Could future wars be fought over water? “Fierce national competition over water resources has prompted fears that water issues contain the seeds of violent conflict,” warned Kofi Annan during his tenure as United Nations (UN) Secretary General. According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), in the next 20 years people worldwide will use over 40 percent more water than they do now. Whatever the political implications, overuse, pollution, inefficient infrastructure, and stresses caused by climate change are already bringing humankind’s fresh water supply to its limits.
Scarce water is in high demand in some parts of India. (Photo Credit: Bernard Pollack)
Few places face population pressures to the extent that India does. In May alone of 2009, in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, more than 50 incidences of violence over water were reported after an extended drought. The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) has been evaluating watershed development projects in different areas of India to determine which development strategies are more successful in improving water conservation, raising agricultural productivity, and reducing poverty amidst the country’s rapidly expanding population. By capturing scarce water resources and improving the management of soil and vegetation, policy makers in India are hoping that watershed development can improve much needed agricultural production in semi-arid areas.
A watershed is an area from which all water drains to a common point. But human boundaries rarely correspond to watershed boundaries, making watershed management a complicated endeavor. What’s more, differences in climate, geography, geology, and levels of use mean that management strategies vary dramatically among different watersheds. Even within a watershed, projects distribute costs unevenly. Upstream water users incur higher costs from watershed projects than downstream users, who reap more of the benefits.
Across India, availability of water resources among different river basins—an area from which all water drains into the same river—varies wildly. In the Brahmaputra basin 32 percent of the total water resources are still available, and 28 percent are available in the Ganga basin. In stark contrast, only 0.2 percent of the total water resources are still available in the Sabarmati basin. IFPRI has focused on development strategies specific for such areas where watershed conditions are difficult and infrastructure and support services have been neglected.
“While much has been written about watershed development,” says IFPRI, “there have been few efforts to systematically evaluate it. By doing so, [the researchers] contribute immensely to our understanding of the promise and challenges of watershed development.”
IFPRI’s research underscores the importance of supplementing hard data with qualitative information about the effects projects have on different interest groups—like farmers with and without irrigation, landless people, pastoralists, and women. By involving these different interest groups in a ‘participatory approach’ to watershed management, complex, locally specific factors that affect livelihoods can be incorporated into projects. Local factors often call for a flexible approach to unexpected situations. IFPRI’s studies have shown that participatory projects are more successful than technocratic, top-down projects. Projects that combine local participation with accurate technical input perform best of all in conserving natural resources and raising agricultural productivity.
IFPRI says that most of the projects they surveyed have had relatively little impact. Many watershed development projects do not work because those whose interests suffer refuse to support the effort. Wealthier landowners and industry, for example, generally oppose water use regulations. Watershed projects can even make things worse for women and landless people. Improving watershed management usually requires restricting access to the natural resource base on which the poorest people depend for their livelihoods.
For integrated watershed development to succeed on a large scale, projects will have to find a way to distribute the benefits from improved management equitably. By involving a broad base of watershed residents, projects can design optimal management strategies. As more and more water-stressed areas of the world are forced to stretch resources thin in the coming decades, residents will need to be diligent and co-operative stewards of the watersheds they depend on if they are going to coexist peacefully.
When children are malnourished, entire communities are threatened. Malnourishment, which is caused when there is an insufficient intake of the nutritious foods needed for one to grow and function normally, can stunt growth and cause developmental challenges. This means that malnourished children that survive into adulthood may be less productive members of their communities than they otherwise would be. It’s fitting, therefore, that Doctors without Borders /Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), is striving to combat childhood malnutrition by building awareness, one community at a time.
Doctors Without Borders’ “Starved for Attention,” hopes to expose the neglected and largely invisible crisis of childhood malnutrition. (Photo Credit: Bernard Pollack)
Through their, Starved for Attention multimedia campaign, the 39 year old international medical humanitarian organization is providing free action kits (including multimedia documentaries, background materials about malnutrition, outreach materials, a petition and fact sheets), to help activists organize their own awareness raising events, and inspire their communities to become part of the solution.
Although 195 million children around the world suffer from malnutrition every year — 90 percent of which live in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia —activists have struggled to draw sufficient international attention to the issue. “Starved for Attention,” strives to succeed where other awareness rising campaigns have failed, by rewriting the story of malnutrition through a series of documentaries that seamlessly blend photography from award-winning photojournalists, with poignant video footage.
While current food aid programs tend to focus on fighting hunger—not on treating malnutrition— this campaign highlights the importance of ensuring that children receive the vitamins and essential nutrients needed to ward off disease and grow into healthy adults. This is an extension of MSF’s long-standing commitment to the use of ready-to-use foods, which have been proven effective when treating life-threatening forms of malnutrition, in malnutrition hotspot, since the products first became available in the 1990s.
By capturing frontline stories of malnutrition from Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, India, Mexico, and the United States, Starved for Attention strives to end the deadly cycle of malnutrition, by giving millions of children the attention they desperately deserve.
To learn more about malnutrition, see: Bringing High-Quality Food Aid Closer to Home, The not-so-simple Peanut Solution, Innovation of the Week: Fighting Global Malnutrition Locally, and UN Pledges Support of African Food Security.
In the Maradi area in south central Niger, where 70 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, the months before the harvest are called “the hunger season.” From mid-July to mid-September, food supplies are at their lowest and most families only eat one meal a day.
