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World Bank spotlights climate-resilient irrigation's role in transforming lives

World Bank spotlights climate-resilient irrigation's role in transforming lives
9 June 2024 09:01


Many of the world’s poor are farmers. But all too often, crops that once blossomed on the verdant fields of small, rain-fed family farms now thirst for water from drought and soaring heat.

“More—and better managed—climate-resilient irrigation will help feed the planet with available water, strengthen livelihoods, grow economies and create jobs, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and build resilience to climate shocks,” said the World Bank on Saturday in an ‘immersive story’ titled "Transforming Lives Through Climate-Resilient Irrigation: Game Changers for a Livable Planet."

Countering Climate Shocks
“From now on, by the grace of God, we cultivate all year round, even in the dry season,” says Ami Ndiaye, a Senegalese farmer. “All this is because our access to water has improved.”

“We used to practice wild flooding, leaving the land fallow for a year and planting crops the next year. With the new system, we have more abundant yields and are now more prosperous,” says Ercan Akın, village head and farmer from Türkiye.

Ndiaye, Akin, and millions more around the world struggling with poverty and climate change shocks such as erratic rainfall, droughts, and floods are adopting climate-resilient irrigation, which helps lessen water stress, increase crop yields and agricultural productivity, enable crop diversification, and lower food prices. It could feed 1.4 billion more people.

Climate-resilient irrigation more than doubles productivity compared to rain-fed agriculture and helps farmers produce more from less—less land and less water.

With the planet’s population expected to skyrocket by 2050—dramatically increasing the demand for food—embracing sustainable irrigation practices is not an option. It’s essential.

A Triple Win in Vietnam's Mekong Delta
Le Dong Phuong is a rice farmer in Can Tho City in the Mekong Delta—known as the Rice Bowl of Vietnam, one of the world's largest rice producers and exporters.

"Rice thrives on water," she explains.

That’s a problem because, when farmers continuously flood their fields to cultivate rice, tonnes of methane—a powerful contributor to climate change—are released into the atmosphere.

At the same time, Vietnam ranks among the top five most climate-vulnerable countries. The Mekong Delta, home to 1.4 million rice-growing households, is at great risk from floods, drought, sea level rise, and saltwater intrusion.

Rice farming contributes three-quarters of methane emissions from Vietnam’s agriculture sector.

But now the Vietnam Sustainable Agriculture Transformation Project is significantly reducing water use and methane emissions while equipping over 156,000 rice-farming households in the Mekong Delta with practices to produce more higher-quality rice that boost livelihoods and contribute to sustainability.

It's a triple win for communities
“I have reduced production costs for seed, fertiliser, pesticide and saved water,” says Phuong. Her crop yield has increased and so has her income. While Vietnam’s average rice yield is 5.87 tonnes per hectare, Phuong is getting 8 tonnes. “I can now provide for my children and cover my expenses more comfortably,” she says.

As part of the project, the International Rice Research Institute is deploying high-tech methane-tracking technology on 40 farms in the city of Can Tho. The intel empowers farmers to slash methane emissions with climate-smart practices.

Now, instead of constantly flooding their fields, farmers use the Alternate Wetting and Drying technique, intermittently drying out the fields because plant roots have enough water from earlier flooding.

Sensors monitor water levels every five minutes, and a smartphone application alerts farmers to stop or restart watering, optimising the amount of water used with the click of a button.

A Vietnamese farmer displays his mobile technology for monitoring and adjusting irrigation levels

“The smartphone monitors the water level more precisely than our eyes,” says farmer Duong Van Tuan. “After using the technology for two seasons, it has proven to save a lot of water. Since it brings a lot of benefits, we all want to continue using the technology.”

The project helped reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 1.5 million metric tonnes of CO2 equivalent because of methane emission reduction.

Inspired by the project’s success and supported by the World Bank Group, the Government of Vietnam has decided to launch an ambitious effort to scale-up these sustainable practices into one million hectares in the Mekong Delta Region, reducing carbon emissions by up to 10 million tonnes by 2030.

Watering Seeds of Prosperity in the Sahel
Asurging population. Fragility and conflict. Drought. Challenges abound in the Sahel, which stretches across the vast semi-arid plains of West and Central Africa.

Droughts and unpredictable rainy seasons could force 13.5 million more Sahelians into poverty by 2050, and decrease water availability by up to 70 percent by 2100.

That spells trouble for the two-thirds of Sahelians who live in rural areas and depend on rainfed farming for their livelihoods. Less than 1 percent of cultivated land is irrigated.

The Sahel Irrigation Initiative Support Project aims to change that. Funded by the World Bank’s International Development Association (IDA), the project is financing efficient and innovative solutions to develop climate-resilient agriculture to improve the livelihoods of 390,000 farmers across 2,000 sites.

