Getting “More Crop Per Drop” to Strengthen Global Food Security

Crossposted from the Worldwatch Institute’s Nourishing the Planet.

Increasing demand for water continues to put a strain on available water sources, threatening the livelihood of millions of small-scale farmers who depend on water for their crops. At a time when one in eight people lack access to safe water, Nourishing the Planet points to low-cost, small-scale innovations to better manage this vital resource.  These efforts are increasing the availability of water for crops and helping farmers improve crop productivity and become more food-secure.

Seventy percent of the world’s freshwater is used for irrigation, and global water resources are drying up as climate change takes hold and population growth continues. 60 percent of the world’s hungry people live in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa—most of them on small farms—where they do not have a reliable source of water to produce sufficient yields. Only 4 percent of the cultivated land in sub-Saharan Africa is currently equipped for irrigation. 95 percent of cropland in the region depends on rain, and climate scientists predict that rainfall on the continent will decline in the coming decades. But there is great potential to expand irrigation with small-scale solutions.

The Green Revolution of the 1960s led to a near tripling of global grain production and a doubling of the world’s irrigated area. It also, however, demanded vast quantities of water. Previous agricultural investments have focused narrowly on increasing crop yields, while there has been relatively little research and investment in ways to make better use of scarce water resources. Affordable innovations that boost agricultural development and meet the increasing demand on already-scarce water resources while also mitigating the impacts of climate change, are more important than ever.

Nourishing the Planet recommends three models for effective water management that have the potential for getting ‘more crop per drop’:

Human-powered pumps. The foot-operated treadle pump enables 2.3 million farmers in the developing world—some 250,000 in sub-Saharan Africa—to boost crop productivity, improve harvest reliability, and raise incomes. The original $35 version can irrigate 0.2 hectares with ground water; newer models can irrigate up to 0.8 hectares and cost no more than $140 installed. These devices already generate $37 million a year in profits and wages. In Zambia, International Development Enterprises worked with farmers to determine the most effective type of pump. The Mosi-O-Tunya pump is manufactured locally and delivers 25 percent more water per second than older versions.

Affordable micro-irrigation. A suite of low-cost drip irrigation technologies is helping farmers use limited water supplies more efficiently, often doubling water productivity. These systems deliver water directly to the plant roots through perforated pipes or tubes, and can come in the form of $5 bucket kits, $25 drum kits, or $100 shiftable drip systems that irrigate up to 0.2 hectares. Solar-powered micro-irrigation drip systems are also making their debut in West Africa. One study found that after a year of using these systems, villagers in Benin had higher incomes and protein in their diets. Children attended school more often, since they no longer needed to spend their day collecting water.

More effective use of rainfall. Conservation tillage methods that leave the soil intact; timely weeding and mulching; and planting vegetative barriers all help to maximize green water, or rainwater stored in the soil and plants as moisture. Rainwater harvesting using small earthen dams and other methods also helps maximize rainwater utility. Supplementing these practices with irrigation may produce optimal results. In Kenya, Maasai women are working with the U.N. Environment Programme and the World Agroforestry Centre to build rooftop catchment tanks, which provide water for their households and save women time collecting water.

Satisfying the water requirements of the future, while also coping with population growth, increasing consumption, persistent poverty, and a changing climate, will take a commitment well beyond what has materialized to date. Support—and research and investment—from governments, development agencies, and international and national NGOs can help make such technologies more accessible to smallholder farmers.

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE.

To watch the one minute book trailer click HERE.

 

 

An Astounding Success for Grass-Roots Environmentalism

Yacouba Sawadogo was not sure how old he was. With a hatchet slung over his shoulder, he strode through the woods and fields of his farm with an easy grace. But up close his beard was gray, and it turned out he had great-grandchildren, so he had to be at least sixty and perhaps closer to seventy years old. That means he was born well before 1960, the year the country now known as Burkina Faso gained independence from France, which explains why he was never taught to read and write.

Nor did he learn French. He spoke his tribal language, Mòoré, in a deep, unhurried rumble, occasionally punctuating sentences with a brief grunt. Yet despite his illiteracy, Yacouba Sawadogo is a pioneer of the tree-based approach to farming that has transformed the western Sahel over the last twenty years.

Transformed the western Sahel! And I gave up the Sahel for dead 10 years ago! But was there any real basis for this apparently very good news?

Yes indeed!

"In the drought years, people found themselves in such a terrible situation they had to think in new ways," said Sawadogo, who prided himself on being an innovator. For example, it was a long-standing practice among local farmers to dig what they called zai-shallow pits that collected and concentrated scarce rainfall onto the roots of crops. Sawadogo increased the size of his zai in hopes of capturing more rainfall. But his most important innovation, he said, was to add manure to the zai during the dry season, a practice his peers derided as wasteful.

Sawadogo's experiments proved out: crop yields duly increased. But the most important result was one he hadn't anticipated: trees began to sprout amid his rows of millet and sorghum, thanks to seeds contained in the manure. As one growing season followed another, it became apparent that the trees-now a few feet high-were further increasing his yields of millet and sorghum while also restoring the degraded soil's vitality. "Since I began this technique of rehabilitating degraded land, my family has enjoyed food security in good years and bad," Sawadogo told me.

