Intensify and Accelerate Farmer-Led Irrigation for COVID-19 Recovery

The challenge of “building back better” demands that we take stock of what is working and assess whether such approaches are contributing to the future we want. In part one, we explored how Farmer-Led Irrigation Development (FLID) – a process in which small and medium-sized farmers develop irrigation solutions tailored to their needs and priorities – can contribute to the response and recovery of COVID-19 by improving the livelihoods, food security, and resilience of farmers and food systems. Here we take a closer look at FLID’s scaling and acceleration strategies.

The key is in the name. As farmers are the driving force, efforts to promote FLID must focus on supporting farmers and creating an ecosystem in which they can thrive.

Financial and technological innovation combined with increased engagement of the public, private and civil society sectors are at the heart of FLID’s expansion. In addition, they offer clear pathways to respond to the pandemic, stimulate recovery and build resilience.

Scaling up FLID requires the following.

  1. Catalyzing innovation: financing solutions for farmers

Access to finance is a struggle for small and medium farmers – a group notoriously limited by credit. While the financial case at the farm level for investing in irrigation technology is strong, the upfront payment for equipment remains a major obstacle. When loan financing can be obtained, seasonal fluctuations in cash flow create a challenge for loan maturity repayments, due to the volatility of production and prices. Although micro-finance models are plentiful, their large-scale deployment is complex because irrigation technology is expensive compared to more easily financed agricultural inputs, and risks are difficult to assess without formal agricultural production records, which are often lacking. In addition, simple microcredit solutions tend to ignore the reality that finance is just a constraint in a larger ecosystem of challenges: farmers also need access to value chains, affordable technologies. and the timely availability of inputs.

Innovative approaches can increase farmers’ access to irrigation finance. The strategic use of targeted grants, tailor-made pay-for-work programs, challenge finance, pay-as-you-go programs, grant programs, and loan underwriting can all help catalyze emerging markets by helping farmers overcome the initial hurdle of capital spending.

Where appropriate, government subsidies can be structured to increase adoption of the technology and to include more vulnerable farmers. This approach also requires strengthening and reducing the risks of the financial sector and its supply to farmers.

  1. Leveraging Technology: Creative Solutions Suitable for Small-Scale Agriculture

Access to irrigation technology tends to be centralized in urban areas, with rural supply chains being weak in comparison. To complicate matters, farmers’ knowledge and exposure is often low, making it difficult to sort out inferior technologies that increasingly invade the market in the absence of quality standards at the national level. Strengthening equipment supply chains, using catalytic subsidies, reducing import costs through pricing policy and implementing appropriate quality standards can help increase access to these transformative technologies. .

Big data and disruptive technologies can also help solve some traditional problems. Remote sensing is already being used effectively to identify water stress and production patterns, provide tailor-made advisory services to subscriber farmers, as well as document changes after adoption of technology and improved practices. Social and mass media, meanwhile, increasingly enable farmers to ideation, learn and connect with relevant data, services, markets and extension; they can also help close feedback loops. The private sector and farmers see an interest in developing a new, robust and suitable technology to address long-term sustainability concerns.

  1. Strengthening the partnership: collaboration between the public and private sectors

The private sector plays a central role in creating jobs, ensuring sustainable supply chains, stimulating rapid innovation and mobilizing finance; and it is present throughout the irrigated value chain. Although FLID operates outside the public sector – even as it adapts and relies on public infrastructure – the public sector has a critical role to play, albeit new to many government agencies. This is less of a driving role than a facilitator role: creating an enabling environment by regulating water use and technology, targeting subsidies and developing appropriate policy.

The large number of stakeholders, combined with the transaction costs involved in working with rural farmers, posed a challenge for scaling up FLID. Robust partnership platforms that bring together stakeholders from across the irrigation value chain are needed to better prepare and align demand for irrigation support, financial and otherwise, using a bottom-up approach. Likewise, cooperative networks play a vital role in facilitating knowledge sharing, exposing farmers to new technologies and establishing networks of essential suppliers.

  1. Formalizing FLID: institutional adaptation and innovation

FLID is inevitably a feature of basin regulation due to its relatively low profile on government databases, but its significant contribution to abstraction totals. However, existing permit-based administrative systems are not suitable for accurately capturing and regulating FLID, as they were designed to regulate a limited number of large water users. In contrast, FLID involves millions of low-volume micro-abstractions, many of which are ephemeral. Adopting more decentralized watershed approaches can help ensure that FLID is considered and support sound water planning and regulation. These could include group or collective authorizations, the use of new technologies to monitor water withdrawals, the simplification of processes to ensure access, and innovative hybrid law approaches that draw on traditions, local standards and regulations.

Learning from farmers on the front line

the Water Resources Group 2030 (2030 WRG) strives to unite diverse groups with a common interest in the sustainable management of water resources; it is a leading global partnership between the public and private sectors and civil society that supports collaboration at the country level. 2030 WRG collaborates with the World Bank and the Farmer-led irrigation initiative to unlock the full potential of agriculture with FLID.

Promoting FLID isn’t a one-size-fits-all business, but involves learning from farmers about the solutions they’ve developed to solve challenges specific to their environment, and then bringing them to scale.

The question of “how to build back better” in the recovery from COVID-19 is very important and will require innovation and cooperation on many fronts. Scaling up FLID is an opportunity to support frontline farmers, invest in locally incubated solutions, and promote agriculture-led growth with farmers firmly in the lead.

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