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Harvesting Water for Dry Seasons and in Drylands
By: Ann Steensland, Deputy Director, Global Harvest Initiative
The United Nations has designated March 22nd as World Water Day to draw attention to the more than 663 million people who do not have access to safe water. This blog is based on case studies from the 2016 Global Agricultural Productivity Report® (GAP Report®) with input from The Mosaic Company, a GHI member company and the Robert B. Daugherty Water for Food Global Institute at the University of Nebraska, a GHI consultative partner.
Around the world, farmers with rainfed crops and livestock herds are struggling to adjust to climate change and shifting weather patterns. Farmers observe that the rain seems to come too early or too late; when it does come, there is either too little or too much. For millions of farmers, extreme and interminable drought means no crops and no food.
For these farmers, harvesting water is as important as harvesting their crop. They need tools and techniques to more efficiently capture, store and manage water to remain productive during dry seasons and to mitigate the impacts of climate change.
Water Harvesting Works
In rural India, consistent access to water is a critical issue. Two thirds of agriculture in India is rainfed, but the seasonal monsoons alternate with long, dry periods, making it difficult for communities to maintain an adequate groundwater supply. 
The Mosaic Villages Project, a partnership between The Mosaic Company and the Sehgal Foundation, funded the construction of four new check dams in Santhawadi, Pathkhori, Nangal Hasanpur and Khohar. A check dam is a barrier across a drainage ditch or small waterway that counteracts erosion by reducing water flow velocity.
The check dams capture and store rainwater, which is then funneled into the underground aquifer, recharging groundwater levels and reducing salinity so that water can be used for consumption or irrigation. The check dams sponsored by The Mosaic Village Project have directly and indirectly benefitted more than 30,000 people, and have a total reservoir capacity of more than 14 million gallons.
Data for Water Management in Dry Regions
Producers and policymakers in the chronically water-stressed Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region urgently need data on field-level evapotranspiration (the return of moisture from the earth to the air from evaporation and from plants), as well as the tools to use that information to predict crop yields.
With funding from USAID, the Robert B. Daugherty Water for Food Global Institute at the University of Nebraska and the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln are working with farmers and government planners in the MENA region to improve drought monitoring and increase data-driven decision-making for water usage. The research team is developing composite drought indices that incorporate data collected from satellite remote sensors with data collected on the ground. Data analysis is provided to planners who use it to calculate the water balance within watersheds and estimate water productivity at field scales.
The team is also working with government agencies and producers to better understand the water needs of the MENA region as well as its drought vulnerabilities. Insights gained from those meetings will help improve the effectiveness of data tools developed during the project.
 B. Venkateswarly, “Rainfed Agriculture in India: Issues in Technology Development and Transfer,” Central Research Institute for Dryland Agriculture, (November 2011).