And it even gets much, much better!

 

Amazingly, underground water tables that plummeted after the droughts of the 1980s had now begun recharging. "In the 1980s, water tables on the Central Plateau of Burkina Faso were falling by an average of one meter a year," Reij said. "Since FMNR and the water-harvesting techniques began to take hold in the late 1980s, water tables in many villages have risen by at least five meters, despite a growing population."

Studies have documented the same phenomenon in some villages in Niger, where extensive water-harvesting measures helped raise water tables by fifteen meters between the early 1990s and 2005.

Water tables in Burkina Faso and Niger have risen by 5 meters and even 15 meters! And it's mostly illiterate farmers digging holes and adding a little manure!

That's grass-roots activism that I can believe in!

And meanwhile, what kind of "leadership" can Africa expect from the Leader of the Free World?

Blog Action Day: Water

Blog Action Day is an annual event held every October 15 that unites the world’s bloggers in posting about the same issue on the same day with the aim of sparking a global discussion and driving collective action. This year's topic: water.

Right now, almost a billion people on the planet don’t have access to clean, safe drinking water. That’s one in eight of us who are subject to preventable disease and even death because of something that many of us take for granted.

There's more...

Weekly Mulch: When Will Our Water Be Clean?

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium Blogger

Ed. Note: The Mulch is participating in Blog Action Day 2010, an initiative led by Media Consortium member Change.org that asks bloggers around the world to publish posts on the same issue on the same day. This year’s topic is water.

Last week, rivers in Hungary ran red with toxic sludge, creating the perhaps most powerful image of water contamination possible. Imagine, for a second, if every chemical leaching into waterways in this country had such a brilliant hue. What color would our water be?

Less than crystal clear, certainly. We still don’t know, for instance, what chemicals the government and BP poured into the Gulf Coast after the Deepwater Horizon spill, as Mother Jones‘ Kate Sheppard reports. Beyond one time dumps, American industries and consumers are steadily polluting our water system. Energy companies contaminate waterways. So do massive, industrial farms. Sewer systems overflow, and landfills leach waste. Even household chemicals — pesticides applied to suburban lawns, for instance — contribute to the problem.

Flouting the Clean Water Act

After the Cuyahoga River caught fire in 1969, politicians finally took note of the country’s polluted and within a few years had passed the Clean Water Act. In theory, the Clean Water Act should limit contamination, but as The New York Times reported last year, violations have been increasing. Just this month, in Kentucky, environmental advocates brought a case against two coal companies that allegedly violated the Clean Water Act more than 20,000 times, as Public News Service’s Renee Shaw reports.

The violations “include doctoring water pollution reports, failing to conduct tests, and exceeding permit pollution limits,” Shaw reports.

Toxic run-off

That’s just one example of water pollution. At Grist, Tom Laskawy reports that researchers Indiana found a chemical produced by genetically engineered corn in “25% of streams they tested, and all the streams that tested positive were within 1,500 feet from a cornfield.”

The chemical in question, Bt, is technically organic. Plants grown from Monsanto seeds produce it to ward off bugs, and since it comes from an organic process, it is approved for use in organic farming, too. So, what’s the big deal? As Laskawy writes, it’s still a toxin, and the consequences of injecting large doses into the water system are unclear:

No one has any idea yet of the effects of long-term, low-dose exposure to Bt on fish and wildlife. Perhaps it’s high time somebody did a study on that since, as the researchers dryly observed, the presence of Bt toxin “may be a more common occurrence in watersheds draining maize-growing regions than previously recognized.”

Enforcement

These types of problems continue in part because governments are unable or unwilling to crack down on polluters. In the Kentucky mining case, for instance, Mother Jones’ Kate Sheppard reports that the environmental advocates filed the suit in part because they felt the Kentucky office that oversees the Clean Water Act “had not enforced the law.” Sheppard writes:

Donna Lisenby, who works for the environmental group Appalachian Voices, described literally blowing the dust off stacks of reports from the companies that did not appear to have been actually reviewed by anyone in the state office. Or at least, they were not reviewed thoroughly; she also described reports that appeared to have the same data copied and pasted from previous months, and reports that were dated before the testing was actually conducted.

Even when the government does hold companies accountable, however, that doesn’t guarantee a good, quick result. Take General Electric’s clean up of the Hudson River. The company began dumping chemicals there in the 1940s but is still trying to delay its clean-up efforts, writes Change.org’s Jess Leber.

Climate change

As with every environmental issue nowadays, climate change also plays a role. When it comes to our drinking water, carbon dioxide pollution is not a problem. But for ocean dwellers, it is. As Courtney Shelby writes at Care2, the ocean has absorbed 400 million metric tons of greenhouse gas, which has lead to a shortage of oxygen. Shelby explains, “This creates “dead zones” that are absent of all marine life for thousands of years, posing a serious threat to biodiversity.”

