South Africa ranks among the top 30 driest countries in the world, with half the water in the country’s rivers and dams coming from only eight percent of the water source areas. It’s unlikely that anyone is more aware of this than Manjusha Joseph-Sunil, an expert with that country’s Water Research Commission (WRC), focusing on innovation.
She is also on the Innovation Investment Advisory Committee of the worldwide Securing Water for Food (SWFF) program backed by South Africa, the Netherlands, Sweden, and USAID. “It’s obvious changing weather patterns are affecting everyone. While the impact is global, we in South Africa are especially hard hit with rainfall well below the national average,” said Dr. Joseph-Sunil from her WRC position in Pretoria. She has been involved in the SWFF program from the beginning, having reviewed the very first round of applicant innovators applying for funding and technical assistance in the six-year-old program.
Nothing will ever be accomplished if all possible objections must first be overcome.
In all, there has been a total of 40 innovators funded worldwide, though hundreds applied with innovations in such areas as unique irrigation techniques, specific weather forecasting, and resistant seed development, among others.
Dr. Joseph-Sunil’s position at the WRC is with a new unit called innovation and impact, which is right down her alley when judging the value of SWFF innovations.
“The unit was established specifically to look at what can be done beyond research and development in the water sector,” she said. “How do we ensure tangible products from R&D investment reaches the market to ensure a sustainable water sector? That’s where my role comes in as an innovations manager.”
Additionally, Dr. Joseph-Sunil assists in fast-tracking innovations so they can be applicable in real market conditions. Two of the SWFF innovators are located in South Africa, including one, CUT/ITIKI that melds indigenous knowledge with scientific weather forecasting to pinpoint drought conditions. Another, Meat Naturally, is an innovative approach to sustaining grazing land.
“The SWFF program was a great initiative, and it opened up opportunities for innovators across the globe,” said Dr. Joseph-Sunil. However, she also believes a follow-on program, Water and Energy for Food (WE4F), is a logical extension. WE4F focuses on getting private and non-government investment more involved with the idea of having innovators become sustainable without continuing government assistance.
The SWFF program has saved in excess of 19 billion liters of water and produced more than six million tons of food worldwide. Along the way, SWFF innovators have garnered $22 million in additional funding. Forecasts show that the world’s population will grow to more than nine billion by the year 2050, and it is projected that there will only be sufficient usable year-around water to accommodate a third of that number.
“Availability might not be the issue, but it will take innovative solutions to make sure it is accessible to everyone,” said Dr. Jospeh-Sunil.
Dr. Ku McMahan, team lead on SWFF for USAID, said that people often underestimate the power of innovative approaches. “They are so tied to the conventional or traditional, that they don’t really open their minds to the potential of that which has not been tried,” said McMahan, who has been with the SWFF program since the beginning and is also involved in WE4F.
It’s McMahan’s position that, quoting the 18th Century literary giant Samuel Johnson: “Nothing will ever be accomplished if all possible objections must first be overcome.”
SWFF and the follow-on WE4F program represent a worldwide effort to overcome obstacles that stand in the way of sufficient water for the future.
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