News.Dec 08, 2023

Effective water management for sustainable food systems

Brown woman with a smile, multicolour scarf over an off white sweater
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Radhika Gupta
Communications Manager,

December 10 is water, food and agriculture day at COP 28. The day must highlight investment models that pivot on the linkages between food and water. Such initiatives can go a long way in creating sustainable income for small holder farmers, while ensuring food security and positive impact on climate change.

Close up of a spoon lying on a dry, dirt ground, with dirt in it
Photo: Black Salmon / Shutterstock

The water crisis, exacerbated by climate change, dictates how food systems behave. Increase in sea levels is eating up land in the world’s delta regions. Torrential rainfall is washing soil off mountains and inducing landslides, making already scarce land difficult for farming. Change in rainfall patterns is shifting crop patterns in the plains.

Add to this mix, unsustainable policies that adversely impact water use to reinforce climate change: current food systems across the world are not prepared to fight the water crisis and sustain unforeseeable blows.

Who can fix it?

Several initiatives are now considering the linkages between water and food. For example, to create domestic and global demand and provide nutritional food, the Indian government proposed to the United Nations for declaring 2023 as International Year of Millets. This was supported by 72 countries.

Millets are highly nutritious small grains which are climate resilient and require very little water compared to rice or wheat.

Several other food and agriculture subsidies control what farmers grow, which often do not align with their needs. Small holder farmers are the frontline water managers but are “doing it without help.” Farmers are left with little to no choice but to adapt to the changing climate, that industrialized countries have induced through 150 years of emissions.

NGOs that are tirelessly working to support smallholder farmers often run out of funding. “They are grant dependent. When the grant period stops, the projects stop,” says SIWI’s Director of Africa Regional Centre, Anton Earle. Earle and his team are collaborating with NGOs in the Zambezi region to develop sustainable finance models.

There is no one body that can ‘fix’ our climate, water or food crisis. Increased collaboration and learning among relevant actors can improve water governance, and eventually ensure wider and equitable food security.

In Africa, effective water management can strengthen food security, mitigate climate change, and also positively boost Africa’s economy.

95% of Africa’s food production is rainfed, yet it receives very little attention. SIWI’s Transforming Investments in African Rainfed Agriculture (TIARA) project is making the business case to attract finance towards the rainfed agriculture sector.

TIARA is working closely with the Zambezi Watercourse Commission, to influence policies that attract finance in the right places to support rainfed agriculture.

Small investment big return

From the public to the private sector, TIARA is demonstrating how to “invest small and get higher and long-lasting returns,” says Lydie Menouer, Partnerships and Financing Advisor to TIARA.

According to Menouer, incentive-based models can create a win-win situation for farmers, water conservation and sustainable land management. One such mechanism is ‘Payments for Ecosystem Services’: an incentive-based model where farmers and local communities play the role of service providers and in return receive remuneration from governments or other parties in agreement.

“When farmers are trained to effectively manage rainwater, we can attract the right level of funding,” says Earle.

Incentive based models can thus greatly contribute to poverty alleviation and achieving food security.

Follow SIWI to COP28

Join SIWI in a range of events, onsite and online, as we highlight water’s role in effectively addressing climate change. We are also the leading organizer of the Water for Climate Pavilion, where much of the water-related events will take place.

More about SIWI at COP28
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