WaSA: Water Smart Agriculture

By 2050, farmers will have to produce 70% more food to feed a growing global population projected to reach 9.7 billion – all without exceeding current levels of water withdrawals. The vast majority of the world’s farmers are smallholder famers: those that farm just a few acres, or less, of land. These farmers will need to increase food production in the context of increasing climate variability, recurrent dry spells and droughts, low water productivity and degrading soil health that no longer holds sufficient moisture. A deliberate focus on female smallholder farmers and increasing their productivity, efficiency and sustainability is needed to safeguard their productivity, and protect food and water security for a large proportion of the global population.

The term ‘Water Smart Agriculture’ was coined by CARE during action research undertaken in the period 2013-2015 as part of the Global Water Initiative in Ethiopia, Tanzania, and Uganda. Water Smart Agriculture (WaSA) supports smallholder farmers to integrate soil and water management to increase agricultural productivity and enhance conservation of natural resources. WaSA techniques are soil-smart, rainfall-smart and (if applicable) irrigation-smart.  

WaSA is an approach to efficiently harvesting, storing, and channeling green water throughout the year, regardless of season. Rather than hoping for rain to water fields, resource constrained rural poor farmers can harvest rain when it comes and use less water year round. This alone can double incomes for farmers, who no longer have to rely solely on incomes from rainy season farming, but can plant, grow and harvest during dry season as well.

WaSA is not a new concept. It draws from water related interventions of well-known approaches, particularly Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA), sustainable agriculture and conservation agriculture.  However, WaSA draws attention to access to water for production, including: increasing the soil’s capacity to absorb and store moisture (green water), rainwater water harvesting and storage, wastewater re-use, and supplementary small-scale irrigation. In doing so, WaSA emphasizes collaboration across the water and agriculture sectors, in order to ensure increased investment in smallholder agriculture and efficient use of water for production, with a more pointed goal of increasing water access for production among smallholder farmers, and increasing yields, incomes, food security and nutrition.

  1. Nothing new in terms of techniques: mulching, composting/natural fertilizers, zai pits, ridging, spacing, intercropping
  2. Often the same as sustainable, conservation or climate smart agriculture except:
    1. Demands that there is a re-focus and renewed effort on collaboration between water and agriculture sectors.
    2. Recognition that farms should be: rain-smart, irrigation-smart (where applicable), and soil-smart.
    3. WaSA looks at the “whole watershed” approach to recognize how farmers can positively affect and be affected by the methods and decisions of others within the watershed.
    4. WaSA includes a specific focus on female farmers and their ability to increased yields, sell, earn income, work as a collective, reduce time poverty, feed their families nutritious foods, and make decisions


Learn More
Read the 2017 TOPS case study on Water Smart Agriculture and food security in Uganda, here.

Read this article on how women in CARE’s Pathways programs in Mali, Malawi, and Ghana are using Water Smart Agriculture for an equitable and food secure future.

Find a link to the Water Smart Agriculture Sourcebook, produced under the Global Water Initiative program in 2015, here.

Water Smart Agricultural principles are integrated into the Pathways to Empowerment programs in Ghana, Malawi and Mali. Read more about the Pathways to Empowerment program here.

Read a learning brief on WaSA here.


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