International Women’s Day 2020

IWMI staff describe ‘aha moments’ when they realized the importance of gender equality for improving food, water, land and agricultural systems.

Claudia Sadoff - Director General

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Mark Smith - Deputy Director General

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Izabella Koziell

Program Director - CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE)

“Working in Tanzania’s dry zone, where many rural women and girls walked several kilometers to collect water every day, opened my eyes to some of the harsh realities of development. In this case, what seemed like an obvious solution for women – to dig wells to bring water closer to homesteads – failed spectacularly. There was one cardinal mistake: No one asked the women how they used water – only men were consulted. So, dozens of wells were dug, but they provided only hard water, which was unusable for cooking or washing. Unsurprisingly, all wells were soon defunct, and the women still walked hours every day to collect water. When the next project started, none of the women wanted to participate!

Well-meaning research or development efforts could be wasted, if the needs of women and those most vulnerable or affected are ignored.”

Soumya Balasubramanya

Research Group Leader - Economics

“When I started working in Tajikistan, I thought that the de-collectivization of Soviet-era cotton farms into smaller private farms may have ‘feminized’ cotton cultivation. However, it became apparent that cotton production on collective farms also used female labor extensively. I guess it helps to check your assumptions.”

Alan Nicol

Strategic Program Director - Water, Growth and Inclusion

“Sometime back, I realized that gender inequality is not just a moral challenge, but also a fundamental economic failure with massive and daily ramifications for global development. Sitting in rural Karamoja, Uganda, in 2018, I calculated the wages that women could earn through gainful employment instead of spending most of their time to collect water. If every other woman collecting water on a daily basis in the subregion (say 100,000 people a day from a population of 1 million people) received half a day’s wages through employment at a going rate of about USD 1, the value generated after a year would be equivalent to nearly half the annual aid received by the entire Karamoja subregion. This is a mind-boggling figure and serves to underline that gender inequality is anti-development, period!”

Diana Suhardiman

Research Group Leader – Governance and Gender

“In the village of Bitter Bamboo in Laos, gender equality is embedded in farm households’ seasonal decisions to select arable land, and in the choice of crops and seeds for cultivation. In this way, food security and sustainable environmental management are ensured through mutual respect and equal partnership.”

Luna Bharati

Principal Researcher-Hydrology and Water Resources

“I have been working in the water sector for almost two decades. I find it quite disheartening that the policy-making/management level is still dominated by men/and or masculinity, which is then also reflected in national policies and services. We are still on the road to gender equality and have a long way to go. I recently read an article in The Guardian by Rebecca Solnit and had an ‘aha’ moment, as my hope also lies with the younger generation of water professionals. I quote here an excerpt from the article, ‘Me, I admire and am grateful to the younger feminists at work, and learn a lot from them – not any one big truth but a host of insights that have gradually shifted my understanding, and given me new tools to use. What I find in so many young women and girls – right down to toddlers in my family, as well as that young woman taking her friend to get the rape kit – is a clarity and confidence about their rights, needs, and truths that feels new and different. We can credit an older generation with sowing some of the seeds, but they are the beautiful harvest. They are the victory’.”

Rachael Mcdonnell

Strategic Program Director – Water, Climate Change & Resilience

“As an undergraduate scientist, back in 1987, I had just spent the day collecting field samples from a salt lake in Tunisia and was waiting for a lift back to the hotel, when I noticed a procession of women with crop-laden donkeys walking into the village after working in the oases (the men were already sitting and drinking coffee with their friends). So, it became evident that women were mainly involved in food production and income generation in this rural setting.”

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Related Publications

Displaying 5 publications (Show all records)
Impacts of agricultural value chain development in a mountainous region: evidence from Nepal (5/13/2021)
Kafle, Kashi; Songsermsawas, T.; Winters, P. 2021. Impacts of agricultural value chain development in a mountainous region: evidence from Nepal. Rome, Italy: International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) 33p. (IFAD Research Series 65)
Keywords / Abstract | Fulltext (1.65 MB)

Special issue on selected papers from 2019 World Water Week (2/26/2021)
Harris, G. D.; Barron, J.; Uhlenbrook, Stefan; Hussein, H.; Choi, G. 2021. Special issue on selected papers from 2019 World Water Week. Water, (Special issue with contributions by IWMI authors)
Keywords | Fulltext

Lefore, N.; Closas, Alvar; Schmitter, Petra. 2021. Solar for all: a framework to deliver inclusive and environmentally sustainable solar irrigation for smallholder agriculture. Energy Policy, 154:112313. (Online first) [DOI]
Keywords / Abstract | Fulltext (2.37 MB)

Donoso, G.; Barron, J.; Uhlenbrook, Stefan; Hussein, H.; Choi, G. 2021. Sciencepolicy engagement to achieve “water for societyincluding all”. Editorial. Water, 13(3):246. (Special issue: Selected Papers from 2019 World Water Week) [DOI]
Keywords | Fulltext (185 KB)

Mulema, A. A.; Boonabaana, B.; Debevec, L.; Nigussie, Likimyelesh; Alemu, M.; Kaaria, S. 2021. Spiraling up and down: mapping women’s empowerment through agricultural interventions using the community capitals framework in rural Ethiopia. Community Development, 52(1):113-130. [DOI]
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Related Projects

Ongoing ProjectsCompleted Projects



CGIAR Gender Platform IWMI Components
January 1, 2020 to December 31, 2021 (Extended to December 31, 2020)
CRDP - Climate Resilient Dev Pathways
July 1, 2020 to June 30, 2021 (Extended to November 2, 2020)
Sustainable Inclusive Intensification
October 1, 2019 to September 30, 2020 (Extended to December 31, 2019)
ACIAR Nepal Extension
July 1, 2019 to June 30, 2020
IWRM in India
January 15, 2017 to January 14, 2020 (Extended to February 15, 2020)

