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Building partnerships for Water Smart Agriculture

June 19, 2015

Water Smart Agriculture (WaSA) has strong potential to increase agricultural productivity for smallholder farmers facing increasingly uncertain rainfall due to climate change. A seminar organised by CTA and the Global Water Initiative (GWI) – which pioneered the WaSA approach – heard about the scope for sustainable water management in bolstering food production, climate resilience and ecosystem sustainability. The event also discussed key areas for partnership between CTA and GWI to move the Water Smart Agriculture approach further up the agenda.

Held at CTA headquarters on June 1, the seminar Improved food, nutrition and income for rural households: Synergies between Water Smart Agriculture (WaSA) and Climate Smart Agriculture explored plans for joint publications between CTA and GWI, as well as a Brussels Briefing on WaSA to be held by CTA, GWI and the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) and financing for developing smallholder water infrastructure. CTA Director Michael Hailu and Olu Ajayi, Senior Programme Coordinator, ARD Policy, both spoke at the meeting on behalf of the Centre.

The Global Water Initiative, currently working in East and West Africa and Central America, seeks to improve water management policies, research, investment and knowledge resources for sustainable agricultural production and improved food security. It developed the concept of Water Smart Agriculture in 2013, as a way of supporting a more coherent approach to improved water management in agriculture, building on action research with farmers and wider knowledge sharing and collaboration.

Small-scale farmers hold the key

Smallholder farmers are at the heart of the Water Smart Agriculture approach, says Kemi Seesink, Global Policy and Advocacy Coordinator and one of three GWI members attending the seminar at CTA.
"Water Smart Agriculture brings a strong focus on the positive contributions of wisely managed water for improving agricultural productivity. It can really make a strong contribution to all our objectives on food, water and nutrition security," she said. "It can also help smallholder farmers, especially women, to contribute to their own livelihood security and food security around the world. It places water and smallholder farmers at the centre of the solution."

Developing evidence that highlights solutions to the challenges of water management and use in smallholder agriculture will be key to the goal of spreading WaSA, the seminar heard. Much can be achieved by using tried and tested technologies, involving farmers themselves to trigger upscaling across communities and out into wider areas.

Resilient agricultural systems

Simon Cook, Technical Advisor, Water Smart Agriculture at GWI told the seminar there was massive potential for improvement in water management for agriculture, particularly for rainfed systems.
"Those rainfed systems are mainly in the hands of smallholder farmers, particularly women farmers in Africa. To make better use of the water in rainfed systems you are looking at building resilient agriculture systems that comprise millions of people in often fragmented production systems," he said. "So therein lies the huge potential, but also a major challenge. Because you can't just fix one part. It requires a concerted effort from several different angles at the same time and from different organisations."

Knowledge sharing and communications will play a critical role in driving WaSA, both at policy and farmer level, and CTA's expertise here will be invaluable, said Peter Lochery, Director of the Water Programme at CARE, one of GWI's main partners.

"There is a big gap between the water and agriculture communities. They don't have fora where they can discuss issues together. And therefore the management of a resource such as water, which is very important for both sectors, is made more difficult. So the genesis of our idea for WaSA was to create a neutral space where different parties can discuss," he said. "CTA's ICT and knowledge management are well organised, longstanding and respected, and provide an opportunity for broad dissemination of ideas and adding to those ideas – how to position them, and seeing what works and what doesn't."