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Farm System Intensification, Diversification and Water


Success in intensification or diversification frequently depend on reliable availability of and access to the right quality of water at the right time. Availability and access, in turn, depend on investments in water infrastructure and decisions on water allocation.





CPWF projects aimed to improve livelihoods and reduce poverty. We found that one way to do so was by intensifying and diversifying farm systems.  “Intensify” means raising yields or increasing the number of enterprises per year on the same land (where “enterprises” include crop, livestock, aquaculture or forestry activities.) “Diversify” means introducing a greater variety of enterprises – for example high value crops – into the farm system.

Intensification and diversification were usually stimulated by market opportunities transmitted through value chains. Farmers responded to such opportunities when it was in their interest to do so – and when they were aware of them. On some occasions, intensification or diversification were not market driven but helped improve household food security.

Water problems, however, can ruin farmers’ plans. Success in intensification or diversification frequently depended on reliable availability of and access to the right quality of water at the right time. Availability and access, in turn, depended on investments in water infrastructure and decisions on water allocation. Sometimes these decisions were made by farmers but other times they were made by people over whom farmers had little or no influence.

Intensification and diversification were tied to institutional as well as technical innovations on crop, and land and water management. Technical and institutional innovation often went hand in hand.


Intensification and diversification were featured in all basin programs. They were also featured in numerous theme-specific research projects.

The Ganges team found many opportunities for intensification and diversification of farm systems in salt-affected coastal areas of Bangladesh. They found ways for farmers to go from one low-yield rice crop to two or three high-yield rice and non-rice crops per year. The key lay in improved water control, allowing drainage before harvest and irrigation for the following crop. Achieving improved water control, however, meant improving community water management and modifying rural infrastructure at the micro-catchment level. Modification of rural infrastructure depended on better coordination among mandated government institutions. Another project in the Ganges found that changing the policy for pumping permits allowed smallholders in West Bengal to use groundwater to irrigate and intensify their cropping systems.

For some smallholders in the Limpopo, intensification took an unusual twist. The introduction of auction sites for goats increased competition among buyers, resulting in a price premium for high quality animals. This provided an incentive to farmers to improve animal quality. To do so, farmers needed more dry season fodder, which in turn depended on required modifications in dry season water management. Another project in the Limpopo showed that water systems designed for single-use (domestic consumption) can be managed for multiple uses, for example, to produce high-value vegetables in the off-season.

In the Volta, small reservoirs were found to be central to intensification and diversification strategies. Water from small reservoirs allows production of high value crops but also increases the incidence of waterborne diseases. Reservoirs were found to directly or indirectly provide employment opportunities and create de facto markets for commodities produced in and around the small reservoir. People living near small reservoirs are less likely to out-migrate.

In the Andes, teams worked on benefit sharing mechanisms – institutional arrangements whereby downstream water users pool resources and use them to invest in improved upstream land and water management. To make this attractive to upstream populations, investment sometimes took the form of incentives for intensification, for example in conservation agriculture or improved pasture.

CPWF carried out projects on intensification and diversification that featured grains, vegetables and trees, livestock, and fisheries and aquaculture.

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Integration of economic and hydrologic models: Exploring conjunctive irrigation water use strategies in the Volta Basin (Journal article)

This paper describes the development, calibration and preliminary application of a dynamically coupled economic–hydrologic simulation–optimization model ensemble for evaluating the conjunctive use of surface and groundwater in small reservoir-based irrigation systems characteristic of the Volta Basin, Africa.

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Promoting Goat Markets and Technology Development in Semi-Arid Zimbabwe for Food Security and Income Growth (Journal article)

Improved market access can provide farmers with the incentive to invest in management technologies to enhance offtake and increase the quality of their goats. Innovation Platforms, forums that facilitate communication between farmers, market players, input and service suppliers around local production and marketing systems, were established in two locations in Zimbabwe

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Best bets technologies for improving agricultural water management and system intensification in Ethiopia (Brief)

This paper first deals with the various technologies used with respect to agricultural water management, and provide description of suits of technologies that are common for agricultural water management (AWM) in Ethiopia. Secondly, it evaluates the poverty impact of the various technologies based on extensive data that are collected from 1,500 households that are currently practicing these technologies in four major regions of Ethiopia.

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Climbing the Water Ladder: Multiple-Use Water Services for Poverty Reduction (Book)

This book outlines the outcome of action research undertaken over a period of five years in 30 study areas in eight countries under the CPWF project ‘Models for implementing multiple-use water supply systems for enhanced land and water productivity, rural livelihoods and gender equity’. It provides a detailed overview of the rationale and background for the project, as well as the activities undertaken.

