World Food Day 2023: Water is Life, Water is Food

Reliable access to water is essential for every aspect of life, including food production. This World Food Day, we’re celebrating water's critical role in food security and agriculture.

A passionfruit farmer in Central Kenya waters his crops. World Food Day.

World Food Day: Water and Food Production

Today, 2.4 billion people live in water-stressed countries. Reliable access to water is essential for every aspect of life, including food production. This World Food Day, we’re celebrating water’s critical role in food security and agriculture. World Food Day is an international event celebrated every year on October 16 to promote awareness of global hunger and to encourage the collaborative action needed to build more resilient food systems.

Collective action across 150 countries worldwide, in up to 50 languages, is what makes World Food Day one of the most celebrated days of the UN calendar.”
— Food and Agriculture Organization 

Water Usage and Agriculture 

Currently, 70% of freshwater globally is used for agriculture. Smallholder farmers produce much of the world’s food. They are also among those most vulnerable to fluctuations in water availability, as they typically rely on consistent rainfall to sustain their crops. Climate change exacerbates water scarcity in many regions, putting immense pressure on the global food supply. To feed a growing global population, we must work across the food system to develop innovative strategies for maintaining or increasing agricultural productivity while reducing water usage. 

A field of maize in Uganda. Photo for World Food Day.
Photo: Vincent Long for TechnoServe

The Kenyan Scenario: Agriculture, Water, and Climate

In Kenya, the agriculture sector contributes 33% of the country’s GDP and employs more than 40% of the total population. Kenya also faces significant water scarcity, which limits its agricultural productivity and increases food insecurity. Both human health and economic development are negatively impacted as a result. 

From Maize to More Drought-Resistant Crops

In recent years, farmers throughout the region have been grappling with droughts, which have destroyed their crops and livelihoods. Maize has been one of Kenya’s most popular staple grains for centuries after it was first introduced by Europeans. It quickly replaced sorghum and finger millet as the most important food crop. As the effects of climate change have grown more pronounced, farmers have started to move away from maize in favor of more drought-resistant crops. 

Spotlight on Finger Millet: Benefits and Features

Finger millet is a cereal crop with many health and environmental benefits, including: 

  • Drought-tolerant 
  • Easy to plant 
  • High-yield 
  • Pest-resistant 
  • Nutritious 

The Potential of Red Finger Millet: Key Traits

Due to its exceptional drought-resistant nature, red finger millet, in particular, plays a crucial role in regions affected by water scarcity. Red finger millet has several unique characteristics, including: 

  • Deep roots for accessing soil water
  • Efficient C4 photosynthesis
  • Compact structure that reduces water loss
  • Short growth cycle
  • Capacity to flower even when faced with drought stress
  • Ability to enter dormancy during extended droughts

These combined traits underscore the potential of red finger millet to increase food security and household nutrition in water-scarce areas throughout Kenya. 

A team member from Simply Foods showcasing millet instant porridge at the Nairobi International Trade Fair 2023. World Food Day feature.
A team member from Simply Foods showcasing millet instant porridge at the Nairobi International Trade Fair 2023.
Photo: TechnoServe AINFP

World Food Day and Innovative Solutions in Kenya

A TechnoServe Partnership

TechnoServe is working with small and medium enterprises in Kenya through the Implementing Inclusive Growth Strategies (IIGS) program funded by VISA FoundationOne such company is Simply Foods, which sells a range of natural food products made with whole grain finger millet. Simply Foods recognized the need to move away from maize as a staple grain to more nutritious, climate-resilient grains. 

Through the IIGS program, smallholder farmers receive support to improve their crop production, especially in the face of climate change-related challenges, such as unpredictable weather patterns, water scarcity, crop and livestock losses, increased pest and disease pressures, and financial constraints. Helping smallholder farmers adopt climate-resilient practices is essential for safeguarding their livelihoods and ensuring food security. 

Developing an Inclusive Business Plan and Collaboration

TechnoServe is also supporting Simply Foods to develop an inclusive business plan focused on creating sustainable sourcing channels for red finger millet from local smallholder farmers. The initiative involves developing key collaborations between groups such as smallholder farmers, farmer-allied intermediaries, aggregators, and research institutions. Farmer-allied intermediaries source their products from smallholder farmers in a way that strengthens their capacity, improves their productivity, and enhances their livelihoods. Aggregators consolidate and distribute agricultural products. 

From Raw Millet to “Uji Mara Moja”: Enhancing Production Efficiency

With TechnoServe’s support, Simply Foods is also increasing production efficiency. We helped them optimize the entire production process–from grading and cleaning raw millet, milling it into flour, drying the extruded millet balls, and ultimately grinding them into the final product–to create a nutritious instant porridge called “Uji Mara Moja.”

Packages of flavored millet instant porridge from Simply Foods sit on a table. World Food Day feature.
Packages of flavored millet instant porridge from Simply Foods.
Photo: TechnoServe AINFP

World Food Day: A Holistic Approach to Global Food Security

The Importance of Systems Thinking in Addressing Food Security

Addressing a challenge as complex as global food security requires a holistic, systems-thinking approach. Systems thinking is a problem-solving method that emphasizes linkages, relationships, and interactions among various components of a system. TechnoServe transforms food systems by working closely with interrelated actors throughout the value chain, including smallholder farmers, food processors, and micro-retailers

Reflecting on World Food Day: Water as the Cornerstone of Food Systems

Building resilient food systems demands a united effort from diverse stakeholders. This World Food Day, we reflect on the importance of water as one of the world’s most precious resources and the cornerstone of our food system. 

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