Ways to conserve water with the help of cheap and accessible innovations (MediaGlobal)

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Making every drop count: water usage in the Developing World

By Ian Potts

UN Water reports that by 2025, developing countries will increase their water consumption by 50 percent and 75 percent of countries will face water scarcity by 2050. However, farmers in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa are finding ways to conserve water with the help of cheap and accessible innovations.

Currently, agriculture consumes approximately 70 percent of fresh water used, with 15-35 percent of all agricultural water sources being used beyond sustainable levels. Efficient and dynamic water usage now can reduce these stresses dramatically and allow farmers to remain competitive.

“We also see a lot of challenges with declining water supplies and desertification in Sub-Saharan Africa,” said Danielle Nierenberg, Senior Researcher at the Worldwatch Institute to MediaGlobal. “Farmers are losing their soil and water resources at an alarming rate.”

The Worldwatch Institute’s State of the World 2011 points to one affordable tool called the treadle pump. Roughly resembling a Stairmaster, treadle pumps use a person’s body weight and leg strength to pump water from ponds, lakes, or streams into an irrigation system or directly to crops.

“There farmers are working with different NGO’s to develop these very low-tech treadle pumps that are made of locally procured materials, they’re very inexpensive, and they’re very easy for farmers to use. Their children can use them, they’re not very heavy, and they can be moved to different parts of a farm,” said Nierenberg.

Treadle pumps were first developed in Bangladesh with the help of Denver-based International Development Enterprises (IDE). Costing roughly $35, over 1.5 million have been sold in Bangladesh alone since 1980. NGOs like IDE and KickStart have brought variations of these pumps into Malawi, Tanzania, Mali, Kenya, and Burkina Faso.

Their low-cost and simplicity has created a new demographic of independent farmers. KickStart estimates that 301,000 people have rose out of poverty with the extra profit these pumps provide.

Another method for stemming water usage has come from a collaborative project between Columbia University’s Columbia Water Center and the Punjab Agricultural University (PAU).



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Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.