Heifer Project International

Soil to Space: Leveraging Water to Bridge the Food Gap Highly Ranked


Heifer International with Columbia University will leverage satellite imaging to identify appropriate water interventions, and farm-to-market integration allowing smallholders’ contribution towards closing the food gap.

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Lead Organization

Heifer Project International

Little Rock, Arkansas, United States


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To learn more about – or provide significant funding to – this project, please contact Lever for Change.

Project Summary

By 2050, the FAO estimates the world will be facing a 20,500 trillion calorie deficit, which requires a 56 percent increase from 2010, to meet the Zero Hunger Sustainable Development Goal. Smallholder farmers, who control 10 hectares or less, currently produce up to 80% of the world’s food. Based on academic consensus, efficiently using available water, with improved farm management, has the potential to triple farm production across countries in Sub-Saharan Africa and Central America. Heifer’s proven community-empowering, private sector-driven platform for socio-economic development and integrated water resource management will leverage Columbia’s expertise in integrated agricultural and water research systems, to help marginalized smallholders in nine countries establish resilient pathways bridging the food gap. The proposed solution will reach the most marginalized people through three components: soil-to-space – connecting crop management and satellite imagery, farm-to-market – building healthy food value chains, and today-into-the-future – passing on resilient and sustainable solutions.

Problem Statement

Smallholders in semi-arid regions depend on rainfed agriculture and lack the ability to efficiently leverage resources to increase and stabilize production. In addition to resource constraints, according to researchers at the 2018 World Economic Forum, urbanization, climate change, and soil degradation will have shrunk the availability of arable land for food production by 2050, yet population and consumption demand shifts growth will require 50 percent additional production. Smallholders continually attempt to escape the resource constraints by migrating to urban areas or other countries. According to the United Nations Global Compact for Migration, signed by 164 nations in December 2018, there are over 258 million migrants around the world. It is anticipated that migration will continue to increase for several reasons, including population growth and rising inequalities in income, resulting in challenges for families in a new environment. However, an increase in production potential accompanied by appropriate market development will contribute to closing the food gap and lessen the need for migration by offering a dignified living. Overlaying private sector leveraged water adaptation packages on well-managed farms with access to diversified markets will have the most significant effect on increasing smallholder production. Key leverage points include appropriate and right-sized products, services, and markets for crop and livestock production systems that are accessible and affordable to farmers from today into the future.

Solution Overview

By working with 110,000 smallholders in the nine targeted countries, the solution will reduce the 2050 projected global food gap by 6% by the end of 2025. This increase will be due to optimal production through effectively integrating water management into existing livestock and crop production systems while ensuring smallholder’s access to markets. Columbia will utilize global models with field observations to identify where improved water systems have the highest potential to facilitate increases in yields. An adaptation package will be generated by a technical steering committee, stakeholders ranging from local to organizational leaders at Columbia and Heifer. The adaptation packages may include solar pumps, treadle pumps, or water catchment containers for rainwater to name a few. Heifer will employ its Values-based Holistic Community Development approach with vulnerable farmers facing extreme poverty. The approach will build sustainable linkages between farmer-to-farmer and farmer-to-markets through personal empowerment and stable, quality production which meets market specifications. Farmers will be trained in good agricultural practices and linked to private sector companies, including farmer-owned agribusinesses, that are providing the adaptation package of water services and technologies to create viable businesses. If farmers or businesses experience cashflow barriers, Heifer will facilitate options to alleviate the capital constraints by working with commercial lenders. The result is an increase in productivity and production, the number of months of adequate household food provisioning for the most vulnerable households, higher and more stable income, and inclusive, sustainable market ecosystems, enhancing stability through increased demand for smallholder production.

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