Every week during the pre-harvest season, poor farmers receive cereal as a credit. At the end of the season, farmers can pay back the loan with their own crops with 25 percent interest—an interest rate that the villagers picked on their own. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)
Since the 1960’s, the entire Sahel region which includes Burkina Faso, Chad, Eritrea, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Sudan, has been experiencing increasingly extreme drought and hunger. The Maradi region has been hit especially hard and cereal harvests have dropped by nearly a third. Strained or empty grain reserves cause many families to sell tools, seeds, and livestock in order to raise money for food and the next planting. Farmers with nothing to sell are forced to work for others to earn an income. Some even leave their homes in search of work in other villages, leaving behind their wives and children to tend to the farm and home on their own.
But with the help of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), many women are taking local food security into their own hands. In response to the food crisis in the area in 2005 when severe locust attacks compounded with drought to put 3.5 million people in the Sahel at risk of starvation, IFAD’sProject for the Promotion of Local Initiative for Development in Aguie helped to create a new kind of bank, run entirely by women, that dispenses loans in the form of cereal instead of money.
Called the soudure bank, or pre-harvest bank, IFAD’s project is based on exchange. Every week during the pre-harvest season, poor farmers receive cereal as a credit. At the end of the season, farmers can pay back the loan with their own crops with 25 percent interest—an interest rate that the villagers picked on their own.
The banks have already made a huge difference. Today there are 168 soudure banks throughout Niger, managed by over 50,000 women and storing over 2,800 tons of millet—enough to feed 350,000 people for at least a month. During the 2008 global food price crisis, when 90 percent of the population living in Niger was at risk for starvation, villages with a soudure bank were able to sustain themselves through the harshest period of the year.
One bank client, Rabia Ada, quoted on the project page, says that “from the bank I had 56 kilograms of millet that helped us cope for one month and gave us something to eat other than just leafy vegetables.” Adds another client, Nana Ayouba , “if we didn’t have the banks, our alternative strategies would have been to borrow from our neighbors or to send the men away in search of jobs.”
And the banks help to empower women who are otherwise left out of community-wide organizations and decision making. In their new roles as bank managers, with the support of their husbands, women can now play an integral role in improving local food security, diets, and livelihoods.
For a majority of the world’s smallscale farmers who live in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, rice is a major source of calories and the single largest source of income. But, the crop’s large environmental footprint creates numerous challenges.
SRI methods help strengthen food security, improve farmers’ adaptability to climate change and ensure environmental sustainability. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)
Over 90 percent of the world’s rice is harvested from irrigated or rainfed lowland rice fields. In these systems, fields are kept covered with water throughout the growing season, putting a strain on scarce and costly resources. Furthermore, anaerobic microbes, found in soils that are deprived of oxygen due to continuous flooding, produce methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. And, chemical fertilizers and pesticides can cause soil and water pollution.
As the global demand for rice increases, finding ways to grow more rice while preventing environmental degradation and reducing reliance on water will be essential to helping ensure food security. Farmers in many parts of the world are taking the initiative to find innovative solutions to ease these challenges.
One such innovation is the System of Rice Intensification (SRI), which was developed during the 1980s by a French priest in Madagascar, Father Henri de Laulanie, who spent 20 years learning about rice-growing practices from local farmers.
A report entitled “More rice for people, more water for the planet,” published by Africare, Oxfam and theWorld Wildlife Fund (WWF) in August 2010, highlights the successes of SRI practices in Mali, Vietnam and India. SRI is a set of low-cost crop management techniques, which promote community-led agricultural growth, while reducing and even reversing the effects of climate change. Today, SRI is practiced in over 40 countries worldwide.
SRI differs from rainfed traditional/conventional rice systems in the following ways:
- Timing: Younger seedlings are transplanted when they are only 8-12 days old, as opposed to 21-40 days old.
- Spacing: Rather than 3-4 seedlings, only 1-2 seedlings are plated per hill to prevent resource competition.
- Water Management: Instead of continuously flooding paddy fields, SRI methods use smaller quantities of water with alternate wetting and dying during the growing cycle.
- Fertilization and pest control: SRI techniques promote the use of organic fertilizers and Integrated Pest Management practices.
Rather than a strict “recipe,” SRI methods present a “menu” of different practices that farmers can adapt to suit local conditions and cropping systems. In Mali, for example, Africare is working with local farmers to apply SRI methods to traditional varieties like African rice.
According to the report, SRI increases the productivity of resources used in rice cultivation by reducing requirements for water, synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. While SRI is largely driven by civil society efforts, it is also being embraced by local and international NGOs, and being endorsed by national food security programs in India, China, Cambodia, Vietnam and Indonesia.
In Tamil Nadu, a state in South India, farmers have applied SRI practices to over 600,000 hectares of land, where they now use 40 percent less water. In 2009, despite an erratic monsoon season, SRI techniques helped raise the average yield per hectare from 3.5 tons to 6 to 9 tons.
And in Vietnam, SRI methods are helping farmers to protect their crops against extreme weather. After a typhoon hit a village in Phu Tho province, farmers found that the strong winds severely lodged non-SRI crops, while crops using SRI practices were not blown over.
Such innovations can be a win-win-win opportunity: they help strengthen food security, improve farmers’ adaptability to climate change and ensure environmental sustainability.
Nourishing the Planet’s most recent oped is featured in one of Senegal’s largest circulating newspapers, Le Soleil. The French article discusses the work of the local organizations we’ve met with in Senegal, such as ActionAid Senegal, Mangeons Local (Eat Locally) and the Africa Rice Center and how their innovations are working to alleviate global hunger and poverty.