the importation of food, and the development of an export-oriented service and industrial sector to pay for the imported food. The Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) and a future Nile River Basin Commission (NRBC) are in a unique position to help secure a future where more food is grown with less water, where all people have enough to eat and a growing economy contributes to export earnings.
In a study entitled "NBI Core Agricultural Functions Study: Proposed framework, options and functions for a NBI/Nile River Basin Commission Agricultural Agenda" and carried out by a Ramboll Natura - Stockholm International Water Institute consortium in 2011, the future of NBI/NRBC in promoting agriculture in the basin is presented. The report will be made available at www.nilebasin.org in the near future.
The report initially reviews the global experience of river basin organizations engaged in promoting agriculture. The conclusion is that this hardly ever happens - river basin organizations focus on hydropower, environment and water sharing, not agriculture. Following this is a review of the different roles that NBI/NRBC can take in promoting agriculture; to facilitate basin processes, implement own activities, support other organizations with expertise and information, and act as a lobbyist.
However, the main thrust of the report is on four categories of "core agricultural functions" that NBI/NRBC can provide. These are:
- policy formulation and cooperation;
- knowledge management;
- basin development; and
- market development.
Each category consists of some 4-5 sub-functions. To single out one specific function per category: it is proposed that a policy should be developed on "water and agriculture standards", i.e. the standards that unite the basin in terms of e.g. water quality or water use efficiency; to promote "agricultural research and knowledge management"; to "facilitate project preparations", i.e. to assist in reaching agreements and secure funding for new projects; and "marketing/promotion of agricultural trade". The report ends with a review of the drivers that may shape food and water security and agricultural development opportuni¬ties in the Nile basin in the short, medium, and long-term.
The topic of the report is obviously of great interest. All around the world is "basin management" being promoted as the new and beneficial alternative to conventional water management according to political or administrative units. But the key question still remains to be answered - how is food production enhanced by having a transboundary basin organisation engaged in agriculture? This study indicates that a number of such potential "functions" exist - a focus on e.g. increased land and water productivity, a support to ecological functions, and to turn food production increasingly commercial - but we still need to see them successfully implemented. A strong theme throughout the report is the argument that since a basin agreement is today in the making, an opportunity also exists in moving from national food self-sufficiency to basin food security.