Six water-thirsty departments in western Honduras began experimenting with the online water planning platform Agua de Honduras and its irrigation source mapping tool AGRI in 2017, both developed by request and with the conceptual and financial support of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID/ Honduras). These allow local water actors to plan better with a wealth of data, yet the challenges they tackle – water access, sustainability and the agricultural impacts of climate change – are not local, but universal. For this reason, the platform has been expanded nationally, while the flexible, open-source AGRI is going global.
The International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT, now part of the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT) and the CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE) initially worked with the government to pilot the platform with local organizations and municipal staff in the six departments. Here, Agua de Honduras became a go-to source for reliable information on water resources, including hydrometry, vegetation and soil information, water demand data, and climate change scenarios.
This data informed decisions at multiple scales, from whole watersheds down to tiny micro-watersheds. The platform also made it possible to implement national laws and policies, from Honduras's General Water Law to its National Plan and Country Vision and its Water, Forest and Soil Master Plan. The successes drew attention from the rest of the country.
Now WLE and CIAT are supporting a scale-out of Agua de Honduras, with help from other partners. The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, in one example, has brought the platform to the agricultural region of Golfo de Fonseca. Agua de Honduras has grown to provide data on 2,237 micro-watersheds, 53 sub-watersheds and 11 watersheds around the country, covering 3.5 million hectares.
The platform introduced advanced but practical tools – and the most attention-grabbing has been AGRI – AGua para RIego, or Water for Irrigation. This mapping application uses public information on terrain, soil and climate to identify water sources for small-scale irrigation. Given a field location, AGRI scans the surrounding area and suggests places where a river might be tapped or rainfall runoff harvested.
AGRI's clear utility for supporting smallholder farmers has propelled it far beyond Honduras. Now as a free and open-source tool, there are no limits to its application. International agencies are supporting its use elsewhere in Central America, and much farther afield in Ethiopia, Kenya and Rwanda. With ongoing technical training by WLE and CIAT, more decision makers are learning to use the tool to foster and target investments in irrigated smallholder farming.