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About the Comprehensive Assessment of Water Management in Agriculture (CA)

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There is broad consensus on the need to improve water management and to invest in water for food as these are critical to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The role of water in food and livelihood security is a major issue of concern in the context of continued environmental degradation and persistent poverty throughout the developing world. Although there is considerable knowledge on the issue, an overarching picture on the water-food-livelihoods-environment nexus is missing, leaving uncertainties about where to invest in order to address both human and environmental water needs.

The Comprehensive Assessment of Water Management in Agriculture (CA) is an innovative multi-institute process aimed at identifying existing knowledge and stimulating thought on ways to manage water resources to continue meeting the needs of both humans and ecosystems. The CA critically evaluates the benefits, costs, and impacts of the past 50 years of water development and challenges to water management currently facing communities. It assesses innovative solutions and explores consequences of potential investment and management decisions. The CA is designed as a learning process, engaging networks of stakeholders to produce knowledge synthesis and methodologies. The main output of the CA is an Assessment report that aims to guide investment and management decisions in the near future considering their impact over the next 50 years in order to enhance food and environmental security to support the achievement of the MDGs.

The Assessment synthesis report is developed along the lines of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assessment reports, and has formal linkages with the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development. It differs in that it provides in-depth analysis of water and food issues that are inadequately addressed in other global exercises, and benefits from gap-filling research of its first project phase. In the first phase, over 30 projects were developed to fill knowledge gaps and a publications process was initiated to disseminate project results. The development of the Assessment report forms the second phase of the CA process.


CA framing questions

Overarching question:
How can water for food be developed and managed to:

  • Help end poverty and hunger,

  • Ensure environmentally sustainable water-agriculture practices, and

  • Find the balance between food and environmental security?

  1. What are the options and their consequences for improving water productivity in agriculture?
  2. What have been the benefits, costs and impacts of irrigated agricultural development and what conditions those impacts?
  3. What are the consequences of land and water degradation on water productivity and the multiple users of water in catchments?
  4. What is the extent and significance of use of low-quality water in agriculture (saline and wastewater), and what are options for its use?
  5. What are the options for better management of rainwater to support rural livelihoods, food production, and land rehabilitation in water-scarce areas?
  6. What are the options and consequences for using groundwater?
  7. How can water be managed to sustain and enhance capture-fisheries and aquaculture systems?
  8. What are the options for integrated water-resources management in basins and catchments?
  9. What policy and institutional frameworks are appropriate under various conditions for managing water to meet goals of food and environmental security?
  10. How much water will be needed for agriculture given the need to fill food security and environmental sustainability goals?


Scope and focus

While the CA is global in scope, it focuses on developing countries where water for food is critical for supporting livelihoods and ensuring the survival of societies and individuals.


Launched in 2001, the CA is a 5-year program now in its assessment phase. Critical milestones in the CA process are summarized on the CA calendar.


The CA is supported by the Governments of the Netherlands, Switzerland, Sweden, Taiwan, Japan, Austria, as well as the CGIAR, FAO, OPEC, CGIAR Challenge Program on Water and Food, the CGIAR Gender and Diversity Program, the EU through the ISIIM Project, and the Rockefeller Foundation and in-kind contribution from assessment participants.


A 10-person CA Steering Committee (SC) drawn from CG Centers, FAO, NGOs and Water Ministries is engaged in structuring the CA, including the development of research questions, outputs and activities. The SC is supported by the Gender and Diversity Program of the CGIAR. Members of the Steering Committee of the Comprehensive Assessment are: David Molden, IWMI; Mark Rosegrant, IFPRI; Patrick Dugan WorldFish; Theib Oweis, ICARDA; Suhas Wani, ICRISAT; Bas Bouman, IRRI; Johan Rockström Stockholm Environment Institute (formerly from IHE/UNESCO); Jean-Marc Faurès, FAO; Gina Castillo, Novib-Oxfam - Netherlands; and Eiman Karar, South African Department of Water Affairs.

Extensive network of partners: The CA is carried out by a growing alliance of some 90 institutes and 700 agricultural and environmental scientists with development and livelihoods specialists from the South and North. Its goal is to focus the foremost experts in the scientific and development communities on assessing water use in agriculture and the impacts thereof on food, livelihoods, and environmental security to guide future investments.

A secretariat hosted at IWMI is the contact point for the program.

