Live from World Water Week

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Although the official theme at this year’s World Water Week, an annual development conference held in Stockholm, Sweden, is “Energy and Water,” from the first session the speakers have adopted food security as an unofficial pillar. Many of the conference seminars and workshops formally incorporate agricultural themes into their discussions, and USAID is no exception. Earlier this week, USAID announced the final list of awardees for its latest Grand Challenge for Development, the Securing Water for Food (SWFF) challenge.

The challenge called for innovations, either in the pilot or post-pilot stage, that demonstrate scalable opportunities to grow more food using less water. During the announcement, the 17 awardees presented innovations such as salt-resistant potatoes and quinoa, improved pumping systems, innovative drip irrigation systems – even drones (although "flying sensors" is the awardee’s preferred nomenclature). The choice of awardees shows the commitment that USAID and the donor community at large is showing to innovative solutions to private sector-led agricultural growth.

Several awardees presented innovations along the lines of Chemonics' ongoing and recently completed work with USAID Feed the Future programs around the world. For example, USAID selected World Hope International for a grant to expand its low-cost greenhouse model that is currently being piloted in Mozambique. USAID has encouraged the awardee to review Chemonics’ work in Haiti under the USAID/Feed the Future West-WINNER program, which has the potential to revolutionize Haitian agriculture through low-cost greenhouses that make use of steep hillsides (often the only land available to Haitian farmers) to increase productivity.

A question that the awardee list presents is the issue of local versus externally sourced solutions to development challenges. Most of the chosen innovations have been developed by entrepreneurs who are foreign to their chosen pilot countries. As World Water Prize Laureate John Briscoe noted in his opening speech, “Every solution to water is local.” However, since the model for scaling is private sector and USAID is providing business accelerator-style support to awardees, the solutions will have to be locally accepted in order to work. Awardees will need marketing savvy, but above all, it is the consumers in targeted countries who must decide whether or not to buy.

Justin Kosoris is a manager in the Chemonics West Africa and Haiti regional business unit. He is attending World Water Week  2014 in Stockholm, Sweden, as part of the Chemonics delegation. Follow him on Twitter: @JustinKoso.