© Karin Jakob / Helvetas

WAPRO – Multi-stakeholders join forces to enhance water productivity

© Karin Jakob / Helvetas

Helvetas supports the enhancement of food security, water efficiency and income of at least 45’000 farmers in Asia that either produce cotton or rice. The Water Productivity Project (WAPRO) is a multi-stakeholder initiative to address these issues in Kyrgyzstan, India, Tajikistan and Pakistan.

  • Project Name
    WAPRO – Multi-stakeholders join forces to enhance water productivity
  • Project Phase
    2015 to 2021
  • Funding
    This project is an SDC mandate.
  • Thematic focus
    Sustainable and Inclusive Economies

What is water productivity?

It is the ratio between amount or value of a crop and the amount of water applied for its production. Increasing water productivity means

a) to decrease the amount of water for production while keeping or increasing the level of yield/income from the crop, or

b) to increase yields/value of a crop, while keeping or decreasing the amount of water.
© Helvetas
«For the last 15 years I've been producing cotton. I want to learn how to use water more efficiently and how to decrease my water consumption»

Sobirjon Ochilov, cotton farmer from Sughd Province, Tajikistan

An innovative approach to increase water productivity in rice and cotton

Experts and scientific studies in various science disciplines agree that water and irrigation issues are a key concern for global food security and that potential water conflicts are an essential risk for water scarce regions.
Positioned within the Global Programme Food Security of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) a multi-sectoral group of actors under the lead of Helvetas allied to roll out an innovative approach to address inefficient irrigation practices in smallholder farming of cotton and rice.
The alliance is based on the insight that the complexity of water productivity in the field cannot be tackled by individual actors. A more holistic approach is required that can only be achieved by a set of activities that plug together synergistically. Thus, the actors came up with the idea to develop an approach that can implement three components practically:
1) The Push Component addresses the knowledge gap of farmers. Particularly small-farmers have either not the knowledge about modern irrigation practices or they cannot risk experimenting with practices different from the ones they are using already. This component represents the usual approach of development cooperation: Bringing a change of technologies via extension. This approach is useful, but finds only a fraction of the farmers adopting the methods, because incentives for the change are lacking.

2) The Pull Component addresses the lack of incentives. Farmers that either produce cotton or rice will be motivated to change production and irrigation practices, because the buyers of the product support this change either by a direct premium or via the benefits of a systematic programme.

3) The Policy Component aims to fill the gap that inappropriate water governance is creating. The water distribution, the maintenance of the channel system, and the right timing of irrigation leaves in many cases room for improvement and requires efforts beyond the reach of an individual farmer or a single private sector entity. The stewardship approach (for explanations see below) brings water users together to agree on a joint action and water use plan.

Seven stakeholders implement six subprojects in four countries

Helvetas strives to unfold synergies between governments, development NGOs and the private sector to release an innovative combination of improved irrigation water productivity and food security. It supports farmers in India, Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan in their aspirations towards enhancing their food security, income and water productivity through promotion of water governance and strengthened capacities of water user associations.

WAPRO is a multi-stakeholder initiative with six subprojects. The consortium partners implement the subprojects below and activities based on a co-financing model. Together with the SDC contributions the overall project budget for the first three year phase (2015 – 2018) amounted to six million Swiss Francs. A second phase with another jointly contributed funding amount of six millions Swiss Francs is currently ongoing from 2018 till 2021.

1 Consortium lead and overall coordination: SDC mandated Helvetas with the coordination and framing implementation of the overall project.

2 Cotton – India and
3 Cotton – Pakistan
The Better Cotton Initiative will integrate water saving technologies and approaches within selected projects for the implementation of the Better Cotton Standard in both countries, thereby combining productivity increases with sustainability improvements embedded in a tradable standard recognised by the market. In Pakistan, water stewardship elements will be implemented jointly by the involved actors facilitated by Intercooperation Pakistan – the local subsidiary of Helvetas in Pakistan.

