World Bank, IDB, CAF, ECLAC and University of Nebraska join IICA in hemispheric initiative to tackle the water crisis threatening food security
San José, September 29, 2023 (IICA). The technical launch of the Water and Agriculture Initiative brought together the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) and important partners who have joined the project, which is designed to boost agriculture’s contribution to solving the severe water crisis that has affected the productivity of much of the Latin American and Caribbean region.
Taking part in the presentation and discussion of the plan of action were directors and specialists from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the World Bank, the CAF-Development Bank of Latin America, the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) and the Daugherty Water for Food Institute at the University of Nebraska.
Other speakers included the Minister of Agriculture of Chile, Esteban Valenzuela, and the Minister of Agriculture and Livestock of El Salvador, Oscar Guardado Calderón. The Director General of IICA, Manuel Otero, delivered the opening remarks. The hybrid event took place at IICA Headquarters in San José, Costa Rica.
Based on the premise that without water there can be no agriculture and without agriculture there can be no food security, the initiative aims to strengthen capabilities and promote strategic public-private partnerships among the countries of the region with a view to improving the integrated, efficient management of the use of water in agriculture, supporting ministries and governing bodies.
The Initiative consists of four core areas of work designed to achieve measurable results: the production and storage of water through the use of good agricultural practices; the efficient use of water in agriculture through technological innovation; the strengthening of governance; and the promotion of investment in water collection, storage, and distribution, and irrigation.
For IICA, it is an issue of strategic importance. In recent years, the Institute has supported member countries with more than 70 technical cooperation actions related to water for agriculture, in a context of climate change that has caused extreme events such as droughts, and huge losses in major agrifood exporting nations such as Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, and Paraguay.
During the activity, IICA announced the launch of a web page on the Water and Agriculture Initiative containing details of the legal frameworks in force on the subject in each country of the region. A technology atlas will also be available, with all the innovative practices currently being used and publications for free download.
Minister Valenzuela praised IICA’s work in promoting dialogue at the inter-American level, and was delighted to report that Chile had recently enacted irrigation legislation following several years of debate. “The law respects nature and puts resilience first. It is very important, because this year we had a little more water, but we still have a structural drought,” Valenzuela said.
Oscar Guardado Calderón emphasized the difficulties experienced in the region due to the water crisis: “Today more than ever we have a need, almost an obligation, to tackle this issue with political will and good administrative and public management practices. We have to share the positive experiences of the countries, and it is essential that we develop public policies and build an agenda for joint action.”
Competition for water use
Rayén Quiroga, Chief of the Water and Energy Unit within ECLAC’s Natural Resources Division, said that in recent years Latin America and the Caribbean had experienced a very sharp drop in economic growth, leading to rising poverty levels and making it even more important that water resources be used efficiently.
“In the region, there is growing potential for conflict between different uses of water, and climate change has exacerbated the situation. We have four times more water resources than the world average, but they are poorly distributed. And there are insufficient indicators to make decisions and focus investments,” Quiroga added.
The expert pointed out that more than 75% of the continent’s water was used in agriculture. “Food production is a very important factor in water management, and that is why we have signed up to this IICA initiative,” she remarked.
Christopher Neale, Director of Research with the Daugherty Water for Food Institute at the University of Nebraska, described the experience in that Midwestern state of the United States.
“Nebraska is the U.S. state with the largest agricultural area under irrigation, some 3.4 million hectares. As much as 90% of the water used is surface water, and there are also about 96,000 wells. We have high agricultural productivity,” Neale said. He went on to explain that the Institute was created in 2010, and has five main areas of work and numerous public and private sector partners.
Fernando Miralles, Dean and Professor at George Mason University in Virginia, gave details of Hydro-BID, a simulation tool created by the IDB to support the management and planning of water resources in the Latin America and Caribbean region.
“The system includes an analytical dataset representing more than 230,000 delineated water basins with their respective river segments in the region. The second part is a simulation model,” he explained.
Specialists from the CAF-Development Bank of Latin America, the World Bank and the IDB took part in the segment on financing.
Franz Rojas, Director of Water and Sanitation Analysis at the CAF, said there was a sharp contrast in the region between small-scale family irrigation and the intensive irrigation techniques used by agro-exporters, and each called for a different approach.
“We make loans with a sovereign guarantee, but there are also new types of financing. Meeting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) requires the efforts of governments, but also of new actors involved in water and sanitation issues,” he commented.
Luis Loyola, of the World Bank, said his multilateral organization was trying to strengthen private financing.” Today there is limited financing for water, be it from states or private actors. Investment processes lack sustainability, and small farmers, who are key in our region, are left out,” he pointed out.
The IDB’s Lucio García Moreno and Paula Roberts explained how their institution’s water funds worked. They are financial, governance and management mechanisms that integrate the relevant actors of a given watershed to promote the water security of a metropolitan area through conservation actions.
Manuel Otero emphasized the importance of joint efforts to address the water crisis. “Cooperation strategies today have to involve governments, international agencies, and civil society organizations. This issue is so serious and so critical that we all have to commit to creating a new water culture,” he remarked.
“Water is an extremely finite resource. Agriculture is in a process of transition and very positive things are happening in the Americas. But we also have to make the transition in regard to water. We know what needs to be done, and going forward we need political will, financing and an interinstitutional approach,” Otero concluded.
Institutional Communication Division.