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Options for water storage and rainwater harvesting to improve health and resilience against climate change in Africa (Journal article)

In West and East Africa, water harvesting and storage can mitigate the adverse effects of rainfall variability. But past studies have shown that when investments in water storage are not guided by environmental health considerations, the increased availability of open water surface may increase the transmission of water-related diseases.

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Cracking the Productivity Code

There is huge potential for increasing cropping system productivity in the coastal zone of Bangladesh. CPWF trials have shown that use of high yielding aman varieties coupled with good management can double yield, provided that water is managed to avoid stagnant flooding because HYVs are less tolerant to such flooding than traditional varieties.

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The Goats that Save Water: Linking Water, Food Security and Poverty Reduction

A diverse and active innovation platform has created a strong local market for goats, helping raise the value of one goat from US$10 to $60. The increased value serves as an incentive for farmers to invest in the survival of their goats, by growing their own stock feed, purchasing commercial stock feed and improving rangeland management.

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Unlocking the Potential of Coastal Bangladesh

One Ganges project is examining opportunities for upscaling new rice cropping systems to the 139 polders of the coastal zone. Through the development of extrapolation domains, the project has produced comprehensive maps that detail what types of cropping systems have the most potential for success in what areas of the coastal zone, both now and in the future.

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The Impact of Climate Variability and Climate Change on Water and Food Outcomes: A Framework for Analysis (Technical brief)

With water scarcity and extreme weather events expected to increase under climate change, water security could decline significantly in rural areas. Consequently, it is important to understand the impacts of global change (in terms of climate, demography, technology, and so on) on agriculture and natural resources in developing countries and to develop adaptive capacity to respond to these impacts.

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The Small Reservoirs Toolkit

This toolkit provides information on approximately 30 tools and techniques presented in four topic areas: i) Intervention Planning; ii) Storage and Hydrology; iii) Ecosystems and Health; iv) Institutions and Economics. This tool kit is intended for the use of NGOs, research institutes, universities, donor agencies, multilateral organizations, and government agencies.

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FEAST Tool Helps Local Innovation Platforms identify feed intervention options in Ethiopia

The Feed Assessment Tool is a systematic method to assess local feed resource availability and use. It helps in the design of intervention strategies aiming to optimize feed utilization and animal production.

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Taking a multiple use approach to meeting the water needs of poor communities brings multiple benefits (Policy brief)

A more integrated, multiple-use approach can maximize the health benefits and productive potential of available water supplies–leading to increased incomes, improved health and reduced workloads for women and children. Systems that cater to multiple uses are also more likely to be sustainable, because users benefit more from them, have a greater stake in them, and are more willing and better able to pay for them.

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  • Harrington, L., and M. Van Brakel. 2014 (in press). "Innovating in a Dynamic Technical Context." In Water Scarcity, Livelihoods and Food Security: Research and Innovation for Development, edited by L. Harrington and M. Fisher. Earthscan.
  • Humphreys, E. 2013. Project Ganges 2: Productive, profitable and resilient agriculture and aquaculture systems. In CPWF Project Closure Reports. Unpublished.
  • Mikhail, M., and R. Yoder. 2008. Multiple Use Water Service Implementation in Nepal and India: Experience and Lessons for Scale-Up: International Development Enterprises, Challenge Program on Water and Food, and International Water Management Institute.
  • Mondal, M. 2011. Improving drainage is crucial for cropping system intensification in the poldered coastal zones of Bangladesh. In Proceedings of the 3rd CPWF International Forum on Water and Food (IFWF3) 14-17 November 2011,Tshwane, South Africa: CGIAR Challenge Program on Water and Food.
  • Mukherji, A., Tushaar Shah, and P.S. Bannarjee. 2012. "Kick-starting a second Green Revolution in Bengal." Economic & Political Weekly no. Vol XLVII (No 18):27-30.
  • Quintero, M, F Leon, J Tapasco, and Y Puemape. 2011. An ecosystem services oriented benefits sharing mechanism (BSM) in the Andes: The Canete watershed case study. In Proceedings of the 3rd CPWF International Forum on Water and Food (IFWF3) 14-17 November 2011,Tshwane, South Africa: CGIAR Challenge Program on Water and Food.
  • van Rooyen, A., and S. Homann-Kee Tui. 2009. "Promoting goat markets and technology development in semi-arid Zimbabwe for food security and income growth." Tropical and Subtropical Agroecosystems no. 11:1-5.