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Water, Energy Key to Food Security, USAID Says
March 24, 2014

Man stands behind solar panel
In Senegal, USAID is supporting the introduction of solar-powered irrigation systems.

21 March 2014

Increasing pressure on fragile land and water resources makes it more critical than ever to ensure that these resources are used effectively and sustainably to feed a swelling global population, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) observes on the eve of World Water Day.

Many development specialists now recognize that effective food security programs stress efficient management of water and energy, writer K. Unger Baillie notes in an article on USAID’s website. Exploring the water-energy link, the United Nations has devoted World Water Day 2014 — March 22 — to raising awareness about the relationship.

Food production is water-intensive, irrigation systems for crops are energy-intensive, and energy production can be water-intensive, Baillie observes. USAID’s Water and Development Strategy sums it up: “Every drop of water that has to be pumped, moved, or treated to meet health and food needs requires energy.”

USAID is working with local populations to promote smarter water and energy use, developing cutting-edge fuel-efficient technologies to irrigate crops and exploring resource-efficient agricultural production methods.


Jordan is on the front lines of the water–energy–food security nexus. Its Water Authority is the largest consumer of electricity, while agriculture uses the most water. As groundwater reserves dwindle and grow saltier, the country will face an absolute water shortage by 2025 if trends continue, which may lead to a debilitating food and health crisis.

“What we want to do is create a sense of public responsibility so people will not only change their own behavior, but advocate for more responsible behavior by their neighbors and fellow citizens,” said Robert Cardinalli, chief of party of USAID/Jordan’s Public Action for Water, Energy, and Environment Project (PAP).

PAP is educating Jordan’s population about water and energy through person-to-person outreach, educational campaigns and social media. Project officials are working with female religious leaders, for example, to educate 140,000 primarily rural women about water and energy conservation. These women can then teach their families and friends about the issues, producing a ripple effect.

To reach youth, Amman’s Children’s Museum has a drive that includes a new USAID-funded water and energy conservation exhibit, I Am Change. “We are proud to have been able to construct and put together an enormous exhibit that tackles a very important and global issue worldwide,” said museum director Sawsan Dalaq. As part of this drive, Jordan’s teachers are trained to reinforce the exhibit’s messages in the classroom to instill lifelong habits in the nation’s future leaders.


In Southeast Asia, USAID’s Cambodia Helping Address Rural Vulnerabilities and Ecosystem Stability (Cambodia HARVEST) program is teaching farmers such water- and energy-saving techniques as contour planting and watershed management planning. The program also distributes flood-resistant, drought-tolerant and short-duration forms of rice seed so farmers can grow this staple crop using less water and fertilizer, which requires a lot of energy to produce.

In addition, the program is repairing, installing and reinforcing culvert and spillway linings in irrigation canals so farmers can irrigate crops without wasting water or fuel. These interventions are expected to boost the incomes of 70,000 households.

“I will continue with these techniques because I’m seeing yield increases,” said rice farmer Choem Phal.


Convincing people to make major lifestyle changes usually requires concrete evidence that water and energy conservation is in their best interests.

In Jordan, USAID cultivates local partners and uses traditional methods of commercial marketing such as billboards, radio advertisements, posters and social media to change behavior. And community members are now spreading conservation messages on their own.

“We’re getting reports back almost every week where our approach has been replicated by communities who hear what we did, sought out tools to implement it, and implemented it on their own,” said Cardinalli.


USAID is nurturing water and energy innovations through its Grand Challenges for Development (GCDs), which call on leading thinkers to identify creative solutions to a range of development problems and funds the most promising ideas. One GCD, “Powering Agriculture,” is developing clean energy agricultural innovations.

A Powering Agriculture winner, Columbia University’s Earth Institute, has launched a program to install solar-powered irrigation systems in Potou, Senegal, where most farmers rely on gasoline- or diesel-fueled pumps to run their crop irrigation systems. The method could revolutionize farming in the region, making irrigation more affordable and environmentally sustainable.

The resulting increase in farmers’ incomes and food security would be transformative in Potou, and the area’s farmers are already excited. “I am encouraged by the idea of using solar power,” said 32-year-old onion farmer Kallidou Dia.

The researchers are optimistic too. “If we can show success with our new model of energy production and transfer, maybe it can catch on in the whole region. That could have a big impact on greenhouse gas emissions, as well as saving farmers money,” said Brett Gleitsmann, an Earth Institute water systems analyst.