event 22 nov. 2021

Discussion Paper // SMART IRRIGATION SMART WASH: Solutions in Response to the Pandemic Crisis in Africa

By Maher Salman, Eva Pek, and Waqas Ahmad. Published by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Well aware of the uncertainties related to the impacts of COVID-19 on daily life, this discussion paper aims to spark a discourse on the rapidly evolving situation of the COVID-19 pandemic in Africa, and proposes potential relief measures to slow down the spread of the disease.

Smart irrigation smart wash

Executive Summary

Agriculture has been the engine of overall economic growth in developing countries, whereby agriculture significantly contributes to national GDPs, rural employment levels, household food security and trade balance. The crisis generated by the spreading of COVID-19, however, is already affecting food systems under different dimensions and threatens the gains so far achieved in poverty reduction, inequality and underdevelopment.

Improving the productivity and efficiency of agriculture is now more relevant than ever and, undoubtedly, exploiting irrigation potential is fundamental to enhance food security. Nevertheless, expanding irrigation entails a considerable growth in water use, which, however, cannot come at the expense of water resources needed for sanitation and hygiene (WASH).

A SMART Irrigation- SMART WASH twin-track approach has been developed by the Land and Water Division of FAO, illustrated in a new discussion paper, to address these issues.

The approach promotes the introduction of corporate solutions to enhance the multiple use of water, thus addressing, at the same time, the need to develop irrigation for strengthened food security, while ensuring the availability of resources for WASH facilities in the most vulnerable communities.

There are no "one size fits all" solutions that can respond to these challenges at once, particularly in such a diverse continent as Africa. Individual countries are demanded to scrutinize every possible risk factor associated with the virus and plan their short and long-term strategies accordingly.

As a first step of the proposed approach, geographical hotspots are identified through the intersection between countries with high vulnerability related to agricultural production and countries with high vulnerability related to the pandemic, to produce a dynamically evolving assessment. Investment packages, both at on-farm and system level, are then proposed, and a "toolbox" of potential engineering solutions (non-exhaustive, but well representative of on-ground applied technologies) is developed. Finally, partnerships with the private sector, in line with FAO's Strategy for Partnership, are recommended, to bring the state-of-art innovations aboard and achieve the ultimate goal of the Smart Irrigation-SMART WASH approach: endorsing multiple water use to safeguard food security and human health.




Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.


The full article is available for download here.


Salman, M., Pek, E. and Ahmad, W. 2020. Smart irrigation – Smart wash. Solutions in response to the pandemic crisis in Africa. FAO Land and Water No. 16. Rome, FAO. https://doi.org/10.4060/cb1306en

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