Need to be innovative if you don’t want a dry future….

We all know how critical water is for our survival and for the survival of our planet. For poor rural people water is a an extremely precious resource that has also been the cause of civil unrest and conflict.

As you dig into just a few UN water statistics
  • 780 million people do not have access to water (equivalent to 2 ½ times the population of the USA),
  • women spend a total of 200 million hours a day to collect water (enough to build 28 Empire State Buildings every day),
  • by 2050 there will be 9 billion people to feed which means we will need 60% more food and 19% more agricultural water will be used up,

it comes to no surprise that there is great concern about the world’s food and water security.

Given the increased need that there will be for more food and water, worsened by the effects of climate change, we undoubtedly have to be innovative about how efficiently we use the water we have combined with good agricultural practices and good policies.
In IFAD we manage a large water portfolio with about two-thirds of our projects dealing with community-based natural resource management and about half involving water resource management as well as supporting innovative research programme in water for poor rural people.

Given the common concerns we share on water and food security and about poor rural people, Dr. Madramootoo (see bio), Dean of the Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences at McGill University spent one day with IFAD staff to share his experiences, including with President Nwanze who was awarded an doctorate of science, honoris causa at McGill University in June 2012.
During his visit, Dr Madramootoo presented many innovations in water management for smallholder farmers in semi-arid regions and discussed with staff how we can join forces to share knowledge and put research to work on the ground.
In his presentation Dr Madramootoo confirmed that the harsh conditions of farmers in semi-arid regions will be exacerbated by the impact of climate change with temperatures increasing by +5 degrees C by 2050 and the unpredictability of weather patterns disrupting agricultural practices. In fact, any development initiative addressing water and agriculture will have to factor in the impact of climate change.
Dr Madramootoo advised that to improve water security, greater investments are needed to increase water storage, improve on-farm water management, develop/apply innovative technologies, and develop better information and knowledge systems. All these efforts will require strong partnerships - no one will be able to do it alone. And the biggest leap will come from the private sector.
For example, partnerships could be developed with Google and Microsoft - that are looking to invest in these opportunities - to collect, store, analyse and treat large volumes of data for soil and water management.
Dr Madramootoo also presented many areas that have been neglected and that ripe for exploration through small business ventures to improve water security, such as:
  • Soil nutrient assessments
  • Risk assessment to advice governments on how to invest in water initiatives
  • Linkages to carbon storage
  • Piggy backing on the water and sanitation sector as a driver in irrigation development and put in reality an integrated water management
  • Bio- prospecting to determine from indigenous fungi what are the mycorrhizae that can be extracted locally and put in plant roots to extract nutrients and hold onto water in difficult soil conditions – a fascinating approach that uses ancient indigenous knowledge
  • Biochar
  • Conservation agriculture
  • Fertilizer technology
The research that has been validated by McGill University is of interest to IFAD’s beneficiaries and Dr Madramootoo met with technical staff of the Policy and Technical Advisory Division (PTA) and of the Environment and Climate Division (ECD) in the afternoon to explore areas for future collaboration.

Following these constructive knowledge exchange sessions, it was agreed that a Concept Note will be put together on how the two organizations could work together. One area identified was with the ECD in the area of Climate Change and in effectively designing “climate smart” approaches – especially through the Adaptation for Smallholder Agriculture Programme (ASAP) that channels climate finance to smallholder farmers to increase their resilience. The other was with the Policy and Technical Advisory Division on knowledge management related to water resources in particular. Partners at McGill University could be not only support the validation of PTA’s “How to” knowledge products but could also work with partners in the field for dissemination of the products and putting good practices and lessons into practice.
The message of the World Day to Combat Desertification 2013 (17 June) “don’t let our future dry up” characterizes the day spent with Dr Madramootoo in recognizing that we are all responsible for water and land conservation and that there are possible solutions to these critical issues and we can put these solutions into practice by working together.