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Revaluing multiple-use water services for food and water security











Jepson, W., Stellbauer, M., Thomson, P. 2023. Revaluing multiple-use water services for food and water security. FAO Land and Water Discussion Paper No. 19. Rome, FAO.




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    The use of water is essentially multiple and people live in environments supported by water. These two fundamentals seem to be straightforward common sense; in fact, the patterns of water management are not included. The inheritance of the ‘silo’ approach has mostly led to clear-cut sectoral approaches in the water sector where water agencies are mainly organized around a single use of water. What has been observed, however, and noted throughout rural and urban areas is that multiple u ses of water within a water infrastructure command area is more common than single use. Multiple uses of water may be the result of a multipurpose scheme’s design, or more frequently arises from local practices. Most water systems are run on the principle of ‘non exclusion’: once built it is almost impossible to prevent local people from using the water for any needs for which they have no alternative. Not having any other water source people living near the irrigation infrastructure will use the water for their animals, bathing, domestic use, the environment and fishing.
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    In developing countries, further progress of irrigation is essential for increasing food security and farmers’ income. However, developing small-scale schemes remains a challenge due to multiple factors that must be taken into consideration, such as diversity of small-scale schemes, a large number of water users, social disharmony over the water use, varying water demands of multi-cropping systems, heterogeneity of equipment over the scheme. Furthermore, on-farm irrigation development has a major role in enhancing Agricultural Water Management (AWM). The previous development methods considered the improvement of single-factor productivity, but agriculture is undergoing a global shift from the single objective of outputs (such as yield or net income) to multiple objectives of increasing outputs while conserving natural resources. Many pathways towards enhancement of Water Productivity (WP) are directly related to improving overall farm agronomic management (irrigation, fertilization, plant density, plant protection, etc.), while external measures must be applied to ensure sustainability of introduced good practices (lack of input markets, scarce knowledge, poor infrastructures, water regulations, etc.). Thus introducing irrigation practices to farmers must undergo a step-wise process to ensure that costs do not outweigh achievable benefits, and both institutional and technical environment are capable to sustain results. This is the case in smallholders’ schemes, where farmers are poorly resourced. In order to address these issues, the current policy guide presents a combined methodology, which involves practical experiences drawn from FAO work in the three countries as well as researchers’ results to line up a set of feasible measures to improving WP.
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    Multiple-use services (MUS) have emerged as an alternative approach to providing water services, aiming to meet people‟s multiple water needs in an integrated manner. An international symposium “from practice to policy” in 2008 aimed to bring together experiences from research and practice and help move towards understanding the policy implications. This background paper for the symposium aims to provide a synopsis of current work in two parts: the first part looks at key concepts and definition s on multiple-use of water and the second reviews existing work on multiple-use services, especially that carried out over the past 5 years since the earlier 2003 Johannesburg symposium.

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