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Aug-26-2010 23:51printcomments

Access to Water Improves Quality of Life for Women & Children

In recent decades, a new generation of innovative approaches to hunger alleviation has emerged from farmers groups, private voluntary organizations, universities, and agribusiness companies.

Multiple Use Water System in Nepal. (Photo: IDE)
Multiple Use Water System in Nepal. (Photo: IDE)

(DAKAR, Senegal) - In sub-Saharan Africa, improved access to water means more than simply basic survival for families dependent on agriculture for both food and income. It means the difference between barely scraping by and eating balanced meals, affording education, and owning a home.

In Zambia, the majority of children drop out of school by the seventh grade because their families can no longer afford it. But Peter Chakanyuka and his wife are able to pay “school fees every three months for our six children,” thanks to a treadle pump the family purchased with the help of International Development Enterprises (IDE), an organization working to improve the livelihoods of farmers in Asia and Africa through improved agricultural technology and market access.

“Our life is much better and we eat more food variety than before,” says Mrs. Chakanyuka. (See also: Innovation of the Week: Getting Water to Crops)

In Nepal, IDE found that installing Multiple Use Water Systems (MUS) reduced the labor needed for water collection, improved sanitation, and empowered women. The systems collect water from springs and deliver it downhill using gravity to a domestic water tank and separate irrigation tank. The tanks provide a consistent source for water for drinking, cooking, and bathing, as well as a shared water source for irrigation.

As in many sub-Saharan Africa countries, in Nepal the task of gathering water usually falls to women, and the reduced labor needed for water gathering has allowed women to become more involved in the business side of a community’s agriculture effort. Increased crop production and diversity have also improved household diets, ensuring that women and children are eating more vegetables.

Veronica Sianchenga, a farmer living in Kabuyu Village in Zambia, saw similar improvements to her family’s quality of life when she began irrigating her farm with the “Mosi-o-Tunya” (Pump that Thunders), a pressure pump that she purchased through IDE. The pump is manufactured in Zambia, creating local jobs and keeping the technology affordable for small-scale farmers. The Mosi-o-Tunya is lightweight and easily operated by both men and women and transported by foot or bike.

Explaining that her children are eating healthier, with more vegetables in their diet, Mrs. Sianchenga adds that she is also enjoying increased independence. “Now we are not relying only on our husbands, because we are now able to do our own projects and to assist our husbands, to make our families look better, eat better, clothe better—even to have a house.”

Nourishing the Planet: Evaluating Environmentally Sustainable Solutions to Reduce Global Hunger and Rural Poverty

Agricultural development has come to a crossroads. Nearly a half-century after the Green Revolution—the first systematic, large-scale attempt to reduce poverty and hunger throughout the world—a large share of the human family is still chronically hungry. At the same time, investments in agricultural development by governments, international lenders, and foundations are at historic lows.

The timing couldn’t be worse, as a complexity of demographic, economic, and natural forces all conspire to make the challenge of reducing hunger that much more difficult. These include soaring petroleum and food prices as well as climate change and persistent unfair trade agreements. Still, the current crisis offers a window of opportunity for refocusing the world’s attention on food, agriculture, and rural areas and for reestablishing food security as a global priority. As more decision makers and funders shift resources back toward agricultural development in coming years, they have a gaping need for guidance.

In recent decades, a new generation of innovative approaches to hunger alleviation has emerged from farmers groups, private voluntary organizations, universities, and agribusiness companies. Many of these approaches offer useful models for larger-scale efforts. There is growing evidence that combinations of approaches (such as conventional practices paired with agroecological approaches or input-driven methods that also protect natural resources) are often more effective in terms of productivity, income generation, and resilience.

The Nourishing the Planet project will assess the state of agricultural innovations—from cropping methods to irrigation technology to agricultural policy—with an emphasis on sustainability, diversity, and ecosystem health, as well as productivity. The project aims to both inform global efforts to eradicate hunger and raise the profile of these efforts. The project will also consider the institutional infrastructure needed by each of the approaches analyzed, suggesting what sort of companion investments are likely to determine success—from local seed banks to processing facilities, from pro-poor value chains to marketing bureaus.

The project will culminate in the release of State of the World 2011, a comprehensive report that will focus on agriculture and will be accompanied by derivative briefing documents, summaries, videos. and podcasts. This volume will be a roadmap for foundations and international donors interested in supporting the most effective agricultural development interventions in various agroecological and socioeconomic contexts. The project’s findings will be disseminated to a wide range of influential agricultural stakeholders, including government ministries, agricultural policymakers, farmer and community networks, and the increasingly influential non-governmental environmental and development communities.

Emphasizing on the ground research, project co-director Danielle Nierenberg is currently traveling throughout sub-Saharan Africa to meet with farmers, farmers groups, local government representatives, funders, and NGO’s. You can follow her research and the resulting conversations on the Nourishing the Planet blog:

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