Growing More with Less: Feed the Future and Water

March 22, 2013
Fintrac Inc.

You’ve probably heard us say this before: To meet a growing demand for food from a growing population, we need to increase agricultural productivity by up to 60 percent by 2050. A growing population also means more demand for water.

Water to grow and raise food. Water to drink. Water for sanitation. Water for energy. Water, water and more water.

To meet the need of growing more food with limited resources, including water, Feed the Future employs an approach that is both climate-smart and sustainable. Here are a few ways we’re incorporating water management into agricultural development.

Cooperation on water usage

What do Tajikistan and Tanzania have in common? Farmers in both countries, respectively, are cooperating with one another to share water for irrigation and manage it well. In Tajikistan, Feed the Future has helped opened water users’ associations, developed through open and participatory processes involving small-scale and commercial farmers, community leaders, and government officials. These groups, which provide equitable access to irrigation, also collect irrigation fees. In Tajikistan, a water users’ association in Qubodiyon rehabilitated an irrigation system that had fallen into disrepair, providing greater, reliable access for members to quality water for growing food.

In Tanzania, the 954 members of a water users’ association in Dakawa have worked together to keep  irrigation technology working at the pump station they share. Feed the Future is helping them rehabilitate the pump station with updated technology, helping reduce the amount of labor needed to pump water.

Access to irrigation

Sometimes, farmers don’t have access to a reliable water source to grow their crops. Feed the Future helps smallholder farmers gain access while coaching them on sound water management practices that are meant to conserve the natural resource and balance its use. In Haiti, Feed the Future has helped rehabilitate a deteriorated irrigation system, which is not only helping restore the local water source but the surrounding land as well, which had become arid and increasingly unfit for farming. Farmers in key areas now have a reliable source of water to help grow food to feed their families and sell at markets.

Addressing climate change

Feed the Future works in concert with the Global Climate Change Initiative to develop strategies and undertake research to help food producers both reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to the challenges  of climate change. As water levels started rising in Cambodia during seasonal flooding, a Cambodian fish farmer was able to save her pond with the help of climate change adaption techniques taught by Feed the Future. She’s now sharing the techniques she learned with her neighbors who lost their ponds during the floods.

Insuring farmers against drought

Weather-related risks—including drought and flooding—are critical concerns for farmers, especially smallholders. Sporadic rainfall, higher temperatures, and drought can devastate crop and livestock farmers. To help farmers manage the risks of drought and adapt to climate change, which may make these weather events more frequent and worse, we’re working with the Global Climate Change Initiative to support innovative insurance approaches to help smallholder farmers. Drought-index insurance, which compensates farmers for crop losses due to shortfall of rain, is helping reduce the financial risk smallholder farmers in Ghana face when weather causes crop failure.

Water for food, water for health

Besides needing water to grow food, humans also need water for sanitation and health. While issues of water and sanitation are often looked at in isolation, they are directly tied to issues of food security, global health and climate change. We’re aligning agriculture and nutrition investments to maximize our impact on food security and health, and our programs also help improve access to water and sanitation and health systems. Read more.

Growing more with less

Our research strategy promotes a model for agriculture-led economic growth called sustainable intensification. Simply put, this model applies a mix of technologies and practices to increase agricultural productivity and minimize environmental impacts. As part of this model, we’re investing in research to develop crops that are more tolerant to disease, heat, drought and salinity. In some cases, these crop varieties use less water too. In Senegal, Feed the Future is building on the success of a pilot program that provided smallholder farmers in lowland areas, predominantly women, with a variety of rice that doesn’t require irrigation, which often isn’t available in lowland areas. Instead, farmers are able to grow more rice using rainfall as a water source. 

Smarter farming to conserve water

Conservation agriculture is literally the practice of growing more with less. Farmers till and plant only a portion of their land each season, growing crops in small, evenly-spaced basins rather than plowing entire fields. This minimally disturbs the soil, helping it retain water and nutrients. By using conservation agriculture techniques taught by Feed the Future, farmers in Senegal are increasing production despite less rainfall.


For more, read our climate fact sheet.

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