Safe Use of Wastewater in Agriculture: Exchanging Knowledge in Colombia

  • 2018/12/27     Bogota, Colombia

    Image: UNU-FLORES staff

    By Natalia Jiménez, Waste Management Unit

    The uneven distribution of water resources in Colombia and the stress that global warming is causing to the country makes the safe use of wastewater in agriculture (SUWA) a promising tool to buffer the non-efficient use of the Colombian water resources. However, existing regulations are not helping. The joint efforts of the authorities dealing with the environment, agriculture, health, and housing and planning are needed.

    This was the main message at the workshop “Safe Use of Wastewater in Agriculture: Exchanging Knowledge in Colombia” that took place in Bogota last month. From 27–28 November 2018, over 40 participants gathered in Bogota to share possible solutions for improving the Colombian regulatory framework for promoting SUWA. These include representatives from the Ministries of Environment, Housing, and Agriculture, as well as 26 representatives from regional environmental authorities.

    Discussions during the workshop (Image: UNU-FLORES staff).

    SUWA can reduce freshwater demand for agricultural uses and at the same time increases productivity and resilience of farmlands. If properly managed SUWA can alleviate not only the water demand issue, but also the increasing costs of fertilisers. Existing regulations, however, fail to maximise the benefits of SUWA and the use of nutrients contained in wastewater presented to farmers. There is, therefore, a need to improve the regulatory framework by promoting cost effectiveness while protecting nature and the environment. To achieve this, it is necessary to facilitate the administrative process, so that we may enhance the benefits for farmers and wastewater producers.

    Jointly organised by UNU-FLORES and the Ministry of Environment of Colombia, the workshop consisted of two sessions. In the first session (27 November), the Ministry of Environment presented some possible modifications to the water reuse regulatory framework to achieve three objectives: (a) to improve clarity of the conceptual framework, (b) to smoothen the administrative process, and (c) to facilitate the compliance of wastewater use quality criteria.

    Opening the second session (28 November), Prof. Hiroshan Hettiarachchi, Head of the Waste Management unit at UNU-FLORES introduced SUWA and shared some international experiences. Later, UNU-FLORES researchers Dr Serena Caucci and Natalia Jiménez (Visiting Scholar, Alexander von Humboldt Foundation) presented the bottlenecks that are most likely blocking SUWA implementation in Colombia as well as possible solutions that can help to overcome these issues.

    (From left) Dr Caucci presented the possible bottlenecks blocking SUWA in Colombia; Natalia Jiménez shared the possible suggestions for implementing SUWA in Colombia; and Prof. Hettiarachchi presented UNU-FLORES publications on SUWA to Diana Marcela Moreno, Coordinator of the Water Management Division of the Ministry of Environment (Images: UNU-FLORES staff).

    The participants were particularly interested in the SUWA international experiences; the technologies, techniques, and practices implemented at the international level for achieving the safety aspect of SUWA and the distribution of responsibilities and relationship among SUWA actors for making SUWA possible.

    The participants were motivated by the suggestions presented by UNU-FLORES for promoting SUWA in Colombia. In particular, some representatives from the environmental authorities at the regional level recognised that much could be benefited from SUWA in face of water stress issues.

    Impressions from the workshop (Images: UNU-FLORES staff).

    Officials of the Ministries of Environment and Housing and Agriculture were inspired by this knowledge exchange and agreed on the idea of developing a SUWA pilot project. The main aim of this pilot project would be to produce information that serves as technical support for the modification of the policy and regulation related to the use of treated wastewater in agriculture. They also invited UNU-FLORES’s participation in this pilot project.

    SUWA is key for Colombia. It is evident that the awareness of entities at the national level about the potential of and the need to promote SUWA is on the rise. The interest shown by UNU-FLORES’s key partner, Ministry of Environment, together with the Ministry of Housing and Ministry of Agriculture, in working together for implementing SUWA in Colombia is a clear demonstration of this.

    Participants of the workshop (Image: Ministry of Environment).