Innovation bundles

Farmer-led irrigation development is about much more than installing a pump in a field. It requires access to financing, labor, energy, and input and output markets, so that investments in irrigation translate into sustainable returns. IWMI uses a systemic approach to understand the farming system as well as the factors in the enabling environment that prevent women, men and youth from engaging in and benefitting equitably from farmer-led irrigation. We partner with farmers and the public and private sectors to test contextually relevant innovation bundles that combine irrigation technology such as solar pumps with financing mechanisms like pay-as-you-own or pay-as-you-go, agricultural inputs and agronomic techniques. We also look at ways to improve on-farm water management and nutrient use efficiency and reduce evapotranspiration through digital advances and agricultural extension. We integrate the scaling of innovation bundles into agricultural value chains to enhance the impacts on farmers’ irrigation investments, incomes and livelihoods.

This focus area contributes to the following One CGIAR impact areas:

Nutrition, Health & Food Security Climate Adaptation and Mitigation

Gender and social inclusion

The barriers facing women and men in accessing irrigation technologies are not the same. Neither are the benefits. Social, cultural and religious norms influence inter- and intra-household power relations. These, in turn, affect access to resources such as land, credit, information and training. IWMI carries out cross-dimensional analysis of gender and social inclusion in policy, financing, livelihood assets and access, institutional approaches and interventions as well as gender-based technology preferences. For example, we work with farmers, financial institutions and the private sector to address gender-based constraints in credit scoring and enhance women’s purchasing power. But benefitting from farmer-led irrigation does not stop at accessing and adopting technologies; enabling women and resource-poor farmers to participate in input and output markets is equally important to ensure that investments in irrigation result in improved nutrition and economic empowerment. Other ways we enhance gender and social inclusion include tackling agency issues around financial management and literacy, livelihood diversity and social capital as well as access to infrastructure, extension services and market linkages.

This focus area contributes to the following One CGIAR impact areas:

Poverty reduction, livelihoods and jobs Gender equality, youth and inclusion

Environmental sustainability

Population pressure and increasing water competition in a changing climate require us to take stock of the availability and use of water across scales. Water availability not only influences farmers’ commercial prospects but also irrigation-related enterprises and agri-businesses. Greater water scarcity could jeopardize irrigation and agricultural markets while excessive water use can lead to declining ecosystems, water quality and soil health. IWMI advises development partners and the public and private sectors on all aspects of water resource availability and use through a variety of advanced modeling and remote-sensing products and tools, including Water Accounting+solar irrigation mapping and internet of things. These are complemented by multi-criteria analysis to evaluate the potential of irrigation expansion, taking into consideration environmental flows. With our private sector partners, we are leveraging converging technologies, such as sensors on solar pumps that capture usage data, to encourage better resource management and governance.

This focus area contributes to the following One CGIAR impact areas:

Environmental health and biodiversity

Adaptive scaling and partnerships

The ability of farmers to engage in or expand irrigation depends on the prevailing socioeconomic, ecological and political contexts, which are often complex, non-linear and changeable. Overcoming systemic barriers to farmer-led irrigation development while taking advantage of existing opportunities requires scaling processes to be adaptive. This means diverse actors feed off, adapt to, support, cooperate, compete and interact with each other, forming different multi-actor networks and engaging in collective action to undertake various functions in the scaling ecosystem. IWMI works with farmers and public and private sector partners to co-design and pilot contextually relevant innovation bundles and their scaling pathways or strategies, influence policies and accelerate the transition to scale of innovations with demonstrated early impact.

This focus area contributes to the following One CGIAR impact areas:

Nutrition, health and food security Poverty reduction, livelihoods and jobs Gender equality, youth and inclusion Environmental health and biodiversity Climate adaptation and mitigation

Financing ecosystem

A lack of affordable credit, particularly for women and resource-poor farmers, is one of the main barriers to expanding farmer-led irrigation in low- and middle-income countries. But credit alone is not enough. Financing for irrigation equipment must be embedded in a wider financing ecosystem that bundles credit with inputs and services, market information and access, and technology such as digital payment. In several countries, irrigation equipment suppliers are stepping in to provide financing directly to farmers. In doing so, they increase their own risk. To address this issue, IWMI works with farmers, private companies, finance institutions and development partners such as the World Bank Group to analyze whether credit-scoring tools are inclusive. We also help to identify gaps in the financing ecosystem and de-risk the private sector from testing innovative end-user financing mechanisms that take into account farming system typologies, financial and social capital and crop seasonality.

This focus area contributes to the following One CGIAR impact areas:

Poverty reduction, livelihoods and jobs

Human capacity development and knowledge exchange

Scaling farmer-led irrigation requires strengthening human capacity and knowledge exchange among all actors and stakeholders involved. IWMI takes an action research approach, working with national and international research institutions, governments, extension agents and public and private organizations to co-develop the scaling ecosystem and strengthen capacity to drive scaling networks and collective action. We support the development of or reinforce national multi-stakeholder dialogues with the aim of sharing scaling experiences and realizing win-win collaboration, interactive learning and capacity development. Other modalities for capacity development include hackathons, innovation research grants for bachelor’s and master’s students, private sector scaling grants and innovation internships with private companies. These all serve to stimulate local and contextually relevant innovation, close the research-private sector divide and enhance job readiness among young professionals.

This focus area contributes to the following One CGIAR impact areas:

Nutrition, health and food security Poverty reduction, livelihoods and jobs Gender equality, youth and inclusion Environmental health and biodiversity Climate adaptation and mitigation

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