Disability Inclusive Water Management & Agriculture

All life depends on water

Ensuring that persons with a disability can access water is simply a human decency

General info
Case Studies

Water, Poverty & Disability

Water is an essential element for the existence of all elements present on this planet. Human beings are constituted for a large part of water; without it we cannot survive. Moreover, humanity needs to feed itself. But in order to do so, vegetables and fruits, corn and wheat, and animals need water to grow and be alive. In terms of food security and poverty reduction, water is indispensable!
“10,000 disabled people die every day as a result of extreme poverty”
Sadly, it is mostly vulnerable people (for example poor people, persons with a disability, old people, women, ethnic minorities, etc.) that face problems accessing water. In this sense ensuring that persons with a disability can access water is simply a human decency and has a huge impact on those who are most disadvantaged. It seems quite ironic that people with disabilities are ignored or overlooked as they are estimated to make up about 15% of the world population corresponding to 1 billion people. In addition, people with disabilities are often among the poorest of the poor (WHO, 2011).
“20% of the world’s poorest people have disabilities”
Disability is already gaining some attention in the sectors of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH), Public Health (prevention of water-borne diseases), and Disaster Management (flooding). This is however hardly the case for agricultural water management. We believe that people with a disability can contribute significantly in the field of agriculture and that this has many benefits for both the individual and society.
We demonstrate this through case studies of people with disabilities who are included in the mainstream agricultural sector. At the same time we are searching for other world-wide examples of people with a disability working in agriculture and in this way learn how to better include people with a disability in agricultural water management!

UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with a Disability

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with a Disability (UNCRPD) promotes the needs and rights of people with a disability and specifically mentions the right to access safe water.
This convention was adopted in 2006 and entered into force in May 2008. Currently 145 countries ratified the convention and more countries will follow their example. One of the countries that did not yet ratify this convention is the Netherlands.
However, according to the latest political developments, the Dutch government is prone to ratify the convention in 2015.

Opportunities and ways to include people with disabilities in Agricultural Water Management activities.

Horticulture and livelihood


The association for people with disabilities (APD) is an NGO in Bangalore (India) that considers the rehabilitation and livelihood skills of people with disabilities. ADP runs several rural and urban community programs for the provision of mobility aids, inclusive education, vocational training, and training in horticulture.

Ramesh is a thirty-year-old man who works as a gardener at a nursery. Considering that as a child he had cerebral palsy and therefore could not go to school, it seems surprising that he is an employed man nowadays. Ramesh indeed struggled to get a job and to be self-reliant for a long time. At the age of thirty, hey heard about the horticulture program or ADP.

During nine months of training by ADP, Ramesh not only learned how to cultivate herbs but also how to maintain a business, all of which improved his independence and self-esteem. Ramesh has been employed as a gardener since 2010, is provided free accommodation, a meal and a salary of 3500 Indian rupees (US $ 55).

Agricultural and water management training can be the beginning of a long process to engage people with disabilities in employment in order to sustain their livelihood and independence. The outcomes of small-scale projects are a useful starting point for inclusion in mainstream large-scale agricultural programs.

Lalibela's Farmers' Organisation


CBM and Addis Development Vision initiated an irrigated agriculture project in 2014 for people with disabilities.

Currently, 16 farmers (male and female) are daily involved in managing the farm. During the dry season, water is being diverted from the main river to the crops, using traditional irrigation techniques. During the rainy season, to avoid floods, the farmers make use of self-constructed flood protection measures made from stones.

The group has the policy that a person does whatever she/he can do. Sometimes, family members help out as well. The farmers furthermore manage their group income in case new equipment or seeds need to be bought, as well as taking account for possible emergencies or misfortunes. Everyone gets an equal part of the harvest to sell or for their own consumption. In the future, the farmers want to cultivate stable fruits trees and sugar cane.

In this case study people with disability are actively engaged in cultivating their crops, diverting water and constructing flood protection measures. While such projects have a lot of merit, the dream of MetaMeta and Enablement is to see the mainstream large-scale agriculture to become disability inclusive. 

Menegesha Social Farm


The Menegesha social farm is part of the rehabilitation services that Cheshire Ethiopia provides to people with disabilities to help them recover from surgery.

The farm has the aim to show both children and adults that there are different opportunities to engage in income generating activities in a rural context, which do not require very physical work. Menegesha’s farm activities focus on home gardens with seasonal crops, a variety of herbs and fruit trees. Animals are also kept, such as chickens, pigs, goats, cows, fish and bees for honey production. Furthermore, Cheshire Ethiopia often organises workshops for both patients and the community on aquaculture, animal grazing, and the production of dairy products.

In this project, people with disabilities are taught how to engage in agricultural income generating activities. The proposed farming activities are innovative and low in intensity. Bee keeping, fish ponds, and the cultivation of herbs and crops can be a good source of income and they do not require heavy labour. Social farming also represents a new opportunity for farmers to deliver alternative services and to diversify the scope of their activities, thereby having a multi-functional role in society. 