Key components

  • A comprehensive assessment of water management in agriculture, rural development and environment, with case studies at river basin and local scales.
  • The filling of information gaps through targeted research – capitalizing on past experiences, particularly to understand costs, benefits and impacts of past actions.
  • Analysis for the improvement of water management tools and innovative water management solutions.
  • Global-scale studies and long-term scenarios.
  • Capacity building, experiences sharing and learning.

Expected outputs

  • A Comprehensive Assessment of Water Management in Agriculture (300-page volume) entitled Water for Food, Water for Life: the Comprehensive Assessment of Water Management in Agriculture. It assesses benefits, costs and impacts of water management over the past 50 years.  The volume is accompanied by a strategic summary for policymakers: “CA Summary for Decision Makers” .
  • A unique knowledge base on water-agriculture-environment problems, challenges and solutions widely communicated and grounded in a research-based reference library containing peer-reviewed reports, journal articles, Assessment books and a packaged body of information on water resources in agriculture, including tools and resources.  Includes a book series around Assessment questions to provide the technical background information for the Assessment, and key reference for researchers and practitioners.
  • New and improved conceptual and analytical water management tools – participatory assessment tools and scenario development tools – that rural development planners can use to support their decisions.
  • Analysis of promising local water management approaches and practices to understand the factors determining success for the purpose of wider dissemination of these innovations.
  • Future water scenarios defined and explored.
  • Capacity built to undertake assessments (NARES, Ph.D. and M.Sc. students involved). The CA supports capacity building of all involved in the process through hands-on experience and knowledge sharing.
  • A set of well targeted research themes in the field of water for food (to support the Challenge Program on Water for Food).
  • A base to develop guidelines for the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands.


The following are highlights of work that has taken place since the inception of the CA.

Assessment Research Outputs: To date, over 150 written outputs have been produced by Assessment participants, providing research backing to the Assessment, including the first two books of a series (published by CABI) on Water Productivity and on Coastal Issues, and 16 titles in the CA Research Report series.

Capacity Building: The CA supports capacity building of all involved in the process through hands-on experience and knowledge sharing. Additionally, the CA has supported 11 Ph.D., 16 M.Sc. students and 4 intern students focusing on water, food, and environment issues.

Participation in Major International Workshops and Conferences: The CA has played an important role in delivering key water, food, livelihood and environment messages at several important meetings.

  • Water Week at Wadduwa, Sri Lanka, November 2001: This event saw the CA kick-off, bringing together 80 scientists and water professionals from around the world to shape the Assessment.
  • World Summit on Sustainable Development, Johannesburg, South Africa, 2002: The CA featured as the main CGIAR exhibit at the WaterDome. The exhibit featured work of CG centers and partners.
  • Third World Water Forum, Kyoto, Japan, 2003: The CA held a successful session on “Managing Water for Agriculture: Implications for Water, Food and Environment.”
  • Water Symposium, Stockholm, Sweden, 2004: The CA featured in a full day seminar to develop key Assessment messages, plus a full day seminar co-sponsored by SIWI to bring issues of water and food to the forefront of the water agenda.
  • 19th ICID Congress on Use of Water and Land for Food and Environmental Sustainability, Beijing, China , 2005: The CA held a session on water productivity, irrigation and future scenarios.
  • Conference of the Parties to the Ramsar Convention in Kampala, Uganda, 2005: The CA was invited to present key messages related to wetlands, livelihoods and agriculture.
  • Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Montreal, Canada, 2005: The CA organised a side-event on water management and adaptation to climate change.
  • Workshop “International Dialogue on Rice and Water: Exploring Options for Food Security and Sustainable Environment”, organized by WWF/PCARRD and hosted at IRRI (with FAO, PhilRice, ICRISAT), 2006: CA findings from the Rice chapter were discussed.
  • Fourth World Water Week, Mexico, 2006: The CA held a session on “Assessing livelihood and environmental synergies and trade-offs for water management in agriculture”.
  • World Water Week, Stockholm, Sweden, 2006: The CA organised a special session on “From Assessment to Action” convened with the Challenge Program on Water and Food (CPWF).

Raising Public Awareness: CA has contributed to raising public awareness especially through interactions with the media. CA activities received high publicity globally, in particular during and after the Stockholm Water Symposium in 2004, through press and radio interviews. CA results have been used as input into the CSD process in collaboration with the Government of Sweden, as well as in the latest COPs of the Biodiversity, Ramsar and the Climate Change Conventions.