Running to Save Water: One step at a time
Mina Guli, Founder and CEO of the Thirst Foundation; and an Ultramarathon runner and water advocate has partnered with Bayer in a campaign which involves running 200 marathons across the world leading up to the UN-Water conference in March this year
A water crisis is impending. By the year 2050, the world population is projected to increase to 9 billion and scientists estimate that we will need 57 per cent more water to sustain this population with current practices. The crisis hit home harder in India, a country where agriculture is the dominant occupation, and the consumption of water goes beyond what comes from your tap.
“People living in big cities have become so disconnected from the problems that exist on the ground. Water goes into everything we use and consume every single day. Only a very small proportion of the water that we use is that water in the tap. The vast majority goes into the things that you are wearing and eating, and the power that we use. Just one outfit that you wear takes more water than what you would drink till you turn 40 years of age. Water is everything,” said Mina Guli, Founder and CEO of the Thirst Foundation; and an Ultramarathon runner and water advocate.
In March 2023, the United Nations is holding its first conference on water in 50 years. Guli has pledged to run 200 marathons in different parts of the world in the run up to the conference to create awareness about the crisis. When asked how running marathons connects with the water conversation issue and she replies: “I want to show that many small steps can make big change happen. We don’t need to immediately take a giant leap. The reason I am running is because I want to do three things – raise awareness about the water crisis, show the urgency of the problem we are facing and drive action from companies that represent 90 per cent of water use globally, individuals and governments.”
According to World Bank reports, India is home to 18 per cent of the world’s population, but has only 4 per cent of its water resources. This makes conservation of water very critical, especially freshwater sources like groundwater, lakes, and rivers. The biggest consumption of water is for agriculture and the sector is very heavily dependent on availability of water. Therefore, this sector needs to be at the forefront of water conservation efforts. The need of the hour is to promote sustainable agricultural practices that reduce the use of precious natural resources like water.
“I recently had the opportunity to meet Mina Guli, an Ultramarathon runner and water advocate, who was in India to raise awareness on water conservation. Bayer has been partnering with her for a campaign which involves Mina running 200 marathons across the world leading up to the UN-Water conference in March this year. She ran 5 marathons in India starting her first marathon in Delhi and culminating with a run in the Mumbai Marathon,” said D Narain, President, Bayer South Asia and Global Head of Smallholder Farming.
“I cannot agree more with her that water is one of the most precious resources for us and the need to raise awareness about its conservation is paramount. Water is the key to not only our daily needs but also to food security, socio-economic development, and building a climate-resilient society. Investing in water and sanitation has considerable economic benefits, including an overall estimated gain of 1.5 per cent of global GDP,” he added further.
For a country like India, a large majority of the population earn their livelihood through farming where water is increasingly becoming scarce. In rural India, over 80 per cent of groundwater is used for agriculture and rice crops account for over 40 per cent of all consumption. About 5,000 litres of water is used to grow just one kilogram of rice. Rice is a more lucrative crop for farmers and, therefore, it is being grown even in states where groundwater resources are low. This is causing the groundwater levels to deplete at an even faster pace. To help conserve water, farmers in these states need to be encouraged to diversify their land use to grow more crops like corn, oilseeds, and cotton, and not just rice.
With measures like hybridisation of seeds, new technologies, and holistic crop management systems, the usage of water in rice cultivation can be brought down. Bayer has started a sustainable rice programme project and the results are very encouraging. “Using techniques like Direct Seeded Rice, Alternate Wetting and Drying, conservative tillage, efficient use of fertilizers, etc water usage can be brought down by up to 30 per cent. That means a saving of about 1,500 litres per kilo of rice. When you add this to the fact that India produced about 130 million tonnes of rice, the savings are enormous,” said Narain.
Innovations in technology can be game-changers if we are able to harness them purposefully. Take, for instance, the used case of drones in agriculture. Bayer has been working closely with farmers and farmer collectives (FPOs) in India to use drones for faster spraying of crop protection products and real-time monitoring of crop health. In addition, their use also reduces the water needed for spraying crop protection products compared to manual application. There are many such innovations which can help reduce consumption of water in farming.
But, one of the major challenges in this journey is access to the right technology and agronomy for the farmer community. By adopting the new techniques, they can increase productivity and also earn more. But, a majority are not willing to make the switch till the benefits are tangible. Bayer is working in close coordination with global and local partners to support smallholder farmers in emerging economies to increase crop yields and farm incomes. Better Life Farming (BLF) centres set up by Bayer and run by local Agri entrepreneurs are working towards this. One of the key thrust areas for BLF centres is propagation of drip irrigation methods, including helping farmers with technology and improving water efficiencies. The results are already showing as BLF centres have led to increased productivity to 2X levels and tripled incomes for participating farmers.
A collective effort
Conserving water has to be a collective effort undertaken by the community at large. Simple practices like fixing leakages in our homes, timing our showers, and multi-purposing water from our daily usage could reduce consumption significantly. Low-flow toilets, urinals, aerated faucets, and showers can help conserve up to 20 per cent of the consumption as per Environmental Protection Agency data.
In addition to what is done at the individual level, efforts need to be made by industries and other commercial units to adopt water saving techniques. Bayer has taken concrete steps to bring down water consumption in all its units. “Bayer’s large manufacturing facility in Vapi has successfully managed to reduce water consumption per ton of production by 35 per cent over the last six years. At our other sites and research centres, wastewater recycling plants, sewage treatment plants etc are helping us reuse a huge quantity of water that would have otherwise gone to waste,” said D Narain, President, Bayer South Asia and Global Head of Smallholder Farming.
Disclaimer: This article is a promotional feature and does not have journalistic/editorial involvement of Hindustan Times.