This is the fifth post in Food Tank’s series on World Water Day, part of the United Nations International Year of Water Cooperation, which profiles top strategies for reducing water waste and water consumption.  The focus today is on an exciting new water-saving project. In January, ICRISAT launched Water4Crops-India, a collaborative project bringing together nonprofits and university researchers with for-profit businesses. Their goal: to recycle wastewater for agriculture.

The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) has partnered with universities, research organizations and private businesses to launch a new program called Water4Crops-India. The three-year program is based on a previous project undertaken in the European Union, known as Water4Crops-EU, and will focus specifically on recycling wastewater, or greywater, for growing food.

This program’s model is especially important as more and more of the planet’s population moves into cities. It’s estimated that by 2025 there will be at least 37 cities with more than 10 million people, and as this urbanization increases, so does wastewater. Already, almost 90 percent of the water used in homes becomes wastewater. As cities expand, urban wastewater can become expensive and difficult to manage.

Reusing wastewater is also important in deserts and other dry areas, where water has a high premium. Such needs have already driven the use of greywater for irrigation in parts of India, but expansion has been slow because untreated wastewater can be dangerous for public health. Greywater should not include water from toilets, but it can still carry chemicals or microbes that contaminate food and make people sick. It also has a higher salt content than groundwater, which can damage local ecosystems as well as farmland.        

As a result, ICRISAT is primarily working to identify the most effective methods for treating wastewater so that it’s safe for use in food production. The Water4Crops programs also examine other drought adaptation techniques, including treating salt water for agricultural use and promoting new, drought-resistant types of pearl millet, tomatoes, and chickpeas.

Greywater recycling projects are increasingly important in the face of climate change. Last year’s monsoon season, which supplies most of the water for India’s driest regions, brought significantly less rain than normal, threatening many farmers with disaster. Even worse, this was the fourth drought in the last twelve years. As fear of drought increases across the world, ICRISAT’s Water4Crops programs will be more critical than ever.

New improvements on old ideas, like reusing wastewater, will be key to making sure our water resources support generations to come. The United Nations declared 2013 the International Year of Water Cooperation, and Food Tank will feature more water use innovations every day to celebrate World Water Day on March 22nd. Working together ensures that everyone has access to enough water!