Knowledge for Development

Feature articles

Improving Livestock Water Productivity: Lessons from the Nile River Basin

In this new lead article, Don Peden, highlights key research findings from a project in the Nile River Basin and explains how the results can improve understanding of livestock water productivity (LWP), and build policy that takes into account this new knowledge. The results are drawn primarily from the CGIAR Comprehensive Assessment of Water Management in Agriculture and Challenge Program on Water and Food. LWP takes an interdisciplinary agro-ecosystems approach to achieve more effective, sustainable and productive use of agricultural water for animal production. It calls for better feed sourcing and management, adoption of best-bet animal production technology, and improved water conservation. LWP is a scale-dependent concept: the elements of the hydrological cycle are studied within a specific spatiotemporal window. It represents the ratio of the total value of goods and services derived from domestic animals to the amount of water depleted as a cost of livestock-keeping.According to Peden, there are basic LWP-enhancing strategies. These include, feed sourcing and management strategies that require the use of feeds with a low water cost of production such as using crop residues which need no additional water. Another is the use of water-conserving strategies which shift evaporation to transpiration, for example by reducing overgazing and improving pasture management. Strategically allocating spatial and temporal distributions of livestock, drinking water and feed resources which also allow for sustainability in animal production, should also be considered.  Achieving LWP requires a better understanding of the local situation, and access to and an appropriate mix of technology, training and education, community participation, investment, marketing opportunities and coherent governance.


Using less water in crop production systems: Targeting irrigation efficiency gains using a multi-pronged approach

Irrigation is responsible for about 70-80% of freshwater depletion in most developing countries. According to Lankford's article, worldwide, agriculture evapotranspires approximately 20-25 km3 of water per day and the 270-300 million hectare irrigated component of this evaporates about 6-9 km3 of water per day. Rain fed cropping consumes soil water and the range of measures available to manage soil water depletion is limited compared to that for irrigated cropping. As such, agricultural productivity can be boosted by using water more efficiently. Irrigation is believed to 'waste' significant amounts of water; worldwide, irrigation is about 40% efficient. It appears that effective efficiency can be increased by 10-20% (and more) by adopting new technologies or adapting existing practices from water-short farmers. A multi-pronged systems approach is recommended for delivering substantial and verifiable reductions in water consumption over large areas of irrigated lands. Lankford explains that improving irrigation performance involves simultaneous consideration of technological, social and economic points of view. The aim is to achieve this at a reasonable cost using technologies and ideas appropriate for, or already practiced by, irrigators with support from external engineers. Key dimensions of a broader approach include; (a) understanding the need for diverse solutions and assessing diversity and spectrum of irrigation types; (b) mixing and merging local and expert knowledge; (c) capping withdrawals and agreeing the purpose and destination that 'saved' water volumes are reserved for; and (d) comprehensively measuring water use efficiency and monitoring water flows.


Sustainable Intensification and Conservation Agriculture

Amir Kassam in his lead article argues that the no-till farming system involving soil cover and crop diversification, known as Conservation Agriculture (CA), is fundamentally changing farming practices and management of the land resource base, the landscape and the environment. As a proponent of this approach, Kassam notes that CA enhances ecosystem services and resilience, and offers additional economic and environmental benefits that are difficult or impossible to mobilize with conventional tillage agriculture. In his view, CA fits within the sustainable intensification paradigm which when defined in its broadest sense, encompasses production and ecological dimensions, the biological products produced and utilized by consumers and with minimum food waste, as well as the human and economic dimensions of socio-cultural aspirations, organizations and social equity and economic growth.According to Kassam, CA is not intensification in the classical sense of greater use of inputs but rather the intensification of knowledge, skills and management practices and the complementary judicious use of other inputs. He sees the new challenge for science and policy in the 21st Century as being able to produce more from less and with minimum damage and to rehabilitate degraded and or abandoned lands while conserving and optimizing the use of the remaining water and biodiversity resources. CA is now being practiced on 125 million hectares (about 9% of cropland) across all continents, and approximately 50% lies in the developing countries, including in African countries, namely Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Kassam believes that CA can contribute to the goal of sustainable intensification, but more research and extension effort is needed to inform policy formulation and development strategies. 


A forward look: water governance for agriculture and food in ACP countries

By Norman Uphoff, Cornell University    Synthesis Report of the ACP-EU Think Tank on S&T for ACP Agricultural and Rural Development - Partnerships for Research, Capacity Building, Innovation and Foresighting: Managing Water for Agriculture and Food in ACP Countries.   Prof. Uphoff notes that relative water scarcity is growing at an alarming rate and it is the efficient and effective management of water that must help ACP countries, where agriculture remains primarily rain-fed, cope with scarcities and surfeits. In reflecting on the contemporary experiences that the ACP-EU Think tank deliberated on in their annual 2012 meeting, Prof. Uphoff noted that the more 'efficient use of water can, in effect, expand its supply, while on the other hand, the more productive use of water can ease the demand or need by giving farmers "more crop per drop"'. He makes a plea for more contemporary thinking and approaches to addressing water for agriculture and suggests a softer focus to embrace the concept of water governance.    The concept of 'grey water', grasping how to harness the genetic potential and inter-species synergies for agricultural success as part of the evolution of "modern agriculture", paying attention to beneficial micro-climates, maintaining soil cover and water pricing and water quality issues are all addressed in this report. 