Joining forces

Ultimately, though, water contamination is not just about the environment. The lack of clean water extracts a real human costAs Change.org writes, “Access to clean water is not just a human rights issue. It’s an environmental issue. An animal welfare issue. A sustainability issue. Water is a global issue, and it affects all of us.” What that means, however, is that environmental advocates concerned about water pollution can find allies in other social action movements.

In Detroit, for example, environmental and health advocates joined together to address water issues, as Making Contact reports. The “People’s Water Board” works on water pollution and on water access, and so far has pushed city officials overseeing water issues towards greater transparency.

In all of these cases, whether the culprit is the energy industry, agribusiness, or climate change, the work of environmental advocates is calling attention to and pushing to resolve the problem. With these sorts of efforts, perhaps it won’t take a flaming river to push leaders across the country to work to make our water clean.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

Weekly Mulch: When Will Our Water Be Clean?

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium Blogger

Ed. Note: The Mulch is participating in Blog Action Day 2010, an initiative led by Media Consortium member Change.org that asks bloggers around the world to publish posts on the same issue on the same day. This year’s topic is water.

Last week, rivers in Hungary ran red with toxic sludge, creating the perhaps most powerful image of water contamination possible. Imagine, for a second, if every chemical leaching into waterways in this country had such a brilliant hue. What color would our water be?

Less than crystal clear, certainly. We still don’t know, for instance, what chemicals the government and BP poured into the Gulf Coast after the Deepwater Horizon spill, as Mother Jones‘ Kate Sheppard reports. Beyond one time dumps, American industries and consumers are steadily polluting our water system. Energy companies contaminate waterways. So do massive, industrial farms. Sewer systems overflow, and landfills leach waste. Even household chemicals — pesticides applied to suburban lawns, for instance — contribute to the problem.

Flouting the Clean Water Act

After the Cuyahoga River caught fire in 1969, politicians finally took note of the country’s polluted and within a few years had passed the Clean Water Act. In theory, the Clean Water Act should limit contamination, but as The New York Times reported last year, violations have been increasing. Just this month, in Kentucky, environmental advocates brought a case against two coal companies that allegedly violated the Clean Water Act more than 20,000 times, as Public News Service’s Renee Shaw reports.

The violations “include doctoring water pollution reports, failing to conduct tests, and exceeding permit pollution limits,” Shaw reports.

Toxic run-off

That’s just one example of water pollution. At Grist, Tom Laskawy reports that researchers Indiana found a chemical produced by genetically engineered corn in “25% of streams they tested, and all the streams that tested positive were within 1,500 feet from a cornfield.”

The chemical in question, Bt, is technically organic. Plants grown from Monsanto seeds produce it to ward off bugs, and since it comes from an organic process, it is approved for use in organic farming, too. So, what’s the big deal? As Laskawy writes, it’s still a toxin, and the consequences of injecting large doses into the water system are unclear:

No one has any idea yet of the effects of long-term, low-dose exposure to Bt on fish and wildlife. Perhaps it’s high time somebody did a study on that since, as the researchers dryly observed, the presence of Bt toxin “may be a more common occurrence in watersheds draining maize-growing regions than previously recognized.”

Enforcement

These types of problems continue in part because governments are unable or unwilling to crack down on polluters. In the Kentucky mining case, for instance, Mother Jones’ Kate Sheppard reports that the environmental advocates filed the suit in part because they felt the Kentucky office that oversees the Clean Water Act “had not enforced the law.” Sheppard writes:

Donna Lisenby, who works for the environmental group Appalachian Voices, described literally blowing the dust off stacks of reports from the companies that did not appear to have been actually reviewed by anyone in the state office. Or at least, they were not reviewed thoroughly; she also described reports that appeared to have the same data copied and pasted from previous months, and reports that were dated before the testing was actually conducted.

Even when the government does hold companies accountable, however, that doesn’t guarantee a good, quick result. Take General Electric’s clean up of the Hudson River. The company began dumping chemicals there in the 1940s but is still trying to delay its clean-up efforts, writes Change.org’s Jess Leber.

Climate change

As with every environmental issue nowadays, climate change also plays a role. When it comes to our drinking water, carbon dioxide pollution is not a problem. But for ocean dwellers, it is. As Courtney Shelby writes at Care2, the ocean has absorbed 400 million metric tons of greenhouse gas, which has lead to a shortage of oxygen. Shelby explains, “This creates “dead zones” that are absent of all marine life for thousands of years, posing a serious threat to biodiversity.”

Joining forces

Ultimately, though, water contamination is not just about the environment. The lack of clean water extracts a real human costAs Change.org writes, “Access to clean water is not just a human rights issue. It’s an environmental issue. An animal welfare issue. A sustainability issue. Water is a global issue, and it affects all of us.” What that means, however, is that environmental advocates concerned about water pollution can find allies in other social action movements.

In Detroit, for example, environmental and health advocates joined together to address water issues, as Making Contact reports. The “People’s Water Board” works on water pollution and on water access, and so far has pushed city officials overseeing water issues towards greater transparency.

In all of these cases, whether the culprit is the energy industry, agribusiness, or climate change, the work of environmental advocates is calling attention to and pushing to resolve the problem. With these sorts of efforts, perhaps it won’t take a flaming river to push leaders across the country to work to make our water clean.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

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