Several key members of the Challenge Program on Water and Food (CPWF) community, among them the Management Team and Basin Leaders, met in February for a few days of quiet reflection. One of the topics discussed was related to our “global messages” (see box): what did we, as the CPWF, wish to say to the world, based on our diverse experiences in research-for-development? Building on recent research findings and on-going correspondence, the group agreed on the following:
Despite challenges in many river basins, overall the planet has enough water to meet the full range of peoples’ and ecosystems’ needs for the foreseeable future, but equity will only be achieved through judicious and creative management.
- Wise use of our water resources for strengthening (rural) livelihoods and ecosystem services requires simultaneously using it more productively and sharing water and its benefits more equitably.
- Higher water productivity and greater social equity can be obtained only through a radical in change of policies and institutional arrangements in both developed and developing nations.
- The CPWF R4D strategy identified and promotes the policy, institutional and technological innovations required in developing countries for people to increase water productivity and ecosystem services in an equitable and sustainable manner.
The first statement is based upon a decade of CPWF research. The two messages that follow are interlinked strategies that present a roadmap for enabling this ‘judicious and creative management’. The last message provides an outline of the way CPWF operates; it is a research-for-development model that we stand behind.
On the surface, some of these messages may seem surprising. Do we mean that there is no water crisis? We are very much aware that in many areas, women need to walk for hours simply to carry water for home use; that overuse of groundwater and over-allocation of surface water is becoming more common; and that growing cities need more water, just as more water is needed to grow more food.
But we are also aware that the lack of water infrastructure is often more of a problem than a lack of water as such; that city water can be recycled and most of it is not actually depleted; and that typically – even in very dry river basins – agriculture counts for only a small proportion of rainfall or actual evapotranspiration.
Our experience shows us that a focus on water productivity – more “crop per drop” – is not enough. In almost all cases, technical change to improve land and water use is inextricably linked to institutional change and, by means of this, to water governance and power relationships. Community adoption of conservation agriculture may require that the community also self-enforce a “no-burning” policy for crop residues. Water available for downstream community use may depend on how upstream communities manage land and water – and upstream/downstream negotiations can lead to strategies that benefit both sides. The examples are limitless.
But changes in land and water management in landscapes have all sorts of consequences – for ecosystem services, for gender equity, for water availability, for water quality – and all of a sudden you are dealing with many groups (even multiple ministries or agencies from the same government), all with a big stake in the outcome, many of them willing to help find the answers. Consequently, solutions to land and water management must incorporate multi-stakeholder, multi-scale, research-for-development approaches that integrate technologies and institutions and engage with decision-makers at multiple levels. In fact, this is the kind of approach that has evolved under CPWF auspices.