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

More Than Just Irrigation: The Role of Water in Agriculture and Nutrition

When thinking about water and agriculture, irrigation and erosion are two highly visible and inextricable links. Although the connections among water, agriculture and nutrition might not be as easy to see, they’re every bit as important. Mounting evidence indicates that poor water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) practices contribute significantly to stunting. Improving WASH practices reduces diarrheal disease, environmental enteric dysfunction and soil-transmitted helminth (parasitic worm) infections. Combined, these reductions contribute to decreases in stunting.  

Laar Kosua, a female farmer in the Yiziidug village of Northern Ghana, experienced firsthand how poor water and sanitation affected not only agriculture production but also her health. She and her husband avoided farming because they were concerned about the open defecation taking place in her community. In 2016, USAID’s multisectoral nutrition project, Strengthening Partnerships, Results and Innovations in Nutrition Globally (SPRING), introduced community-led total sanitation (CLTS) to Yiziidug. Endorsed by the Government of Ghana, this internationally accepted approach helps communities eliminate the unhygienic practice of open defecation by influencing social norms to achieve open defecation-free status. 

SPRING included CLTS as part of its WASH 1,000 approach, which promotes WASH behaviors in households with pregnant and lactating women and children under two years old. The first 1,000 days between pregnancy and a child’s second birthday is a critical window of growth, requiring proper nutrition and hygiene to prevent stunting. As part of SPRING’s work, Laar and her husband built latrines for her household and encouraged her family to do the same. Soon, her community was declared open defecation-free, and she and her husband began farming the land again.

“My family now enjoys bean leaf, okro (a local name for okra) and berra soup from our farm,” she said. “Before this, we bought these vegetables from the market for about 20 GHC ($5 USD) weekly. Now, we can save that money and spend it on other investments. I look forward to harvesting my beans on the maize farm in the next few weeks, part of which will be sold and the rest consumed by the family.” With the improved hygiene status of her community, the Kosuas look forward to both better agriculture and nutrition outcomes for their family.

Learn more about SPRING work to link agriculture, nutrition and WASH