Feed the Future
This project is part of the U.S. Government's global hunger and food security initiative.

Making Water Use Efficiency a Reality by Creating an Enabling Environment

Introducing the Water Productivity Project (WAPRO)’s Push-Pull-Policy Approach

Evidence shows that water and irrigation scarcity is a key concern for global food security. Water-related conflicts are on the rise. Water productivity  the ratio of agricultural output per unit of water input  is as a key leverage point for increasing food security. More than two-thirds of human water consumption is used for agriculture, and an estimated 50 percent of agricultural investment in China, Indonesia and Pakistan has gone toward irrigation. As climate change advances, water is becoming an increasingly scarce resource, further threatening the already fragile state of agriculture in many countries and creating a growing risk of conflict over rights to water resources. Addressing water issues is thus a key component for achieving sustainable development in these countries, reducing hunger while promoting peace and economic wellbeing.

Helvetas, the largest Swiss-based international development NGO, is the consortium leader of a multi-sectoral group of actors that is rolling out an innovative approach through the Water and Productivity Project (WAPRO). The goal is to address inefficient irrigation practices in smallholder farming. “The application of new production and irrigation practices will allow farmers to maintain or grow their incomes without putting additional strain on local water supplies,” says Jens Soth, Senior Advisor Value Chains & Sustainable Commodities, Helvetas. The project is supported by the Global Programme Food Security of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC).


WAPRO recognizes that increasing water productivity in the field cannot be tackled by individual actors on their own, but rather must be addressed in a holistic manner. WAPRO’s approach brings together a set of three components that work synergistically to make increased water productivity a reality:

  1. PUSH: famers cannot adopt better practices unless they understand them. Small farmers in particular tend to be unaware of improved methods or are too constrained financially to risk experimenting with practices other than traditional ones. WAPRO addresses these knowledge gaps by teaching farmers about modern irrigation practices including intercropping, soil cover or mulching, laser leveling, water measuring and others. The more traditional PUSH component is important. Yet, more is needed to increase an uptake of improved practices. So how to create incentives and policies to support these practices? This is where the PULL and POLICY components come in.
  1. PULL: the surest way to change people’s behaviors is to put money on the line. WAPRO works with buyers to develop markets that pay premiums for crops that are produced with better methods, providing an extra incentive for cotton and rice farmers to improve their agricultural techniques. Other incentives besides premiums are secured market access or participation in the WAPRO program itself.
  1. POLICY: WAPRO addresses problems of poor water governance through improved policy. There are often issues in water distribution, maintenance of channel systems and timing of irrigation that individual farmers on their own are not able to address. WAPRO strengthens the capacities of water user associations in implementing agreed-upon action plans and advocates for national policies that are conducive to efficient water use. Water stewardship, wherein farmers and other local water users work together and agree upon how to share their water resources, is a key factor of this component.


WAPRO is now wrapping up its first three-year implementation phase (2015-2018) with six sub-projects operating in India, Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. These projects focus on rice and cotton production, two highly water-intensive crops that play important roles in local food security and economic growth. WAPRO works with the Sustainable Rice Platform, a multi-stakeholder partnership to promote resource efficiency and sustainability, and the Better Cotton Initiative, a non-profit stewarding global standards for a more sustainable way of growing cotton, to implement and scale up WAPRO’s approaches in India and Pakistan. Additional project partners include Mars Food, owner of the rice brand Uncle Ben’s Rice; Reismuehle Brunnen; Coop, a Swiss supermarket chain; the NGO Alliance for Water Stewardship; and Helvetas local country programs. Overall, the project expects to enhance farming income and increase water productivity for 45,000 farmer families by the end of 2018. A second phase for the project is planned for 2018-2021 with financing from SDC, Helvetas and other partner organizations participating in the project.

WAPRO strongly reflects Helvetas’ holistic approach. Helvetas believes that equitable access to water and its efficient use are key for sustainable development and contribute to poverty reduction and the Sustainable Development Goals.