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About WWF-ICRISAT partnership and project

Water shortage, a global issue concerns us all. Billions of people every day are dealing with it and often some of them pay a heavy price, including loosing their lives and properties in the process. Governments, particularly in developing countries are spending billions of dollars in addressing the water-related issues with different degree of success; few investments could actually result in some other crisis. Climate change is going to add further complexity to water issues. In short, water shortage and water-related conflict are taking a major toll on the economy, society and the ecosystems. Addressing these concerns requires fundamentally different approaches and new partnerships. The partnership between WWF and ICRISAT is an attempt to find some solutions to the most pressing issue – the water productivity in agriculture. A decade ago such partnerships may have appeared strange; ICRISAT, an organization working on improving the lives of dry-land farmers and WWF working to conserve the planet’s bio-diversity!  But today, this partnership is the most logical step in dealing with the issue of major global concern - water.

Agriculture- the irrigated gets the largest share of water allocation. In some developing countries it is even up to 80%. In India, the agriculture demand is 443 billion cu.m and it is expected to go up from 53% to 86 % by 2050 at lowest and highest estimates respectively.  This will have implications on not only other sectors but on dry lands, which are actually the watersheds that supply water to the rivers. Diverting more and more water for agriculture from rivers and underground with massive capital costs is not only a major economic burden but leads to ecological degradation, increasing the human foot print on planet earth.

The partnership between WWF-ICRISAT through the project “Producing more food grain with less water- Promoting farm based methods to improve the water productivity” works on two fronts: a) improving the water productivity in agriculture by making interventions at the farm level and b) developing policy frameworks to scale up such approaches to have an impact at national and river basin levels.

For the last four to five decades, agriculture development popularly known as green revolution primarily centered on seeds and chemical inputs. Certainly global food productions increased significantly but in the course of time the cost of inputs- seeds and chemical fertilizers have tremendously increased resulting in less margins for farmers and more degradation of the ecosystems. So we need to reverse this trend.

System of Rice Intensification, popularly known as SRI is a farm based approach which significantly increases the production of rice while reducing the inputs - water, seed and fertilizers. This approach, which India was familiar even in the 1900’s, provides options for farmers to use any seed but just one tenth of the conventional method, and with no standing water but produced at least 20% more. In India alone due to efforts of the WWF-ICRISAT project and many other national partners, it is estimated that about 600,000 farmers are growing rice with all or most of the recommended SRI crop management practices on about 1 million ha distributed across 300 districts of the country. This is probably the most rapid uptake of new agricultural practices seen in this country. It sets a great example of a partnership between farmers, civil society, government agencies and international organizations working together, learning from each other and pooling together the competitive strengths. SRI is not now permitted to rice alone, its core practices- single seedling, wide spacing, major reduction in water, inter-cultivation is applicable to other crops such as sugarcane. A detailed manual "Sustainable Sugarcane Initiative (SSI): Improving Sugarcane Cultivation in India” was released recently and demonstration sites are in progress in five states. The initial results are quite remarkable.  Like SRI, SSI will have major implications the way sugarcane will be is cultivated in world.

Also some initial experiments are underway on wheat, figermillets etc.

It is important to mention here that while the seed based, technology intensive approaches search for solutions of improving the productivity in agriculture the other farm based approaches- particularly the innovations, the farmers practices, the organic approach, the integrated pest management etc., needs equal attention. It is best if both these approaches work in collaboration rather than conflict. WWF-ICRISAT project is exactly attempting to do that.

No approach is without out problems, it is important that we discuss and address them with innovation. For example, there is problem of proper tools required to maximize the benefits of SRI. The project is working with farmers, farm engineers to come with several options to improve the designs to suite the several agro-climatic zones.

The second approach is policy development and advocacy. Traditionally WWF is good at it in many countries. The experiences on the ground in the farmer’s field needs to be scaled up with appropriate policy interventions. For example, farmers adopting SRI require certain support- tools, training, exchange visits. These farmers are not only producing more by adopting to SRI but also contributing to saving water, reducing the fertilizers use (thus not putting pressure on more subsidies on fertilizers), saving energy used while pumping water from bore wells etc. With partners the project is working on launching initiatives in various countries and states within in India to upscale it to a level where the water saving is seen at basin level.

Agriculture and water connects both the organizations. Reducing water pressure from irrigated fields is going to help the dry-land agriculture. In many areas the irrigated agriculture and dry-land agriculture is not demarcated. In future more integrated, farm based, intersectorial approaches are needed to address the global challenges of food security and water crisis. This project is a small step towards such partnerships in improving the productivity of agriculture while reducing the human foot print on planet earth.

WWF-ICRISAT Project Collaborators:
1 Agriculture Man Ecology Foundation (AMEF), Bangalore
2 Peoples’ Science Institute (PSI), Dehra Doon
3 Vikas  Sahyog Kendra (VSK), Jharkhand
4 Centre for Rural Operations and Programmes Society (CROPS), Jangaon, Warangal District, AP
5 ‘Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences & Technology – Jammu’ (SKUAST-J)’ SKUAST-J, Chatha, Jammu         
6 Directorate of Rice Research (DRR), Hyderabad
7 Tamilnadu Agricultural University, Coimbatore
8 Xavier Institute of Management, Bhubaneshwar
9 Acharya NG Ranga Agricultural University (ANGRAU), Hyderabad