Mushroom farming


The FAO joined the Thai government in their commitment to improving the livelihoods of rural people with disabilities in a step towards poverty alleviation and sustainable development. The aim of the mushroom farming project was to establish economic self-reliance for rural people with disabilities as entrepreneurs.

The mushroom production training for people with disabilities was initiated 12 years ago in Thailand by the FAO. Mushrooms offer good market opportunities, as they are part of the daily Thai diet, and can be produced at low costs. Furthermore, mushroom production does not require intensive physical labour, and therefore can be cultivated by people with a physical and/or mental disability.

Every step involved in mushroom cultivation was reviewed during training, including entrepreneurship and environmental protection. Forty-seven trainees successfully completed the 60 days training, after which they transferred their newly acquired know-how to their family and community.

Agriculture activities can be a strong source of livelihood and income for people with disabilities living in rural areas. This case shows that a mainstream organization such as the FAO is willing to invest in small pilot projects that include people with disabilities in income-generating activities. As a result, people with disabilities who received training became more self-reliant and enhanced their social status, benefiting their family at the same time.

Ponds for semi-nomad communities

Somali land

The four-year project of Handicap International addresses the semi-nomad communities of Somali land, a particularly vulnerable group. The aim of the project is to improve the access to safe drinking water and sanitation facilities. In doing that, one of the main aims is to include people with disabilities in all the project phases.

Water shortage is an essential problem for many farmers. Therefore, the idea is to restore former ponds, and to make them safe from animals’ faeces and environmental pollution. Furthermore, ponds and sanitation structures have been adapted/designed to make them accessible for people with disabilities.

Not only people with disabilities benefit from the restored ponds (with safe water), but the community at large will benefit. In addition, ensuring safe water prevents the infection from water-borne diseases.


Literature in the field of Inclusion and Agricultural Water Management.

Inclusion/Disability (General)

  • Banks, L. M., & Polack, S. (2014). The Economic Costs of Exclusion and Gains of Inclusion of People with Disabilities.

  • Bruijn, P. (No date). Inclusion works! Lessons learned on the inclusion of people with disabilities in a food security project for ultra poor women in Bangladesh.

  • Bruijn, P., Regeer, B., Cornielje, H., Wolting, R., Veen, S. V., & Maharaj, N. (2012). Count me in; Include people with disabilities in development projects.

  • Dungumaro, E. W., & Madulu, N. F. (2003). Public participation in integrated water resources management: the case of Tanzania. Physics and Chemistry of the Earth, Parts A/B/C, 28(20), 1009-1014.

  • Ebenso, B. A. S. S. E. Y., Idah, M., Anyor, T., & Opakunmi, F. (2010). Lessons from the evolution of a CBR programme for people affected by leprosy in Northern Nigeria. Leprosy review, 81(4), 318.

  • EU. Make Development Inclusive. How to include the perspectives of person with disabilities in the project cycle management guideline of the EC: A practical guide.

  • Gel, H. F., & Rule, S. (2008). Integrating community-based rehabilitation and leprosy rehabilitation services into an inclusive development approach. Lepr Rev, 79, 83-91.

  • Gorman, M. (No date). Policy briefing: Older women, older farmers – the hidden face of agriculture. HelpAge International.

  • Hussain, I., & Hanjra, M. A. (2004). Irrigation and poverty alleviation: review of the empirical evidence. Irrigation and Drainage, 53(1), 1-15.

  • ICIPE (No date). Push-pull and physically disabled farmers: an appropriate agricultural technology for improving livelihoods.

    ILO (2011). Empowering people with disabilities for rural development.

  • Kemerink, J. S., Méndez, L. E., Ahlers, R., Wester, P., & Van der Zaag, P. (2013). The question of inclusion and representation in rural South Africa: challenging the concept of water user associations as a vehicle for transformation. Water Policy, 15(2), 243-257.

  • Leonard Cheshire Disability (No date). Disability and Urban Agriculture – An innovative approach.

  • Lord, J., Posarac, A., Nicoli, M., Peffley, K., McClain-Nhlapo, C., Keogh, M., ... & Isojarvi, S. (2010). Disability and international cooperation and development: A review of policies and practices. World Bank, Washington, DC.

  • Marriott, A. & Gooding, K. (2007). Social assistance and disability in developing countries. DFID and Sightsavers International.

  • Mitra, S., Pošarac, A., & Vick, B. (2011). Disability and poverty in developing countries: a snapshot from the world health survey. World Bank.

  • Morris, A., Sharma, G., & Sonpal, D. (2005). Working towards inclusion: experiences with disability and PRA. General section, 5.

  • Piatta, F. (No date). Rights in Action. Good practices for inclusive local governance in West Africa. Handicap International, Making it Work and Decisiph.

  • Seeley, J. (2001). Recognising diversity: disability and rural livelihoods approaches in India. Overseas Development Institute.

