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Water for Food Programme

Irrigation and agriculture
Roy Agterbos
Roy Agterbos
Project Manager Events and Business Development

Water and agriculture are inextricably linked. It is no secret that water is a critical input for agricultural production and as such, is essential to food security. At the same time, agriculture is by far the largest user of water, accounting for nearly 70% of total available freshwater withdrawals, and is a major source of water pollution.

Global population growth coupled with the impact of climate change, is placing severe pressure on already dwindling water resources, and is leading to more frequent incidents of drought, flooding, salinity intrusion and land subsidence. In addition, a significant portion of agricultural water is being re-allocated to higher value uses (industrial, urban). Innovative water technologies and practices are key to improving the efficiency and productivity of water in agriculture, resulting in more sustainable food systems, and improved food security.

The Netherlands is a global leader in both agriculture and water management. Yet, despite significant efforts, there are still too few concrete success stories that demonstrate the business case in an integrated approach to water for food. The Water for Food Programme addresses this issue by stimulating and facilitating the Dutch water sector and agrifood partners to develop business cases within this nexus.  

Short and long-term objectives

The Water for Food Programme is intended as a multi-year programme, initially starting with a period of two years (2021-2022). The programme’s objectives are to bring about:

  1. improved food security, sustainable water use and protection of ecosystems and biodiversity; and,
  2. the hands-on acceleration of business cases for the Dutch water sector. 

In line with the five key phases outlined below (see timeline), in the short term, the programme seeks to catalyse the development of water-related business cases in the agrifood sector through cooperation and joining forces amongst others with financial institutions. This will illustrate that business models can be achieved through adopting an integrated nexus approach.

The longer-term objective is to establish a sustainable Water and Food hub that connects players in the water and agrifood sector to co-create international projects and to serve as a central information point. This hub aims to be a platform that continues beyond the life of the programme and that is open to Dutch parties interested in water and agrifood. The Water and Food hub is a platform where business opportunities can be explored and successful pilots be brought to the next stage of scaling up, replication or adaptation to other regions. 

This cross-sectoral approach and the focus on financially viable local business cases in the most promising markets are crucial elements in the programme. However, these make the programme more complex. Developing sustainable solutions will take significant effort and multiple interventions, and can only be achieved if all the relevant know-how is shared amongst and put into action by stakeholders. The programme will facilitate this process. By showcasing concrete and viable solutions in the water-agrifood nexus, the programme also aims to further boost the visibility of the Netherlands as the global market leader in the water, agrifood and ecosystems sectors. This will optimise the Netherlands’ position in generating future business opportunities and, subsequently, contribute to the Netherlands International Water Ambition (NIWA) and the SDGs.    

Ultimately, the programme can serve as a model for large-scale implementation.  

Timeline for the Water for Food programma

Key characteristics

  • Water and agrifood partners are leading in determining country and business opportunities focus.
  • Introduction of innovative Dutch water technology and/or practices 
  • Users of the technology are local beneficiaries. 
  • Focus on the pre-competitive phase of project development 
  • The programme will identify and align itself closely with existing, complementary initiatives and key partners (governmental programmes and instruments, NGOs, platforms/networks, financial institutions) to increase overall impact. 
  • The geographical scope is global but the first phase of the programme, up to November 2022, will select a number of countries according to a set of pre-determined criteria. Strong interest and clear indications from the private sector are leading.
  • The programme will stimulate the development of viable business cases – see the eligibility criteria below.
  • Part of the programme budget is seed money to further develop the business cases.
  • The programme will clearly demonstrate the enhanced earnings capacity of cases that adopt an integrated nexus approach that simultaneously contributes to improved water efficiency + food security.
  • Showcasing concrete nexus cases fills an important gap: the essential role of water in food production and security. 
  • Important eligibility criteria include (but not limited to): a minimum of two Dutch water/agrifood sector parties per proposal; demand-driven - beneficiary must be a local party/user; follow-on financing must be identified; business case must demonstrate realistic implementation and scalability potential; water technology/expertise that is suitable in the local context must be shared. 

Programme management

The Water for Food Programme was initiated by the Netherlands Water Partnership (NWP), that saw a clear need for this type of programme within the Dutch water sector. It is financed by the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality. 

NWP is a strong network of internationally-oriented Dutch water organisations working worldwide on co-creating future-proof solutions and catalysing global water impact. As the programme manager, NWP is a neutral and independent authority in the water sector and a recognised and valued partner for international organisations. Its position as the pre-eminent networking organisation of the Dutch water sector enables NWP to stimulate the sector to embrace and further explore opportunities in the agrifood space. This places it in a unique position to manage this programme.