A month after our 3rd International Forum on Water and Food, what sticks in my mind? It was an intense week, rich in encounters, sparkling debates and a blossom of new ideas. Our Forum’s Policy and Impact Panel helped us better understand who we are, what we do, and how we impact and engage different stakeholders. I would like to share my post-Forum reflections on those questions.
Who we are
During this Forum, there were frequent debates about what exactly research-for-development meant, some wondering if this was not too uncomfortable a position, at the boundary between research—our driving principle–and development—the goal we want to contribute to. While sitting on this fence might make us uncomfortable, I think this Forum clearly demonstrated that we are a research-for-people program, working with and for the poor and vulnerable in the basins where we operate.
As reminded by Johan Rockstrom’s video presentation, our challenge is that we live in a world that is far more uncertain than the one where we grew up in. Moreover, we are far more interconnected than before. It is no longer a matter of ‘us’ (researchers, development professionals) and “them” (those we help), but a collective “we”.
What we do
Throughout the Forum, participants demonstrated cutting-edge, interdisciplinary research. Believe me, even though we only had four days, we went further than the two previous Fora! It is now clear that our research in basins, focused on targeting a particular development challenge, is a winning strategy. It provides answers that are expected by our partners and those who use our research. Another happy surprise to me was to see that most projects have engaged in the challenging cross-basin experience of contributing to Topic Working Groups. And all this despite limited funding and cash flow difficulties during 2011, which now seem behind us!
A major advance is the way we are developing a niche in benefit-sharing for many of our basins, moving far beyond resource sharing and trade-offs. Indeed, our research-for-people mandate requires exploring win-win solutions.
Of course, this Forum also pointed to what we should do better in our research. We learned that enabling change has to deal with peoples’ emotions: their fears and hopes. This should be essential to consider when designing solutions that enable change for people. We also heard that livelihoods and equity are key elements if we want to keep our research relevant for people! And we know from our own experiences that this makes our job more complex, because it often requires considering individual households.
How we impact and engage with policy makers and developers
The echo this Forum, and our recent publications, have had in the news, along with the messages from our Policy and Impact Panel, have reminded us that the development challenges we explore in our basins are – and our program de facto, is – at the centre of a major global debate on water and food security. The solutions we are developing are highly anticipated.
Policy-makers have already engaged with us on this debate. Beyond this, we are participating in a number of global events:
- We organized a learning event for Agriculture and Rural Development Day at CoP17 in Durban, South Africa.
- We are co-organizing with EDF (Electricité de France) a high-level ministerial panel on the water-food-energy nexus to be held during the 6th World Water Forum in Marseilles next March.
- We will co-convene a workshop on food security and water at Stockholm World Water Week next August.
My last word will be to extend my great appreciation to all those who contributed to make this Forum a success, especially the Forum Organizing Committee! We all returned from South Africa with energy and food for thought, and I am certain this will enliven the work we do in our basins in the year to come.
Alain Vidal, CPWF Director