  • Turmusani, M. (No date). Social farming and financial inclusion of people with disabilities: good practices of economic empowerment from africa.

  • Venter, C., Savill, T., Rickert, T., Bogopane, H., Venkatesh, A., Camba, J., ... & Maunder, D. (2002). Enhanced accessibility for people with disabilities living in urban areas.

  • Wiman, R., & Sandhu, J. (2004). Integrating appropriate measures for people with disabilities in the infrastructure sector. Eschborn: GTZ.

  • Withington, S. G., Joha, S., Baird, D., Brink, M., & Brink, J. (2003). Assessing socio-economic factors in relation to stigmatization, impairment status, and selection for socio-economic rehabilitation: A 1 year cohort of new leprosy cases in north Bangladesh. Leprosy review, 74(2), 120-132.

  • Yoder, J. (2003). Training and Employment of People with Disabilities: Vietnam 2002. GLADNET Collection, 464.


Water and Public Health

  • Bisung, E., & Elliott, S. J. (2014). Toward a social capital based framework for understanding the water-health nexus. Social Science & Medicine, 108, 194-200.

  • Gómez-Hortigüela, L., Pérez-Pariente, J., García, R., Chebude, Y., & Díaz, I. (2013). Natural zeolites from Ethiopia for elimination of fluoride from drinking water. Separation and Purification Technology, 120, 224-229.

  • Liu, H. Y., Chen, J. R., Hung, H. C., Hsiao, S. Y., Huang, S. T., & Chen, H. S. (2011). Urinary fluoride concentration in children with disabilities following long-term fluoride tablet ingestion. Research in developmental disabilities, 32(6), 2441-2448.

  • Mara, D. (2011). Water-and wastewater-related disease and infection risks: what is an appropriate value for the maximum tolerable additional burden of disease?. Journal of Water and health, 9(2), 217-224.

  • Zerabruk, S., Chandravanshi, B. S., & Zewge, F. (2010). Fluoride in black and green tea (camellia sinensis) infusions in Ethiopia: Measurement and safety evaluation. Bulletin of the Chemical Society of Ethiopia, 24(3). 


Water Disaster Management

  • CBM (no date). Disability inclusive disaster risk management.

  • Government of Nepal (2011). Climate Change Adaptation and Disaster Risk Management in Agriculture.

  • GPDD and World Bank (2009). The Impact of Climate Change on People with Disabilities: Report of the e-discussion hosted by The Global Partnership for Disability & Development (GPDD) and The World Bank.

  • Turral, H., Burke, J. J., & Faurès, J. M. (2011). Climate change, water and food security. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.



  • CCBRT (2010). Disability Inclusive Water and Sanitation. Information package, 1-7.

  • Deverill, P. (2002). Designing Water Supply and Sanitation Projects to Meet Demand in Rural and Peri-Urban Communities: Book 2. Additional Notes for Policy Makers and Planners (Vol. 2). WEDC, Loughborough University.

  • GIZ and BMZ (2011). Making sustainable sanitation inclusive for persons with disabilities.

  • Groce, N., Bailey, N., Lang, R., Trani, J. F., & Kett, M. (2011). Water and sanitation issues for persons with disabilities in low-and middle-income countries: a literature review and discussion of implications for global health and international development. Journal of water and health, 9(4), 617-627.

  • Jones, H. (2013). Mainstreaming disability and ageing in water, sanitation and hygiene programmes. Leonard Cheshire Disability and SHARE.

  • Jones, H., Parker, K. J., & Reed, R. (2002). Water supply and sanitation access and use by physically disabled people: A literature review.

  • Kamban, N. & Norman, W.R. (2013). Inclusive WASH development: technology adaptations for persons with disabilities.

  • Moe, C. L., & Rheingans, R. D. (2006). Global challenges in water, sanitation and health. Journal of water and health, 4, 41.

  • Noga, J., & Wolbring, G. (2012). The economic and social benefits and the barriers of providing people with disabilities accessible clean water and sanitation. Sustainability, 4(11), 3023-3041.

  • Norman, W.R. (2010). Water, sanitation and disability in West Africa. A summary report of the Mali water and disabilities study.

  • Tan, K. S., Norman, W. R., Knepper, S., & Kamban, N. (No date). Access to water, sanitation and hygiene: a survey assessment of persons with disabilities in rural mali.

  • WaterAID (No date). Towards inclusive WASH. Sharing evidence and experience from the field.

  • Wolbring, G., & Leopatra, V. (2012). Climate change, water, sanitation and energy insecurity: Invisibility of people with disabilities. Canadian Journal of Disability Studies, 1(3), 66-90.


Interesting websites in the field of Inclusion and Agricultural Water Management

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By Huib Cornielje

Webinar: Breaking down barriers

On January 23rd 2018, Kiran Wagle (Foundation Enablement Nepal) and Saroj Yakami (MetaMeta) discuss challenges and solutions on disability in Nepal’s agriculture.
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