Ripples and Waves

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Tag: food security
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Increased donor focus on water in agriculture

Agricultural production requires three things - a seed, soil and water. Despite this simplicity, agricultural production continues to be a challenge due to the complexity linked to growing human populations and climate change.


There is today an increased global awareness on the importance of food production, especially after the food price crisis in 2008 and increasingly scarcer water availability. The result of this awareness can now be seen in the increasing investment in water for agriculture by the donor community over the past few years and the Swedish resource base is further encouraged to provide its input into this sector, e.g. through the USAID/Sida “Securing Water for Food” fund that was launched November 2013.

Irrigation has been questioned for its environmental impacts, but when well designed and executed it can provide food security and be a critical part of a climate adaption strategy. Large scale agriculture projects had a big boom in the 80’s, but the outcomes of these projects were questionable (see evaluations from the time period in the references below). During the 90’s, agriculture was limited to being a part of the environmental agenda, and the number of investments to the agricultural sector were minimised. In 2002, the then called “Rural Development Department” of the World Bank took back its old name, “Agriculture and Rural Development Department”, and this marked the start of a big change in focus, by the donors, back toward the importance of feeding the planet.

The World Bank investments in irrigation and drainage projects increased from an all-time low in 2000 to an all-time high over the past 4 years in number of supported projects as well as in funding levels. Other donors are following suit, as shown in the African Development Bank’s vision for Rural Infrastructure Development which includes a focus on large scale irrigation schemes and the Swiss Development Cooperation supporting small scale farm irrigation through the International Water Resources Institute.

Today there are large investments being made in irrigated agriculture that give promise for the future, e.g. the Shire Valley Irrigation project in Malawi supported by WB, where a total of 42,000 ha are to be irrigated, focused on small scale farming areas. The lessons learned from the large agricultural projects from the 80’s ensure that projects today have a greater focus on small and medium enterprise development and involve community participation by placing more decision making power with the people on the ground through e.g. water user organisations and community ownership models. The environmental and social impacts of any large scale investment need to be addressed in full but investments like these are needed, especially in Africa, to continue to develop markets and establish an improved food security situation in countries affected by climate change. The Swedish experiences and resource base on participatory planning processes and cooperative development can give good guidance for investments such as these to be successful and sustainable.

The Sida funded Swedish International Agriculture Network Initiative (SIANI) is an effort to strengthen the Swedish resource base by creating an arena for knowledge sharing.  It is essential that the Swedish resource base give their input to discussions and debates in global media on the importance of promoting an agriculture agenda in international development efforts and thus ensure enhanced investment on the ground.

For further reading on the increased focus on water in agriculture:

Project examples:

2013-12-19 Kristina Mastroianni | Tags: food security, agriculture, Niras, Kristina Mastroianni, irrigation, aid
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Kristina Mastroianni
Specialist in Sustainable Agriculture at NIRAS International Consulting


[News Stream] To Support Durable Emergency Recovery Assistance

Many natural disasters that involve calamities such as droughts, floods and earth quakes result in internationally supported recovery assistance. This is particularily true when the national efforts are unable to cope with the situation. Recovery activities that focus on food security, such as those currently found in Ethiopia, are mostly oriented and limited towards seed and tool distribution, potentially also topped up with some food assistance (The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies). While such support may be appropriate and can serve to support immidiate needs and short term recovery, it rarely addresses the root causes to the crisis. It is often only a matter of time until the same population face another crisis of similar nature.

It is imperative to understand the root causes to a crisis in order to provide appropriate support. And with the modern age of access to more and better information, emergency response operations have never been better equipped to target the real, identified root causes to a crisis and thus contribute to long-term, resilience building (World Disasters Report 2010). It is also vital for post-disaster responses to strengthen and support the survivors' own organizations.
However, reality looks different. The big donor’s funding is rarely sufficient in neither amount nor flexibility. Humanitarian emergency operations are often limited to immediate needs - they rarely stretch beyond a year - and they are unable to address the many drivers that are behind a particular crisis. As an example, in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, after the 2004 tsunami, with international aid under pressure to spend and to build, many buildings were put up, but when construction was finished and aid agencies withdrew, communities were left with no source of income, no social cohesion and little support for the future.  