How do satellite images and airborne imagery relate to agriculture and forestry?

Satellite and aerial imagery play a significant role in modern day agricultural production and forest related activities. T he primary value of satellite and airborne imagery to agriculture and forestry is two-fold. Firstly, imagery provides valuable information that is useful for planning and managing the potential crop output, in a sustainable way. Imagery results in more sustainable food production. Secondly, imagery enables the gathering of knowledge about agriculture and forestry through local to regional to global scales. That knowledge enables a better understanding of overall production factors, but also contributes toward risk management decisions and supports predictive modelling of food supply and consumption. This article gives a thorough account of the applications of satellite imagery and GIS used in the agriculture and forestry sectors.(Vector1media, 13 May 2011)


Re-coupling the carbon and water cycles by Natural Sequence Farming

Reference: International Journal of Water 2010 - Vol. 5, No.4 pp. 386 – 395, by: Duane Norris, Peter Andrews The techniques of Natural Sequence Farming (NSF) were developed during hands-on management of degraded farmland in the Upper Hunter Valley region of Australia. Early settlement of the continent by people with European cultural assumptions disrupted established interactions of water, soil, and plants resulting in lost fertility. Moreover, agricultural practices such as clearing, burning, ploughing, draining, and irrigation, have implications for global warming. Soils hold twice as much carbon as the atmosphere, and three times as much as vegetation. But carbon in exposed soil oxidises, releasing CO2 into the atmosphere. NSF is designed to restore ecosystem functions by re-coupling the carbon and water cycles. This is a valid technique for dryland regions around the world.


Water: the need for appropriate resources management

Photo: Gina Kane/CRS According to the World Water Council (2008), the priority areas for water professionals are: (1) water for health, water is an essential ingredient for life, hygiene, and public health; (2) water for food, water becomes increasingly a limiting resource for meeting the food requirements of a growing world population; and (3) water for energy, water is an important renewable energy resource (hydropower) especially with rising energy requirements and prices. At the same time energy is becoming a limiting factor for the provision of water for domestic purposes. World water equity or equitable access to potable water is a growing problem.


Mitigating economic water scarcity to boost agriculture

The bias in planning towards blue water at the expense of green water, has led to the impression of Africa as a physically water scarce continent, with projections for 2025 painting a gloomy picture for most countries. However, scrutiny of the continent’s climatological base maps reveals that Africa actually has more water resources per capita than Europe. The main problem is lack of capital investments to adequately conserve and utilize rainwater – implying that economic water scarcity is the challenge rather than physical scarcity. Rainwater harvesting (RWH) could contribute to the attainment of wider aspirations, including the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) as they relate to poverty alleviation, hunger elimination, environmental sustainability, and gender equality.


Charting our water future - economic frameworks to inform decision-making

The world is increasingly turning its attention to the issue of water scarcity. Many countries face water scarcity as a fundamental challenge to their economic and social development; by 2030 over a third of the world population will be living in river basins that will have to cope with significant water stress, including many of the countries and regions that drive global economic growth. Across the globe, policy makers, civil society and the business sector are increasingly becoming aware of the challenge facing global water resources, and the need to carefully manage these resources. Progress has been limited, however, and overall too slow. One missing piece has been the lack of a rigorous analytical framework to facilitate decision-making and investment into the sector, particularly on measures of efficiency and water productivity. This report was developed to take a first step in providing greater clarity on the scale, costs and tradeoffs of solutions to water scarcity. It is the result of a year-long collaboration involving IFC, McKinsey & Company, The Coca-Cola Company, Barilla, New Holland Agriculture, Nestlé, SABMiller plc, Standard Chartered Bank and Syngenta AG, and has relied on the input of over 300 specialists and public sector practitioners as well as the consistent guidance of a group of expert advisors.By: 2030 Water Resources Group, November 2009


Freshwater under threat in Africa - Vulnerability assessment of freshwater resources to environmental change

This publication documents the findings of the second phase of the study, which was completed in May 2006. The aim of this phase was to accomplish a wider, continental, coverage of river/lake/ groundwater basins (for example building upon the first phase), and expanding the network of researchers. Regional groups of researchers addressed vulnerability issues for their respective regions (southern, eastern, central, western, and northern Africa and the Western Indian Ocean Island States) by assessing major river/lake/groundwater basins on the basis of natural (physiographic), anthropogenic (socio-economic) and management criteria.By: UNEP, African Minister’s Council on Water, 2008