The project is funding irrigation systems such as drip and spray irrigation, solar water pumping, and collection of surface water.

Now, farmers are no longer at the mercy of unpredictable rainfall.

Globally, 2.6 million farmers adopted improved agricultural and irrigation practices with IDA support, including almost 600,000 farmers in fragile and conflict-affected countries.

Fattah Hassan Dubaal is a farmer in the Doukour Valley in Chad. The mother of six says that before the project, “We would reap only two or three sacks of okra. Now, we can reap up to 100 to 150 sacks. With this income, we can put our children in school, feed ourselves, and pay for health care when someone gets sick.”

“Watering has become easier,” says Maguete Faye, a horticulture producer in Senegal. “We just have to open the borehole taps. This was a huge relief to us.”

“They say what we have here is gold!” says Fatim Sarr, of Keur Ali Guèye, Senegal, where okra and corn yields have increased dramatically.

Water is already scarce in Konya province, Türkiye’s breadbasket. Climate change is causing unpredictable rainfall, evaporating surface water, and increasing drought. Depletion of groundwater from aquifer over-extraction and inefficient irrigation compound the problem. Small farmers are struggling.

Türkiye is the world’s ninth-largest agricultural producer, but its success comes with a high cost—the irrigation sector consumes over 76 percent of withdrawn water. Its irrigation systems have inefficient, obsolete infrastructure that leak and evaporate water.

But now, the Türkiye Irrigation Modernisation Project is bringing underground piped water and high-efficiency drip and sprinkler irrigation, economic relief, and hope to over 17,000 farming families in Konya and three other provinces.

The project’s rehabilitation of aging piped water systems and its pilot of a low-cost, solar energy-based pumping system have painted the fields in verdant hues again.

“The improved access to water has changed our lives,” says Züleyha Metinoğlu, a farmer in the village of Ulumeşe, in Konya province. “We achieve more yield with less water.”

Metinoğlu grows corn and clove fodder for livestock and raises chickens, turkeys, and sheep. But her well would run dry before she could finish harvesting. She took a night-shift job in a biscuit factory to make ends meet.

Thanks to irrigation, she says, “Our income has increased a lot and we have been able to buy a house and install a central heating system.”

Now, she and her husband can send their children to university to get the education they could only dream of before. That is indeed life-changing.

Modernising Irrigation in Indonesia
Darta Ego, a farmer in Jatimulya, a village 32 kilometers southeast of Jakarta, says that before a new irrigation project, “We did not have enough water because the irrigation system was not maintained properly, and our farming techniques were not advanced yet. Back then, my crops failed.” Not anymore.

The Strategic Irrigation Modernisation and Urgent Rehabilitation Project has benefited nearly 350,000 farmers in 10 provinces. With 46 percent of irrigation systems classified as “in poor condition,” the project is rehabilitating over 250,000 hectares of irrigation and drainage systems.

It’s raising the incomes of poor Indonesians, more than 3.1 million of whom rely on agriculture to support their families.

Climate change makes matters worse. Higher temperatures are projected to reduce rice crop yield, which is also vulnerable to drought conditions from changes in El Niño patterns.

But climate-smart practices such as Alternate Wetting and Drying, organic pesticides, and climate-resilient seeds are changing the face of farming and helping farmers produce low-carbon rice.

The project is improving the quality of service delivery and irrigation water use efficiency through innovative irrigation service agreements, which define the responsibilities of service providers, water delivery, maintenance of canals, and procedures during water shortages.

By increasing transparency, water users can hold service providers accountable for the quality of services. These agreements can be an important tool in the modernisation of agriculture worldwide.

Today, Indonesia’s farmers are reaping the benefits.

“When we didn’t have enough water, our crop was small,” says Sukeni, who owns a paddy farm in Jatimulya with her husband. Before the project, she had to pay someone to pump water, but it was unreliable. Now, with ample water, she says, “Our paddy is fuller and more profitable. I can save for my kid’s college tuition and future.”

A Game Changer for the Planet
About 500 million smallholder farmers worldwide feed 80 percent of people in low-income countries. Despite the challenges they face, farmers around the world are innovating and finding new ways to provide for their families and communities.

The World Bank has invested $7 billion in irrigation projects over the last two decades. It is advancing sustainable and climate-resilient irrigation with such partners as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, the Global Environment Facility, and the Global Water Security and Sanitation Partnership (GWSP).

Climate-resilient irrigation equips farmers to produce more abundant harvests while preserving water, conserving land, improving resilience to climate shocks, and mitigating climate change.

It is a cost-effective and scalable innovation to feed more people and boost incomes.

“If we want our fields to flourish and our communities to prosper on a liveable planet, we need the transformative power of climate-resilient irrigation more urgently than ever,” the World Bank concluded.

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