Freshwater ecosystems investment shields poor farmers, says UN

Rome: Sustainable investment in developing countries’ freshwater ecosystems helps farmers reduce the impact from floods, droughts and water pollution, the United Nations agricultural development fund (IFAD) said on Wednesday, observed as World Water Day.

Drip irrigation, rainwater harvesting and saltwater tolerant crops “will go a long way” towards protecting the livelihoods of smallholder farmers and food security for millions of people around the world, IFAD said.

The findings are contained in a new IFAD report ‘The Water Advantage: Seeking Sustainable Solutions for Water Stress’, which draws evidence from a review of IFAD-supported projects in six countries.

By improving access to clean water and helping farmers manage water resources more effectively, communities are more resilient to climate change and to environmental shocks, according to the report.

“For smallholder farmers in developing countries, water is the difference between a decent life or poverty, hunger and malnutrition,” said IFAD’s President Gilbert F. Houngbo.

“This precious resource is under stress with a massive potential impact on the livelihoods of poor rural communities,” added Houngbo, who chairs UN-Water, which coordinates the efforts of UN bodies and international organizations working on water and sanitation issues.

More than a billion people live in regions prone to drought, and as many as 3.5 billion are facing water scarcity by 2025, according to Margarita Astralaga, director of IFAD’s environment and climate division.

“IFAD is ready to help farmers secure the freshwater resources that represent a fundamental input for agriculture and the well-being of rural communities,” said Astralaga.

In Bangladesh, IFAD is working with villagers to protect them from flash floods, while in Malawi and Brazil, medium sized irrigation systems have been put in place to help smallholder farmers cope with water scarcity, the UN agency said.

Over 100,000 households will have improved access to water by 2020, thanks to IFAD’s Adaptation for Smallholder Agriculture Programme, which has 14 projects aimed at increasing the availability of water and efficiency of water use for smallholder farmers, the agency noted.