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Photo: © Arne Hoel/World Bank.

The fact that agriculture and water are connected shouldn’t come as a surprise to most people – it is hard to imagine growing anything without water. However, looking closer at the two sectors, one can’t help, but notice that the connections between water and agriculture reach far beyond irrigation.

One connection that isn’t so obvious is nutrition: People suffering from waterborne deceases have troubles absorbing nutrients from food they eat. Another connection is through resource efficiency and agricultural productivity – human excreta can be recycled into fertilizers and improve food security.

So, tying connections between agriculture and water into stronger knots could deliver multiple social and environmental benefits. In practice this could cut food production and healthcare costs, reduce risks from pathogens and detrimental weather effects and improve resilience.

However, even if the potential and benefits of collaboration are widely acknowledged, there is not enough practical evidence and successful examples of cross-sector projects. In other words, little has been done to plug agriculture into WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene), and vice versa.

Our WASHnut Expert Group (nut stands for nutrition) is determined to challenge the status quo.

With this unifying vision in mind, the Expert Group examined nine case studies in Sweden, Bolivia, Kenya, Tanzania, Burkina Faso and Uganda, exemplifying how to connect the dots and get actors from different sectors to work together. Let’s take a closer look at three of the cases to see what the reality on the ground can be like.

Photo: Stephanie Malyon / CIAT on Flickr.

Resource-oriented sanitation in a peri-urban setting, Bolivia

Installing flush toilets in a water stressed city situated at an altitude of 4,000 meters above the sea level is not an easy task. El Alto is also experiencing high rural-urban migration, which adds to the demand for sanitation infrastructure and water. In cases like El Alto, dry sanitation is more preferable because it removes the need for complicated water piping. In addition, dry sanitation can also benefit agricultural productivity because excreta from the toilet can be used as fertilizers on the fields.

All that said, persuading people to opt for dry toilets and coordinate the efforts among the agencies regulating and implementing agriculture and sanitation is a whole different story.

Achieving effective coordination between different stakeholders as well as acceptance of a new technology has been challenging, but the project partners worked hard to show that the solution is practical and makes business sense. In the end it worked. Some of the determinants of success include:

  • Behavioral change through awareness raising aimed at changing perception about dry sanitation is only a part of the solution.
  • Setting up the treatment facility, getting the collection and offsite treatment system going is crucial in order to create acceptance in households.
  • It is necessary to invest in marketing of processed sanitation waste, one way to do it is through demonstration gardens, working in collaboration with local farmer associations.

As a result, the people of El Alto got access to decent sanitation and local farmers doubled potato yields. Higher up the scale, Bolivia now has a national program for dry sanitation.

Action for Rural Women’s Empowerment (ARUWE), Uganda

In Uganda HIV and AIDs rates are high and leave many children orphaned. Care taking falls on grandmothers, which is challenging for many reasons, not least because of gender discriminative land rights – elderly women often don’t have formal ownership of the land that belonged to their husbands. In addition, climate related events like drought and floods add to the challenge, destroying crops and roads, jeopardizing incomes and food availability.

The Grandmothers and Orphaned and Vulnerable Children (OVC) – “Wellbeing and Sustainable Livelihoods Initiative” was set up in 2010 to overcome these challenges. Rather than focusing on one specific action, like childcare, the program brings together and engages the entire community through a participatory approach with a formal element, realized through Moratoriums of Understanding (MoU) signed with local leaders. Some of the activities are: training in sustainable agriculture, including agroforestry, as well as support with biogas production and livestock rearing to increase food security and nutrition security; economic support through savings and loans; health and sanitation awareness plus a number of water tasks, like rainfall harvesting and irrigation projects

“Working cross-sector is never easy. It is important to carry out substantial stakeholder analysis to ascertain strengths and weaknesses of all the actors involved and to ensure participatory approach is well anchored. It is also important to align the activities with national policies – this will make project implementation easier,” says Agnes Mirembe, team leader of the Initiative.

Integrated Schools and Community WASH, Kenya

This project underscores the need to be flexible and adapt to local circumstances. It all started from the recognition that children in Eastern Kenya are often sick and miss school. It is well known and documented that improved sanitation has high impact on public health, and so it was decided to approach the problem via this root. Since sanitation isn’t only an issue in schools, household hygiene was incorporated into the project too.

Moving on, the project team realized it is necessary to consider the link between health and diets: better nutrition supercharges brain development and immune system, providing stronger resilience to sickness. Thus, improving nutrition in schools and communities became part of the project, which also brought up the need to engage with food producers as well as with the ministry of agriculture and NGOs working on this subject in the area.

So, in the end the activities were many, ranging from rainwater harvesting to school hand washing facilities and pit latrines – a lot to coordinate within the scope of a single project. This led to ad hoc partnerships, which required clear formalization of cooperation through MoUs. The width of the project also meant that the staff with different professional backgrounds needed to learn from each other on a continuous basis.

Photo: Arne Hoel / World Bank on Flickr.

Working in a cross-sector partnership? Here are some points of consideration

As you have read above, a number of different results and conclusions emerged through all these case studies. However, there are some common themes that can be of value to policy makers and practitioners alike.

Firstly, many actors from across the board found that stepping out of their silos and taking on goals from other sectors could enhance the quality of their work, tailoring to the local context. What is more, such an approach often came with business opportunities and economic empowerment that work as glue between sectors.

Secondly, working through partnerships tends to bring institutional flaws to the surface as many organizations were not initially designed for cross-sector collaboration. So, it is important to remember that partnerships take time, coordination, determination and patience. In other words, it is crucial to establish clear work procedures and boost capacity within and across organizations taking part in a partnership. For investors and donors, this calls for greater flexibility in the way funding mechanisms are set up. In this sense, deep contextual understanding and awareness of local needs is key.

Thirdly, any cross-sector collaboration has to be developed through a participatory approach with respect to human rights and equality. Such mode of work creates local ownership, facilitates buy-in from communities and opens the channels for knowledge sharing, all vital for sustainability of any project. Developing effective communication makes coordination and raising awareness easier, contributing to the overall resilience of development initiatives.

Explore the case studies and the work of this Expert Group in this interactive Prezi!