Prashanth Vishwanathan/IWMI

Sustainably Increasing Land and Water Productivity

Finding ways to make more out of less

Millions of farmers, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia live in poverty. Improving their food security and incomes requires finding ways to produce more with less. Increasing yields—whether from growing crops or from raising livestock or fish—is dependent on better farming practices as well as on new institutions and policies. In addition, efforts to improve agricultural productivity must be well managed to avoid unintended social, economic and ecosystem consequences across landscapes.

The Sustainably Increasing Land and Water Productivity research theme aims to ensure that more farmers know about and use practices that improve productivity while preserving the environment. The theme partners with farmer groups, local researchers, development organizations, governments and the private sector to invest in new knowledge, policies, institutions and financing that allow farmers—including women and marginalized communities—to increase their resilience and food security.

Tapping into groundwater’s hidden benefits

In many developing countries, groundwater for irrigation and drinking water has played a critical role in development. But unsustainable use and uninformed land use changes are depleting the quantity and deteriorating the quality of groundwater and associated ecosystems, upon which livelihoods are dependent.

Use of groundwater for irrigation in Kandal Province, Cambodia.
Neil Palmer/IWMI

According to a new framework by the CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems, a change in perspectives is needed to view groundwater as part of a larger hydrological system associated with numerous ecosystem services, indispensable for sustainable development and livelihoods, especially irrigated agriculture for smallholder farmers. [Read more]

Solar pumps – a smarter way to irrigate

In western India and other parts of the country, heavily subsidized electricity to power water pumps have driven groundwater depletion. An unreliable electric grid, bankrupted utilities and power theft have contributed to the problem. Solar irrigation pumps have been promoted as a green energy solution, but subsidizing the cost of solar pumps can result in the same overexploitation of water resources. 

Mohan Das works on a sprinkling system energized through a submerged solar pump at a private farm in Klashar.
Prashanth Vishwanathan/IWMI

In Karnataka state in arid southwest India, the local electric company is required to buy back surplus solar power from farmers. The buyback policy, signed by Karnataka’s governor last September, is consistent with recommendations by scientists at the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) to treat solar power as a ‘cash crop.’ The rationale is that if farmers can make money by selling excess power, they then will have an economic incentive to irrigate their crops efficiently, thus helping to conserve groundwater and energy use. [read more]

“Solar pumps can unlock India’s energy-irrigation logjam – and other parts of South Asia as well – if the right incentives are made to farmers to manage groundwater resources sustainably.” - Tushaar Shah, an IWMI senior fellow based in India