International collaborations on water

INRAE is collaborating with European and international partners to provide scientific knowledge and solutions to protect water resources for people, life and earth.

Scientific cooperation to address global water challenges

While water is essential to life in all forms, it is a finite resource with a closed cycle. Global warming is now affecting this cycle, causing localized water shortages and extreme events (floods, droughts, etc.). With demographic growth and its effects on human needs, world food and health security is threatened and economic and social inequalities are increasing globally. As such, water is a common good that must be collectively preserved and used in a sustainable way.

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the 2030 Agenda of the United Nations, agreed by all states, take into account the environmental, social and economic issues we face collectively. Science plays a key role to help reach the targets set by the SDGs, including a number of targets strongly linked to water challenges, SDGs 2, 3, 6 and 17. Generating knowledge to help understand and find solutions to global challenges is essential. This is why, in its area of expertise, land and agrifood systems, INRAE has designed a strategy for the next ten years, INRAE 2030, which aims to contribute to this global scientific effort.

 As a finalized institute, through our multidisciplinary research based on impact and partnership, our researchers are conducting a range of studies internationally, consistent with several SDGs, and linked to water challenges as a vital resource for human survival.  

Presenting our research partnership on water aligned with SDGs

Our international research on water: responding to SDGs aligned with INRAE 2030 strategy

INRAE 2030 Scientific priority 2: Accelerating agroecological and food transitions
INRAE 2030 Scientific priority 4: Promoting a holistic approach to health



INRAE 2030 Scientific priority 4: Promoting a holistic approach to health



INRAE 2030 Scientific priority 3: Building bioeconomies based on the efficient circular use of resources

INRAE 2030 Scientific priority 4: Promoting a holistic approach to health


INRAE 2030 Scientific priority 1: Responding to environmental challenges and associated risks



INRAE 2030 Policy Priority 2: Reinforcing our engagement with academic, European, and international partners




Feeding the planet under water constraints

While water resources are threatened by the depletion of the resource and climate change, one global challenge remains: feeding the planet to reach the target of zero hunger. Partnerships, built at the national, European and international level are essential in order to meet this challenge collectively.

INRAE advocates for agroecology to develop crop and livestock systems that are both water efficient and capable of mitigating climate change. Increasing soil carbon storage and the resilience of agriculture to climate change effects rely on several practices: soil preservation, livestock-crop complementarity, diversification of animal breeds and crop varieties, with a selection of species more tolerant to drought, landscape elements (hedges, grassy strips) to curb runoff, etc. Agroforestry and conservation agriculture are particularly promising avenues.

Thus, in the French context, our research favours the adaptation of rain-fed agriculture rather than the systematic development of irrigation. Irrigation is a potential additional lever for crop diversification and a safety practice, rather than a means of systematically maximizing yields. In addition, the modernization of irrigation equipment can lead to water savings of 10 to 40%. Work in the social sciences studies the decision-making mechanisms and public policies favourable to this agro-ecological transition, from an integrative vision encompassing the whole society.

Wastewater treatment and sanitation fitting local contexts

Today, according to the United Nations 6 in 10 people in the world lack access to safely managed sanitation facilities. INRAE has been designing innovative wastewater treatment and sanitation process that can be applied to local context. We have developed nature based solutions for domestic wastewater treatment. The French-system of vertical flow constructed wetland is the most widely used treatment process in mainland France since its first implementation in the 1990s. Using this process in rural areas demonstrated the efficiency of the method and proved to be well adapted to operating needs and skilled labour shortage in these areas. Since the early 2000s, at the request of the French Ministry of the Environment, researchers have been working on adapting this process to tropical climate for the French overseas territories.

However, generally speaking, the application of treatment processes to other countries has revealed organisational problems between actors. Researchers are designing approaches responding to this issue, allowing populations to participate to decision-making and capacity-building.

Participatory monitoring of aquatic ecosystems for clean water supply

Freshwater resources are a global issue from an ecological, economic or political point of view. The concerns related to them concern their accessibility and their quality, in a context where the human population, along with human activity, is increasing. Increasingly significant differences are observed in the ecological trajectories of continental aquatic ecosystems between developed and developing countries. The former are, for many of them, engaged in a restoration dynamic which is based in particular on the control of nutrient inputs (e.g. banning phosphates from washing powders) and organic pollution (e.g. improvement of wastewater treatment). The latter are inversely engaged in a process of degradation of their aquatic ecosystems with multiple consequences on their functioning and their use.

It is in this context that the international project WaSAf – Water Sources in Africa, focused on the monitoring and protection of continental surface aquatic systems used for the production of drinking water in three African countries, Ivory Coast, Senegal and Uganda.

International expertise and support to public policies on water

Our expertise contributes to the development and implementation of international agreements and to inform society, public decision-makers, managers to develop and support appropriate and efficient policies. We are gathering scientific knowledge, research topics and methods that can be used to engineer efficient public policies applicable at both a regional and international scales.

Collaborating with major institutions such as the FAO, World Bank or IPCC, and French and European ministries, parliaments and institutions. Upon the request of the French authorities INRAE has ​​carried out three collective scientific assessments linked to water on drought, eutrophication and hill reservoirs at the national level.

To discover our international expertise on water, watch some of our experts present their work at INRAE