Collaborate, Create, Communicate

IWMI Uses Learning Alliances in its 'Wastewater, Agriculture and Sanitation for Poverty Alleviation' (WASPA) project

One of the Knowledge Sharing in Research Pilot Projects being lead by the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) is the piloting of the Learning Alliance approach in its ‘Wastewater, Agriculture and Sanitation for Poverty Alleviation’ (WASPA) project in Asia. The project is being undertaken by IWMI, SEI, IRC, COSI and the NGO Forum. For more information, see also the IWMI WASPA LA KSinR PIlot Project webpage.

The main issue being addressed by the WASPA project is that in many cities the urban and peri-urban farmers are utilising wastewater, often storm-water drainage mixed with household and sanitary waste, to irrigate their crops. This is quite often due to the farmers being at the downstream end of canal systems which are used as dumping grounds for various industrial and community waste ranging from organic to inorganic, solid to liquid waste.

This of course has both positive and negative livelihoods implications, especially on health, and requires good management to reduce risks and maximise benefits. Good research is required to better understand the situation and to find solutions to address this, however any resultant actions would need to come from the communities themselves, government departments or others involved in water, sanitation, health, or irrigation.

The project is working in two cities- Kurunegala, Sri Lanka and Rajshahi, Bangladesh- where over 300 farmers are involved in wastewater irrigation practices. Furthermore, hundreds of residents are affected by poor sanitation and environmental conditions in the cities.

This is a complex system which involves multiple stakeholders’ issues as well as requires their contribution to changing the situation. The situation requires problem identification, better understanding of the situation and possible options to address it, and then necessary actions to be undertaken to resolve some of the issues.

The overall problem is one of poor integration of planning in the sectors of water supply, sanitation, wastewater management and urban agriculture. The root causes of this problem are: sectoral (rather than holistic) planning; inadequate communication between government officials; no involvement of community members, especially poorer members of society; lack of knowledge about other sectors and alternative technologies; and in some cases ignorance that wastewater irrigation is even taking place. Only by overcoming the problems of lack of awareness and communication can the issues of wastewater agriculture be addressed.” WASPA LA proposal

This is not the kind of recipe that a traditional research program approach can easily or successfully work with or contribute to.

The WASPA project therefore decided to try a different approach, and through supporting funds from the ICT-KM KSinR project has been able to try out a new approach.

The new approach in question is the Learning Alliance approach which has at its very core a strong principle of knowledge sharing.

A Learning Alliance is a set of interconnected, multi-stakeholder platforms which is then a mechanism through which research and activities can be planned, researched, interventions made and coordinated, and knowledge is shared. For more information on Learning Alliances-see the IRC webpage on Learning Alliances

“The objective of this project is therefore to test and evaluate a methodology to holistically plan and manage sanitation and wastewater in the city, for end-use in agriculture. This can only be done through collaboration between all the major stakeholders: government officials, community members (city residents and farmers), NGOs and researchers.WASPA LA Proposal

As a new approach for embedding research, the Learning Alliance approach can offer:

  • an opportunity to become aware of real issues, needs and options on the ground–to help with more appropriate research planning
  • access to various stakeholders involved in the situation or area to facilitate possibility for collaboration with and between various groups
  • platform for sharing knowledge from research and other projects to other stakeholders from which actions can be planned and implemented

To better understand the use, process and value of the Learning Alliance approach in this project the WASPA project initiated a Monitoring and Evaluation component:

The ICT-KM project proposed here would augment that project by monitoring and evaluating the knowledge sharing approach being utilized, through “process monitoring”. It would result in a better understanding of the approach and lessons for future LAs.” WASPA LA Proposal

We look forward to some interesting results from using and learning from this innovative, multi-stakeholder approach within a research project.