A new digital agenda
In 2019, IWMI launched a new five-year strategy that emphasizes science to support a transformative agenda for water through three Strategic Programs: Water, Food and Ecosystems; Water, Climate Change and Resilience; and Water, Growth and Inclusion. A fourth program, Digital Innovation, unites and supports the other three programs.
A glance at IWMI’s website reveals a host of existing digital innovations developed over the years, some of which are highlighted in this report. Flood risk maps are the foundation of index-based insurance schemes in South Asia. Solar-powered pumps report on water extraction via inbuilt sensors and the Internet of Things. The solar suitability tool can guide sustainable irrigation decisions. The Digital Innovations program will build on these existing innovations to strengthen the ability of all stakeholders to make use of the information our tools provide for water management in agriculture.
The strategy for Digital Innovations was developed only after extensive consultations internally and externally at six globally important meetings on agriculture and water. The feedback we received made it clear that our strength lies in the design side, understanding a problem and its context, and working with stakeholders at all levels. In addition, however, we also need to ensure that ‘tried and tested’ approaches leave space for innovations that might eventually prove superior, and that all communities are able to make use of digital innovations.
To begin with, we will work largely in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, with a longer-term aim to make knowledge gained in those regions widely available and adaptable to other circumstances. The initial focus will be on high-profile issues such as water quality, water governance, gender and inclusion, and capacity strengthening.
Some digital innovation projects can move ahead quickly. For example, big investors have a good track record of supporting irrigation through capital investment, but too often no resources are set aside for maintenance. Systematic Asset Management Software for Irrigators (SAMS) captures infrastructure investments in a database, and can track performance and predict the need for maintenance. This process will enable stakeholders to audit investments and keep track of maintenance.
At the same time as advancing external developments, internally, IWMI as an organization will become more digitally minded. Some projects that are just getting under way provide good opportunities to move this forward. Phase I of the Water Secure Africa Initiative, for example, will allow us to make use of Open Data Cube (ODC), a new structure that gives better access to the petabytes of data collected over Africa by orbiting satellites. We will be adapting our existing tools – Water Accounting Plus (WA+), and flood and drought monitoring – to make use of ODC while building the regional skills to apply and refine the approach across Africa.
Guided by the strategy for Digital Innovations, the next task will be to develop ambitious proposals to take advantage of IWMI’s undoubted expertise in the use of digital data for water management.
IWMI will become a bridge between the technical experts – space agencies and others who provide technical tools and datasets – and end users (e.g., farmers, river basin authorities and investors), each with specific problems and managing their own solutions.