The Yin and Yang of Securing Water for Food

In Confucianism, one might label the program Securing Water for Food (SWFF) yin and yang, a balance of opposing but complementary ideas for an increasingly thirsty world.

That’s the guiding philosophy of a unique multi-government initiative that, in essence, understands there must be the proverbial “bang for the buck” in addition to far-reaching social benefits.

In the US, under the auspices of USAID program chief Ku McMahan and, the scales weigh both social impact and fiscal sustainability.

Though not a new concept, such programs have, in the past, sometimes tilted toward social largess while fiscal relevance and scalability were, in essence, added project bonuses.

This is changing.

The DNA of the SWFF program requires a balance for it to receive funds from the four international agencies supporting the program. Other than USAID, the governments of South Africa, Sweden, and the Netherlands contribute money and expertise.

Within three decades, it is projected that the world will have nine billion people, but will only have sufficient good water, year-around, for a third of the population.

Some 500 innovators joined the competition five years ago to secure funds for their enterprises. When concluded, awards were issued for a mere 40 for-profit and non-profit innovators. Twenty-six met or surpassed their goals.

McMahan is proud of the success thus far. “The number of those achievements beyond our expectations even surprised me,” he said.

There is fierce competition for the SWFF program—made up largely of innovators in developing countries—to not merely address problems but to make significant strides toward solving them.

Within three decades, it is projected that the world will have nine billion people, but will only have sufficient good water, year-around, for a third of the population.

“This makes it an urgent issue. I don’t know if we have just scratched the surface, but I do know some innovators have significant potential and can scale,” said Andrew Kaiser, President of The Kaizen Company, the firm holds the SWFF contract to implement the Securing Water for Food Technical Assistance Facility. “Their results in water savings and crop yields are impressive.”

SWFF spurs innovation in development, while at the same time promoting entrepreneurship and providing advisory services. The Kaizen-run SWFF Technical Assistance Facility is an important value-add for the innovators, as it provides acceleration services in 21 different categories to aid the business in scaling, growth, and development.

The SWFF program funds innovators who have novel and groundbreaking technologies that address drought prediction, the need for saline resistant seeds, as well as business models to address various issues in the water-ag value chain. Innovators are from 35 countries, stretching from India to Bangladesh, Uganda to South America, Vietnam to Nepal and numerous other locales.

The major test they must pass? Show results. “It’s all about meeting the mutually-agreed upon metrics established from the outset,” said McMahan.

One such idea, which has won numerous awards, is planting pumpkins on previously barren sandbars caused during the monsoon season in Bangladesh.

“This has led to a better life for poor farmers,” said McMahan. “Pumpkins are a nutritious crop for families, and they were able to sell what they didn’t use, helping their children get an education.”

In Kaiser’s view, the development world is as much art as science. “We’re opening doors that might never have seen donor funding. It is, in essence, a democratization in funding. What better example of America than to show the power of entrepreneurs solving critical problems, such as improving the way that water is being used for agriculture.”

USAID, Sweden through the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, and the Governments of The Netherlands and South Africa invested $35 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