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A multi-million dollar research consortium has been launched to investigate how more food can be produced using less water, in a way that alleviates poverty and safeguards the environment.

Launched at the annual general meeting of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) in Nairobi, Kenya, the initiative will help develop national policies and institutions, as well as explore new technologies to optimise the use of water in agriculture.
"If present trends continue, the livelihoods of one third of the world's population will be affected by water scarcity by 2050," says Frank Rijsberman, chairman of the initiative. "The crisis has to be addressed comprehensively at all levels, from the way farmers use water to international policy decisions that affect reforms and investments in water management and infrastructure."

Fifty research projects have been selected in nine major river basins in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and South America, where problems range from water pollution to environmental degradation and border conflicts. One emerging issue is the diversion of water from the natural environment to agriculture — which currently consumes nearly 90 per cent of water in developing countries.

Known as the Challenge Programme on Water and Food, the initiative will see several CGIAR centres join forces with other international research agencies, national institutes, non-governmental organisations and community groups. It has already raised US$60 million from donors, with hopes of doubling that figure to fund the first six-year research phase.

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