Less Water

It’s a Big Assignment. Growing More Food With Less Water.

It is predicted by 2050 the earth will have more than nine billion inhabitants with only sufficient year-round good water for a third of that number. The SWFF program, backed by USAID, and the governments of South Africa, Sweden, and the Netherlands, was launched five years ago in the face of critical global water issues. It is SWFF’s mission to explore ways to grow more food with less water.

“It’s a big assignment,” said Dr. Ku McMahan, USAID team leader of the SWFF program. “But I am happy to report that the various global entrepreneurs are having an impact on crop yields and water savings.”

Additionally, McMahan added, “The planning that SWFF program and its supported entrepreneurs have done is proving that the various models can be sustainable and scalable to take the innovations to other countries with similar issues.”

Each one of the SWFF innovators had to compete with over 1,500 others for seed money to launch or show continued viability of their various projects. They also have to meet rigid SWFF criteria to continue receiving funding.

A sampling of projects includes one in Uganda, nicknamed the “big stomach” because it consists of a digester that turns organic waste into fuel and fertilizer, while also firing cooking stoves and saving on water.

Green Heat International, launched by entrepreneur Dr. Vianney Tumwesige, recently won a $1 million World Bank contract to provide digesters, enabling the Ugandan government to upgrade health centers in various districts.

In Bangladesh, Nazmul Chowdhury came upon his innovation one day while on an assignment for his employer, Practical Action, in the monsoon-flooded region. As he walked along a river bank, he noticed many hectares of sandbars left after the rains.

He asked a “what if” question that is within the DNA of innovators and entrepreneurs. What if a crop could be grown on those barren sandbars to feed the people, while actually giving them a profit?

It took some time, but he convinced at first skeptical team members that what seemed impossible was feasible. Within a few years, the “Pumpkins Against Poverty” program was booming, and farmers were growing other crops to sell in the market place.

Meanwhile, in South Africa, Dr. Muthoni Masinde, a professor and meteorologist at the Central University for Technology, took her idea to the SWFF competition for funding.

Her innovation was using indigenous knowledge combined with scientific weather forecasting tools to predict localized weather. It was a talent she learned from her mother that had been passed down through the ages.

Masinde factors in habits of ants, dragonflies, and crickets (among other insects and plants) into her weather expertise to predict droughts which cause 80 percent of the calamities in the region.

Her innovation is called ITIKI (Information Technology and Indigenous Knowledge with Intelligence).

The SWFF program stretches across the continents, from India to Peru, from South America to African nations to Southeast Asia.

USAID, Sweden through the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), and the Governments of The Netherlands and South Africa invested $34 million in Securing Water for Food (SWFF) to promote science and technology solutions that enable the production of more food with less water and/or make more water available for food production, processing, and distribution.

This story was developed through the SWFF Social Impact Storytelling Initiative which was established to document innovator journeys and social impact as they work to improve the way water is being used for agriculture. #socialimpact #innovation #agriculture #water