Home | TheWaterBlog

TheWaterBlog: If you want to share unique images and observations in this section, or would like to know about syndicating these posts, send an email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.!


Avocado for export: who reaps the fruits? 

A case for social water productivity

Here is a main question. If water is one of your main assets, by who and for who is the asset used and who is benefitting from the use of this asset? Does the added value leave the rural area, even leave the country or does it go the hands of local farmers – who may circulate it in their local economy.  Who get what part of the value created?  How is the water productivity socially distributed? These are important questions, but often they are not asked.

By looking into social water productivity we may see the choices that are often not made explicitly yet that have a major bearing on the population.  When the Songuroi farm was first planned in in Narok and Bomet counties in Kenya, the model was that of an estate farm that would cater to the rising international demand for avocados. There was however considerable local resistance, there was not much free land available for the export farm and also local water resources would be dedicated to a single business with little local linkages. On the other hand horticulture development offer so much opportunities for poverty alleviation. It already account for almost 9% of the GDP of Kenya and providing almost 6 million jobs directly and indirectly. Many of these are women who make up 75% of the labour force in small scale agriculture and manage 40% of the farms, Horticulture in Kenya is also a fast-growing sector, registering a growth of 15% annually against 6% for the agricultural sector as a whole.

Faced with these challenges the plan for the farm was changed from an estate to a nucleus farm. The nucleus farm would produce approximately 30% of the avocados, destined for a supermarket chain in Europe. The balance was to be produced by 500 small holders living in a radius of 25 kilometres from the nucleus farm.\

In the end Introduced avocado as a new commercial farm enterprise for 560 smallholders out growers farmers and a large plantation along the Mara River in Narok and Bomet. Before the project, Songuroi farm was piloting avocado production, and was not connected to the smallholders, who were loosely organised in several self-help groups of 20-30 farmers. Baseline household income of farmers per months is KSh 3000-5000, depending the project sub-areas, which was earned from maize, cabbage, tomato, kale and beans. The change from an estate to the out growers farm ensured that a large part of the water productivity remained in the area.

Another case on social water productivity is the Ingahusai project in the Ica region in south western part of Peru. The project was designed to produce high value crops such as grapes and asparagus for export in the coastal region of the country. The project would need around 300 Mm3 of water annually and water from the highland areas which was used by subsistence farmers was to be diverted to the coastal areas to meet the water demand of the project. This was a reasonable approach by the government as the use of water for production of high value crops such as grapes and asparagus would bring more revenue and would create more jobs in the area. Monetarily speaking, asparagus production would bring 8900 dollars per hectare while production of subsistence crops in the highlands would only bring 470 dollars per hectare. Water productivity would increase 20 fold if water was diverted to the coastal area rather than being used in the highlands. On face value, the project seemed to be the best use of the water as it would maximize the value of water.

But a closer look at how benefits would be distributed in society revealed a different story. Research shows that only 4% of the revenue produced from production of high value export goods trickles down to farmers (see figure 1). The majority of the benefit goes to retailers and investors. To put this in perspective; 1000 m3 of water used for subsistence farming in the highlands would bring farmers 180 USD. On the other hand, 1000 m3 of water in the coastal area generates a net revenue of 935 USD. Out of this revenue only 75 USD would go to farmers and plantation workers which is less than half of what they would have earned under subsistence farming. Under the seemingly “more productive” coastal investment farmers would lose their share of water and end up worse off than they were under subsistence farming.

This is a very good example of how on face value water productivity could increase without creating any social benefit.  Social water productivity or “pro-poor water productivity” aims at increasing the value of economic value produced for the very poor in society and balancing the income inequality. It aims to enhance not just monetary value of water but social benefits of water as well.

This blog is based on the works of Dr. Jeroen vos from Wageningen University on Social water productivity and a business case on out grower Avocado growing scheme developed by Solidaridad, Hivos and SNV.

