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Water, Food Security and Climate Change: not putting all your eggs into one basket

Ground water is a climate smart agriculture approach which provides safe water storage, reduces evaporation loss, and minimizes effects of rainfall variability. Photo:Tuppy Mcintosh
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Nov 14, 2011



Guest blog by Michael Victor, CGIAR Challenge Program for Water and Food, Communication Coordinator

A couple of weeks ago I was talking to some Lao colleagues about the CGIAR Challenge Program for Water and Food’s Learning Event on Rainwater management at ARDD and the concept of climate smart agriculture. While the term is difficult to translate, the definition is quite simple. Essentially, it means tackling climate-change while producing more food for a growing population.

But what does this mean in practice? Is it the ‘best and brightest’ of technologies, the magic bullet that will triple production and solve all our problems? Or is it the recommended technology suite that can be implemented everywhere?  Wasn't this more of the same technologies and approaches we have been promoting for years?

What we did agree on is that  we shouldn't “put all our eggs into one basket” and that climate adaptations have to be linked to food security as farmers are at increasing risk. We also agreed that new technologies should be complemented with institutions, infrastucture and political systems that are adaptable and far-sighted in order to cope with the unprecented levels of decision-making uncertainty resulting from the combination of high population, climate change and ecosystem degradation.

Today, the CGIAR Challenge Program on Water and Food (CPWF) released findings that reinforce this forward-looking apprach to climate change. CPWF opened the  3rd International Forum on Water and Food–co-hosted by the International Water Mangement Institute (IWMI) and the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resrouces Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN) – in Tshwane, South Africa with research on the climate change impacts for three of Africa’s river basins (Limpopo, Nile and Volta). The study is part of a five-year global research project focused on the water, food and poverty nexus in ten of the world’s developing country river basins.

The study confirms that climate change would bring uncertainty and change to previously stable climates. Using data averages from climate models by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, experts from the CPWF found that rising temperatures and declining rainfall in the Limpopo over the next few decades could deliver a one-two punch to the already marginal environment—depressing food production and intensifying poverty.  And in the Nile and West Africa’s Volta basin, a rise of 2 to 5 degrees Celsius could heighten political tensions due to increased water evaporation and undermine years of progress made in better managing upstream-downstream access to water supplies.

CPWF researchers urge governments to be prepared to capitalize on the change by investing now in long-term, cooperative strategies to promote agricultural productivity and sharing of water resources. Future uncertainty regarding the precise impacts of climate change must not act as a barrier to the creation of adaptable, future-oriented institutions and political systems.

Alain Vidal, CPWF Director, has emphasized that this year’s Forum comes at an opportune time. “We will have to double production by 2050 in order to meet demand but with less water,” said Vidal.  “There is a huge role here for  science to support long-sighted politics: define the systems politicians are talking about and reduce the uncertainty that impedes agreement and investment. Without these, we really WILL be in trouble”.

In December, CPWF partners will make their way to Durban to organize one of the ARDD Learning Events on rainwater management as a climate-smart agricultural approach, particularly in Africa. This session will examine the mix of technical, institutional and process innovations needed in order for rainwater management to be successfully implemented at large scale.

The urgency of climate-smart approaches for Africa’s river basins is summarized in a statement by Dr. Lindiwe Sibanda, CEO of FANRPAN: “The climate in Africa’s river basins is already highly variable. Enhancing farmer’s adaptive capacity to respond to current challenges is smart even without climate change, but it is an absolute imperative now that we see what the future holds. Yet the first step towards climate security is ensuring farmers and the world’s poor will be able to feed themselves under rapid environmental change that puts the local and global food system at risk.”


The CGIAR Challenge Program on Water and Food (CPWF) aims to increase the resilience of social and ecological systems through better water management for food production (crops, fisheries and livestock). The CPWF does this through an innovative research and development approach that brings together a broad range of scientists, development specialists, policymakers and communities to address the challenges of food security, poverty and water scarcity. The CPWF is currently working in six river basins globally: Andes, Ganges, Limpopo, Mekong, Nile and Volta (