Voices 53

January 2000

Water: our precious resource

About seventy-five percent of our planet Earth is covered by water – water is everywhere! Yet most water isn’t available for us to use. In fact, for every 100 litres of water on the planet, only half a tablespoon exists in a form suitable for essential human uses. Most of it is too salty, or inaccessible, or too polluted for our needs.

Water is a basic requirement for our survival, well-being and socio-economic development. But right now, more than one billion people do not have access to clean drinking water. By the year 2025 the planet’s water supply must support three billion more people.

Yet instead of an increasing water supply, we have a diminishing one. Pollution from human and industrial waste makes water unsafe. Deforestation, soil erosion, monocropping and urbanization all make groundwater replenishment difficult. Water tables on every continent are falling and untapped water resources are increasingly hard to find. As we move into the new millennium, we are quickly approaching the limit of available freshwater.

Of course water is an essential part of agriculture. In many tropical countries, agriculture consumes 80 to 90% of all water used. Unfortunately, a large percentage of this water is lost through inefficient irrigation, evaporation from storage tanks and open pipes, or runoff due to degraded soil.

But the challenge of scarce water supplies can be met. And small-scale farmers have an important role to play. Farmers have already developed many low-cost water harvesting and water-saving techniques. And they can benefit from information about more low-cost techniques, such as catching water on rooftops, using plant covers that reduce water run-off, and recycling grey water. These are all relatively simple techniques that can increase farmers’ water supplies and help prevent water losses.

Future gains in irrigation depend on increasing water use efficiency, rather than increasing water supply. This means using more efficient, low-cost and locally-adapted technologies to reduce water loss. Small-scale irrigation can help farmers to increase yields. Drip irrigation, for example, can cut water use by 70% on high-value fruit and vegetable crops. Increasing water use efficiency may also mean shifting to food staples and crop varieties which require less water.

Solutions to water shortages should focus on smaller-scale projects, not high-tech interventions. Local communities can assess their water needs and their own ability to build, operate and maintain water delivery systems using technology that is affordable. Men and women need equal access to water. And farmers must be able to defend their water rights in the face of competition from larger farming operations and from other water-using sectors.

Water scarcity is the single greatest threat to human health, the environment and the global food supply. Users at all levels – individual farmers, as well as communities and governments – must take initiatives that offer sustainable and environmentally-safe solutions to improve water management.

Fighting for water

It is said that “future resource wars will more likely be over water than oil. As becomes scarceconflicts access and entitlement arise among users at all levels. Agriculture industry may find themselves in a contest for dwindling supplies. Social differencessuch classgendercasteethnicityhistorical legaciespower occupationcreate yet other areas of possible conflict management.

But, conflict can create opportunities for cooperation. Here are a few examples:

  • India and Bangladesh signed a 30-year treaty in 1996 which provides both countries with a guaranteed flow of water from the Ganges River during Bangladesh’s critical planting season in March, April and May.
  • Downstream and upstream farmers on the Nyanyadzi River in Zimbabwe frequently clash over access to water. Since 1983, downstream irrigators have organized raids upstream, destroying irrigation furrows and redirecting water to their own farms. The Zimbabwean Ministry of Water and Rural Resources has encouraged water users to set up “catchment councils” to resolve water access and entitlement conflicts.
  • The Nile River basin in northeast Africa is an area where population growth and water scarcity already create international conflict. The ten countries with territory in the Nile basin contain 40 percent of Africa’s population. In recent years, representatives of the ten nations have met to review past agreements and consider possible future solutions to peacefully manage the use of this shared resource.
  • Several villages in Maharashtra State in India have developed a partnership approach for managing their common watershed. When conflicts arise, representatives from each area meet to discuss the issue and find an acceptable solution.

1999 Atkins award honours grassroots organization in India

George Atkins, Founding Director of Developing Countries Farm Radio Network, announced Sustainable-agriculture & Environmental Voluntary Action (SEVA) as this year’s winner of the George Atkins Communications Award, at the Network’s Annual General Meeting in Canada on October 16th.

SEVA is a small grassroots NGO located in Madurai, Tamil Nadu State, in the south of India. For the past seven years, with the help of 56 volunteers, including farmers, NGO workers and academics, SEVA has been promoting indigenous knowledge about sustainable agriculture and healthy living. The group joined the Farm Radio Network as a member in 1994.

SEVA facilitates information exchange amongst farmers and their families at two-day ” Knowledge Workshops.Workshop participants share their and innovations about agricultureethnoveterinary practices nutrition healththrough group discussions presentations. SEVA volunteers document translate the information presented in

To date, SEVA has documented more than 1400 indigenous practices in herbal healing, traditional crop conservation, herding and other grassroots innovations, in its quarterly newsletter which is published in the Tamil language and read by 1800 members in southern India.

Congratulations SEVA – and its volunteers – for helping farmers in India preserve and share their innovations and local value systems in these days of globalisation!

The George Atkins Communications Award was established in 1991 to honour outstanding achievements of Network members. It is named for Dr. George S. Atkins, Founding Director of Developing Countries Farm Radio Network and a farm broadcaster at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) for many years.

Collected Wisdom

Collected Wisdom is a regular feature of Voices. We invite you to share methods that have worked for you as rural communicators, and that you feel will help other Network members.