This case is prepared as part of the Water-PiP (Water Productivity in Practice) Program. Water-PIP aims to support a 25% water productivity on the ground.  For ideas and suggestions on improved water productivity, please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


  • River Reappear

    River ReappearPostcard from Kulna, BangladeshBy Frank van steenbergen, July,2018There are many ways that time is making its mark. In coastal Bangladesh it is the steady intensification of everything – communication, land use, sounds, aspirations, ambitions, business. These were areas that no so long ago, say 70 years – in the life time of a man – were wild coastal flat lands, gradually captu...

    Read more

  • Managing soil moisture: the waterpads in Turkey

    Managing soil moisture: the waterpads in TurkeyThe key to better water productivity is often not through managing water as such but by taking better care of soil moisture. There is a range of techniques that promote this – conservation agriculture, mulching and the use of special soil improvers.  These techniques secure moisture for the roots of the plants in the critical growing season, but th...

    Read more

  • Water rich and more water productive: transformation in coastal Bangladesh

    Water rich and more water productive: transformation in coastal BangladeshMultiple cropping in coastal Bangladesh. The improved amon variety largely harvested and land ready for irrigated dry season cultivation.Whereas we may think that improving water productivity is only required in water scarce environments, it is just as important in areas that are water rich.  In such settings water producti...

    Read more

  • Its Own Deep Source

    Its Own Deep SourceBy Frank van Steenbergen, June 2018The austere beauty of the Kairouan Grand Mosque in Tunisia harbors a gracious secret. The mosque is one of the first in North Africa and one of the most important in terms of the learning it hosted. It reached its grandeur under the rule of Aghlabid sovereigns between 800 and 903.Measuring 9000 square meters it is surrounded by a wall with nine...

    Read more

  • Elixir

    ElixirBy Letty Fajardo Vera and Frank van Steenbergen, May 2018Early in the morning delicate bitter orange blossom is harvested, carefully by hand. The fragrance in the blossom at daybreak is most poignant, the dust and heat of the day have not yet worn it away.  The same day the blossom is steamed in simple distillation installations. The vapour is cooled and collected. And so, as simple as that...

    Read more

  • Hydraulic World Wonders: the Aghlabid Pools

    Hydraulic World Wonders: The Aghlabid PoolsBy Frank van Steenbergen, May, 2018 Picture from the Aghlabid Pools and small intake pond .Postcard from Kairouan, Tunisia - from the Aghlabid Pools, among the world wonders of hydraulic engineering. The pools were built in the 9th century under orders of Prince Abu Ibrahim Ahmad of the relatively short-lived but powerful Aghlabid Dynasty (800 to 909). T...

    Read more

  • Fodder production with road water harvesting in African drylands

    Fodder production with road water harvesting in African drylandsPosted by Kevin Mganga May 22/05/2018Drylands provide a vital livelihood stream to people across the globe through a range of goods, products and ecosystems services. These arid and semi-arid lands (ASALs) are characteristically very fragile and are facing increased land use and land use change pressure compounded by high climate va...

    Read more

  • Ingenuity: ancient water harvesting in the Altiplano of Bolivia

    Ingenuity: ancient water harvesting in the Altiplano of BoliviaPosted by Francesco Sambalino and Martha AgujetasMay 22/05/2018Water scarcity is not new to many people and for many it is way of life and survival. Here is an example: the inhabitants of the Bolivian altiplano who have lived and thrived despite this struggle for millennia. The altiplano consists of a high plateau located between 3.650...

    Read more

  • The Tube recharge system

    The Tube recharge systemOur Earth has no scarcity of water and hence the name “the blue planet”. But ironically less than 3% of all water on earth is fresh water and even less is readily available for use. A big chunk of the “usable” fresh water, about 30%, is stored in the belly of the earth as groundwater. Figure 2 shows the amount of groundwater in comparison with surface fresh water in...

    Read more

  • Tackling Dust

    Tackling DustPosted by Frank van Steenbergen and Marta AgujetasMarch 09/03/2018Planting trees, shrubs and grasses along the road is an often-overlooked option to create a productive asset and alleviate the negative effects of roads on the local environment. Negative effects include erosion, loss of fertile soils, gully formation that undermine road foundations, heavy dust, and more.Dust lifted by ...

    Read more