CEF Spotlight

WAPRO: Enhancing Water Productivity by Using a “Push-Pull-Policy” Approach


By Gisela Keller Managing Director, HELVETAS USA

Water productivity, or the ratio of agricultural output per unit of water input, is as an important leverage point for increasing food security. More than two-thirds of human water consumption is used for agriculture, and an estimated 50% of agricultural investment in China, Indonesia, and Pakistan has gone toward irrigation. As climate change advances, water is becoming an increasingly scarce resource, further threatening the already fragile state of agriculture in many countries and creating a growing risk of conflict over rights to water resources. Addressing water issues is thus a key component for achieving sustainable development in these countries, reducing hunger while promoting peace and economic wellbeing.

HELVETAS Swiss Intercooperation (HELVETAS), the largest Swiss-based international development NGO, is the consortium leader of a multi-sectoral group of actors that is rolling out an innovative approach through the Water and Productivity Project (WAPRO). The goal is to address inefficient irrigation practices in smallholder farming. “The application of new production and irrigation practices will allow farmers to maintain or grow their incomes without putting additional strain on local water supplies,” said Jens Soth, Senior Advisor Value Chains & Sustainable Commodities, HELVETAS. The project is supported by the Global Programme Food Security of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC).



WAPRO recognizes that increasing water productivity in the field cannot be tackled by individual actors on their own, but rather must be addressed in a holistic manner. WAPRO’s approach brings together a set of three components that work together synergistically to make increased water productivity a reality:

  1. PUSH: famers cannot adopt better practices unless they understand them. Small-farmers in particular tend not to know about improved methods or are too constrained financially to risk experimenting with practices other than the ones they are already using. WAPRO addresses these knowledge gaps by teaching farmers about modern irrigation practices including intercropping, soil cover or mulching, laser leveling, water measuring, and others. The more traditional PUSH component is important. Yet, more is needed to increase an uptake of improved practices. So how to create incentives and policies to support these practices? This is where the PULL and POLICY components come in.
  1. PULL: the surest way to change people’s behaviors is to put money on the line. WAPRO works with buyers to develop markets that pay premiums for crops that are produced with better methods, providing an extra incentive for cotton and rice farmers to improve their agricultural techniques. Other incentives besides premiums are secured market access or the participation in the WAPRO program itself.
  1. POLICY: WAPRO addresses problems of poor water governance through improved policy. There are often issues in water distribution, maintenance of channel systems, and timing of irrigation that individual farmers on their own are not able to address. WAPRO strengthens the capacities of water user associations in implementing agreed-upon action plans and advocate for national policies that are conducive to efficient water use. Water stewardship, wherein farmers and other local water users work together and agree upon how to share their water resources, is a key factor of this component.


WAPRO is now in its first three-year phase of implementation (2015-2018) with six sub-projects operating in India, Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. These projects focus on rice and cotton production, two highly water-intensive crops that play important roles in local food security and economic growth. WAPRO works with the Sustainable Rice Platform, a multi-stakeholder partnership to promote resource efficiency and sustainability, and the Better Cotton Initiative, a non-profit stewarding global standards for a more sustainable way of growing cotton, to implement and scale up WAPRO’s approaches in India and Pakistan. Other project partners include Mars Food (owner of the rice brand Uncle Ben’s Rice), Reismuehle Brunnen, the Swiss supermarket chain Coop, the NGO Alliance for Water Stewardship, and HELVETAS’ local country programs. Overall, the project expects to enhance farming income and increase water productivity for 45,000 farmer families by 2018. A second phase for the project is planned for 2018 to 2021 with financing from SDC, HELVETAS, and other partner organizations participating in the project.

WAPRO strongly reflects HELVETAS’ holistic approach of development. HELVETAS believes that equitable access to water and its efficient use are key for sustainable development and contribute to poverty reduction and the SDGs.


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Gisela is the Managing Director of HELVETAS USA, dedicated to strengthening relationships between HELVETAS, the largest Swiss-based international development organization, and its US partners. Gisela is in charge of strategic planning and leading efforts to engage US partners. As President of GK Communications, prior to joining HELVETAS USA, she supported international development and other organizations from 2004 – 2016 in outreach strategies. Prior to launching a consultancy, Gisela was Program Officer at the Goldman Sachs Foundation, New York, and Head of External Relations at Dresdner Bank, Frankfurt. She held senior positions at the governor’s office of the German State of Brandenburg, Potsdam, and was Program Director at The Armonk Institute, a New York-based international education NGO. Gisela holds a MA from the FU Berlin.

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