Radio is an audio medium. This means that you can use only the sense of sound to reach your audience. Using sound effects during a program is one of the best ways to help your audience visualise your message.

There are many different ways to use sound effects: to signal the beginning or end of a program, to add humour, to help you to create atmosphere and setting, and to describe action.

Sound effects tell listeners whether the action is happening inside or outside. They tell us the size of the room, the number of people or animals present, and what the weather is like. Listeners will identify easily with familiar background noises, such as the sounds of the marketplace.

Quite often, sound effects convey action more dramatically than words. Consider how much information can be communicated to the listener with simple footsteps: getting louder, we know that someone is coming; getting quieter, we know that someone is leaving; their frequency tells us how fast the person is moving.

Create your own sound effects

It is helpful to have some sounds pre-recorded, such as the sounds of crowds talking, the marketplace, and animals. Footsteps and a door opening or closing can either be pre-recorded or created live. For the sound of water, all you need is two pails or glasses. By stirring the water with your hand or pouring it from one pail to the other, you can imitate rivers, lakes or people bathing. You can make wind sounds by blowing air past the microphone.

Practise your sound effects before using them on the air for the first time. Remember that just a few well done sound effects are often enough to create the desired atmosphere.

When you are aware of what the world around you sounds like, you can use those sounds to tell your story more effectively. If you have access to a tape recorder, carry it around with you for one day. Record sounds from as many different people and places as you can. You might be surprised by what you hear!

Contributed by Krystyn Tully, Student of Radio and Television Arts, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada.

FAO to focus on youth in agriculture

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations dedicated World Food Day – marked annually on October 16 – and its campaign for this year to youth. By doing so, FAO seeks to draw attention to the crucial role of youth in eliminating hunger.

The world may produce enough globally to feed its six billion people, but 800 million people still go hungry. To achieve the 1996 World Food Summit objective of halving that number by 2015, we must tap all our resources. One billion young people – including 472 million in rural areas in developing countries – can be a force in the fight against hunger.

About 250 million children and adolescents work in agriculture, tending fields, kitchen gardens and livestock. With education and training – which can be provided by radio – they can be a tremendous resource in building a sustainable agriculture and socio-economic framework vital to the development of their communities and nations.

What information do young people need? Many think of agriculture as too much hard work and too little income. They migrate to urban areas in search of a better life. Young people need to hear success stories of rural community development, youth leadership and ways to supplement farm income.

Young people are often forced to leave their rural homes because of inadequate access to land, water, credit, and agriculture extension. Radio programs that discuss land rights, water quality and conservation, and rural credit can be a force for change. Special programs on the role of girls and women in rural communities may be appropriate. A radio program featuring young people learning the practical, sustainable methods that their grandparents remember can be inspirational.

Where agriculture extension is non-existent, farm radio broadcasts can be a lifeline. Where extension is available, weekly radio programs about agriculture and other rural issues can provide additional information and discussion. Farm radio is an opportunity for youth everywhere to participate in our campaign to see a new millennium free from hunger.

The FAO publishes YouthWorks, a twice yearly newsletter for educators involved in programs for rural youth.

Available in English, French and Spanish from:
R. William Seiders, Rural Youth Officer
FAO, SDR Division
D-404, Viall delle Terme di Caracalla
00100 Rome, Italy.
Fax: 396-5225-3152
E-mail: william.seiders@fao.org
Web site: https://www.fao.org/rural-youth/en

Cuban farming association wins international award

The Grupo de Agricultura Organica (GAO) in Cuba has been named as winner of a major international prize – the Right Livelihood Award. The organic farming association is honoured for being at the forefront of Cuba’s transition from industrial to organic agriculture following a major food crisis in the 1990s (see Voices, September 1999). GAO was one of four recipients of the 1999 award who shared $225,000 USD in prize money.

The Right Livelihood Award was established in 1980 to recognize and support groups and individuals who offer practical answers to crucial problems facing the world today.

New initiative in fight against malaria

Last year, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced an enormous drive to reduce malaria in Africa. Over the next five years, they will provide 60 million African families with treated bed nets. The nets are treated with a substance that is derived from the chrysanthemum plant and is safe for humans and the environment.

Studies show that children who sleep under treated bed nets are half as likely to get malaria. The new initiative is part of the “Roll Back Malaria” global partnership campaign to cut the world’s malaria burden in half by 2010.

For more information about “Roll Back Malaria” contact:

World Health Organization

Regional Office for Africa
Parirenyatwa Hospital
PO Box BE 773
Harare, Zimbabwe
Tel: (263) 470.69.51
Fax: (263) 479.01.46
E-mail: regafro@whoafr.org
Web site: https://www.afro.who.int/

Regional Office for South-East Asia
World Health House
Indraprastha Estate, Mahatma Gandhi Road
New Delhi 110002 India
Tel: (91)11.331.7804
Fax: (91)11.331.8607
E-mail: postmaster@whosea.org

Regional Office for the Western Pacific
PO Box 2932, 1000 Manila, Philippines
Tel: (632) 528.80.01
Fax: (632) 521.10.36
E-mail: postmaster@who.org.ph