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Laying the Groundwork: Reflections From the World Bank Water For Food International Forum

I recently joined the Agrilinks team as a Knowledge Management Specialist and am exploring some topics outside my current knowledge base, such as agricultural water management. On January 30th, I attended the World Bank Group’s Water for Food International Forum. The theme of the event was "Farmer-led Irrigated Agriculture: Seeds of Opportunity." The two-day event brought together private sector actors, research organizations, international government representatives and NGOs.

As a newcomer to the field of agricultural development, attending the forum served as an opportunity to better understand how the public and private sectors approach water and food security. Two key takeaways stood out to me: to accelerate use of irrigation in developing countries, there must be collective action, and the actors involved must build trust.

Achieving sustainable irrigated agriculture can only be successful if the private and public sectors are united in their vision and commitment to improving access to irrigation. As one panelist asserted, there needs to be a common theory of change: agreeing on a shared outcome with a strategic process to achieve it. One of the reoccurring questions during the event asked participants to deeply consider how the public and private sectors can work together in partnership rather than independently. Some panelists asserted ways this can be achieved, for example through clearly defined roles and responsibilities and reformed policies to improve the enabling environment. For the government’s role, this may mean encouraging sustainable farming practices. For the private sector’s role, the way forward may be figuring out ways to promote the use of improved technologies in farming. For all parties involved, one of the common goals should be building capacity and supporting inclusiveness.

Building off the need for collective action, another key component to improving water and food security is establishing trust. The solutions and ideas around how to achieve this were more ambiguous. As several panelists emphasized, farming and irrigation have to be done more responsibly. One panelist also pointed out that it is important to invite farmers to the table to discuss irrigation, as farmers will be the drivers of any new initiatives. One possible consideration is to understand how both government policies and farming practices are affecting people at the community level. In order to establish trust at the community level, it is critical to establish support for the changes being implemented. In order to do so, researchers play a role here by collecting data that lends to developing stronger partnerships between the public and private sectors.

Imagining a follow-up of the event, and a reconvening of the parties present in one year to discuss progress, I can see that with clear roles and collaboration between sectors, there stands to be a lot to gain toward better water management for agriculture in developing countries. The forum was an appropriate platform to ask challenging questions and to share pain points as well as success stories. The question I am left with is what will the parties do with this information? If the private and public sectors continue to improve their collaboration — with farmers in the driver seat — at the next forum, hopefully, there will be progress to celebrate.

This is part of an Agrilinks series on Water for Food. Click here to read reports from other Agrilinks contributors on the week's events.