If adequate time is spent to analyse and understand the root causes to e.g. a lack of food, in particular when it is related to droughts and climate change, improved land, water and nutrient management can be addressed. Water availability is key for a stable production and in turn also a prerequisite to encourage further investments in the production. But that requires farming systems that are water efficient, productive and resilient. To reduce the risk in farming is key to sucess.

Looking into the future, the funding time-frames to humanitarian emergencies must be extended. That will allow for a proper analysis of the root causes of a crisis and to take a broader, long-term problem solving approach to the crisis, as opposed to today’s short-term, sectorial and segmented response (Department of Cooperative Governance, RSA; UNICEF). There is also a need to coordinate inbetween the different donor organisations – there were at lest some 45 different organisations providing emergency assitance to the Horn of Africa crisis last year, many focusing on water-related support (The Nightly News, 26 September 2011). It is highly questionable if this is the most appropriate approach to address a complex, partly drought-driven crisis.

by Dr Patrick Fox


2012-03-12 Patrick Fox | Tags: News Stream, disaster, food security, resilience, crisis, Patrick Fox
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Dr Patrick Fox
Disaster unit,
Swedish Red Cross


[News Stream] Glossy Reports and Reality on Ground / Per Karlsson

At this time of year one can hardly write about anything water related without mentioning the World Water Week that has just ended in Stockholm. This year’s event saw the launch of two very interesting reports and one seminar on the nexus between water and agriculture. 

First out was the synthesis report ‘An Ecosystems Approach to Water and Food Security’ from UNEP and IWMI focuses on the linkages between ecosystems, water, and food production and that understanding of these linkages are essential to the health of all three. The report calls for a shift in the management of water from water for food to water for multifunctional agro-ecosystems, considering the whole ecosystem in order to achieve not only more crops per drop of water but rather more ecosystem services and products per drop. Then FAO which gave a sneak preview of their first global report (to be published later this year) on ‘The State of the World’s Land and Water Resources’ (SOLAW) which outlines the state of land and water resources for food production and threats to food security resulting from the scarcity and degradation of water resources. Lastly a seminar by UN-Water hosted a panel discussion as part of the preparation for the World Water Day in 2012 which is intended to draw the international attention on the relationships between water and food security.

While all these reports and talk might seem far from reality, for people living in Kenya like myself this is all too real. The importance of water for agricultural production is once again showing itself in eastern Africa. Horrific pictures and stories on TV and radio tell the tales of the suffering of some 12 million people on the eastern Horn of Africa, who in some areas are experiencing the worst drought in 60 years. Crops have failed, livestock are dying, and food prices are soaring. And yet this has not come as a surprise to anyone who is following the agricultural sector in Africa. The Horn of Africa probably has one of the most effective early warning systems to predict catastrophic events like this. But once again little attention was given to the escalating situation until starving children are broadcasted around the world. Prevention is always better than cure and much could have been done to avoid this situation. Even more disturbing is the fact that this part of the world is supposedly facing economic rather than physical water scarcity, caused by a lack of investment in water or a lack of human capacity to satisfy the demand for water.

What about the new glossy reports and the debates at World Water Weeks? Would these change the situation on the ground, would they save people from hunger? While providing excellent status and trends analysis and synthesize existing knowledge from various fields they constitute great background documents but hardly provide a new message. The need for integrated approaches and cross-sectoral collaboration is old knowledge. And the talk of the need for all sectors to appreciate all the services and products provided by the agro-ecosystem, not only food, and acknowledge that this  system is intrinsically connected to other ecosystems in the larger landscape is merely a rephrasing of the ecosystems approach. It is true though that by implementing the policy level recommendations is necessary this would not help the people of the Horn of Africa today. In other and perhaps more developed parts of the world such interventions are probably the most pertinent things to focus on but with countries like Somalia with a non- or at best dysfunctional government, a newly independent South Sudan, or a Kenya with not less than forty ministries more interested in petty turf wars than implementing the country’s development agenda, policy interventions, however necessary, is not a magical bullet providing an instant solution. What the small-scale subsistent farmers need are the many low-cost and simple technologies that have been around for along time. These such as rainwater harvesting, small-scale drip irrigation, and agroforestry to name a few must be rolled out on a grand scale in order to achieve significant impact on both food and water security for the majority of the world’s population.

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Agronom. Per Karlsson,
Program Design Officer, African Wildlife Foundation
Nairobi, Kenya