4 Rice – India
The Sustainable Rice Platform, Coop Switzerland, and Intercooperation Social Development India jointly support water efficient rice production in a contract farming system.

5 Rice – Pakistan
Mars (owning the renowned rice brand Uncle Ben’s Rice) together with their local supply partner Rice Partners Limited jointly implement water efficient production of basmati rice in Punjab area. Scaling-up of this approach to other rice companies in Pakistan will be facilitated by the Sustainable Rice Platform. Water stewardship elements will be implemented jointly by the involved actors facilitated by Intercooperation Pakistan.

6 Cotton – Tajikistan and
7 Cotton – Kyrgyzstan
Helvetas Tajikistan resp. Helvetas Kyrgyzstan execute the WAPRO activities in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. In collaboration with ongoing organic cotton or water management projects WAPRO will proactively combine the work with water user associations with organic cotton production.
© Helvetas
© Helvetas
© Helvetas
© Helvetas
© Helvetas
WAPRO: Enhancing Water Productivity by Using a “Push-Pull-Policy” Approach, EcoInnovator Blog, Gisela Keller © Helvetas
© S.B.Opladen
© S.B.Opladen
© Helvetas
'Chipoletti' water measurement device, J. Rasulov, 2017 © Helvetas
© Helvetas
© Helvetas

Water stewardship – an integral part of WAPRO

The policy component of the project is strongly based on water stewardship ideas. Rather than waiting for policy changes that may come as top down approach, the water users (farmers that need the water for agriculture, but also villagers that need water for household purposes) jointly agree on a reasonable way to share available water resources and on plans to improve the local water situation.

Since 2013, such joint processes can be based on a newly launched international Water Stewardship Standard. Owned and administered by the international NGO Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS) this set of criteria and indicators specifies the action steps required to achieve a local water management plan that can be accepted by all local water users.

Examples of activities that could be conducted in such an action plan are:

  • farmers and their organizations are involved in water measurement
  • improved maintenance of small water ways
  • improved water distribution plans to achieve right timing and volumes of water delivery
  • interaction with local authorities responsible for the maintenance of larger water distribution infrastructures

Within the project the Alliance for Water Stewardship will train local implementers in facilitation skills, how to handle such sensitive discussion procedures and which hydrology facts and legal aspects have to be integrated to achieve reasonable and feasible results.

In combination with new irrigation measures that are implemented by the farmers via the other two project components (push and pull), a jointly accepted water management plan has chances to be endorsed and followed by all involved users. The entry into a new phase of a thoughtful water stewardship can begin.

The Sustainable Rice Platform (SRP) is a multi-stakeholder partnership to promote resource efficiency and sustainability throughout the rice value chain. SRP was co-convened by the United Nations Environmental Programme and the International Rice Research Institute, and collaborates with partners in the public and private sectors as well as the NGO community.
Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) is a not-for-profit organization stewarding the global standards for Better Cotton. The initiative includes 600 members, among which IKEA, Adidas, H&M, Nike, Levi Strauss & Co. and M&S pursue particularly high targets

Common indicators to measure impact

The complexity of WAPRO requires a monitoring system that delivers comparable results from the six subprojects. WAPRO has therefore defined nine key indicators to be measured in a gender disaggregated way – some base on data from all beneficiaries, some base on regular case studies with selected farmers.

Further information

© Helvetas / Simon B. Opladen


The most vulnerable communities of the world suffer from dirty water. Every year, we support up to 500,000 people in getting access to clean drinking water and sanitary facilities.


Real change requires open dialog between policymakers and society. So Helvetas promotes exchange between decision-makers and those affected by their decisions.

How Helvetas Supports People in Tajikistan

Helvetas supports farming families in Tajikistan and advises the authorities on the implementation of water reforms. We also provide legal assistance.

Sustainable and Inclusive Economies

Economic growth does not always benefit the poor and poverty is bad for growth. We need to make a proactive effort to break this vicious cycle.