Home > Blogs > Director's Blog > World Water Day Message: Integrated thinking to address water and food security challenges

World Water Day (WWD) comes right after the High Level Panel on Water, Food and Energy Nexus (WFE) we co-convened at the 6th World Water Forum in Marseilles, France.  This year’s WWD highlights food security.

The WFE nexus is an approach to balance development priorities in a more integrated manner. The approach supports a transition to sustainability, by reducing trade-offs and generating additional benefits that outweigh the transaction costs associated with stronger integration across sectors. The nexus approach looks to improve access to water resources by different users and promote an ecosystems approach.

One of the biggest outcomes of the meeting was the a partnership between EDF, Wetlands International and the CGIAR Challenge Program on Water and Food to develop a working group on Sustainable Hydropower using the WFE nexus principles.

On this World Water Day, I would like to highlight some emerging examples of successful WFE Nexus collaboration and their importance to food security and water challenges.

Today we face a complex series of challenges to address food security concerns, such as: how to produce more food on less land with less water, ensure everyone’s’ right to access water and food, and provide rural people with resources and opportunities to live on a healthy life.

The WFE Nexus Panel highlighted many issues related to food security that have strong parallels to the emerging CPWF key messages, which are based CPWF research and experiences.

Two case studies presented at the Panel demonstrated the importance of increasing productivity for livelihoods development. The work by Jain Irrigation in India highlighted breakthroughs in micro-irrigation technologies, utilizing drip and sprinkler irrigation methods. Unlike conventional flood irrigation, in this method water is supplied intermittently using a pipe network, emitters and nozzles. Thus, conveyance and distribution losses are reduced, creating greater efficiencies of water usage. Minimizing water use also reduces energy used for pumping groundwater.

The case study from Wetlands International on the Inner Delta of Niger River in Mali demonstrated the important role wetlands play in food security and poverty eradication efforts. The large annual variation in the river flow impacts the production of food and in the last few decades, famine years have occurred with greater frequency. More hydroelectric and irrigation projects have been developed in response to this challenge. As a consequence, however, the competition for water resources has intensified and ecosystem services have been degraded or lost entirely, resulting in reduced food security downstream in the Inner Niger Delta. It has therefore become increasingly important to clarify the trade-offs and inter-linkages between different sector objectives and their seasonal water demands.

The case study I presented from the Machángara River Basin (Ecuador) in the Andes demonstrated that sharing of benefits between different users of water can improve livelihoods of both urban and rural. Despite absence of a legal framework, a private hydropower company and the public water company of the city of Cuenca jointly set up a River Basin Council to invest in conservation activities that would benefit upstream communities and in turn, benefit downstream urban communities with improved waterflows.  The program focused on improving the quality of life of the rural families living in the middle and lower parts of the basin as a strategy to avoid the expansion of agricultural areas to the upper parts of the water-producing basin. Presently, 1,400 families are involved, all of whom have successfully implemented agroforestry practices and conservation of resources.

As Rodney Cook from the International Fund For Agriculture Development commented, “we can only move ahead if farmers have access to land and water and access to markets so they look after their land and can create a virtuous circle”.

On behalf of CPWF and all our partners, I would like to wish everyone a happy World Water Day. Now operating in the new framework of the CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems, we will keep tackling these challenges in an integrated way that helps creating a balance between the different uses of water and equitable access to water resources.


Alain Vidal