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9 April 2015

Improving rainwater harvesting – the way forward for African agriculture?

Most of African agriculture is rain fed and access to other water resources is often very limited. Research and practice show that rainfall variability is becoming higher which increases risks of harvest failure. Moreover, in some areas of sub-Saharan Africa rainfall might even become 25% lower than today. It is therefore important to highlight and develop effective strategies for collecting rainwater and preserving soil moisture.

Many of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have close connections to water related issues, but the wording regarding how water resources should be managed is vague. Water is a fundamental resource for food production; water scarcity also drives food prices up, so effective water management can reduce the proportion of people affected by poverty and those who are suffering from hunger. Rockström and Falkenmark (in a Nature article) make a case for investing in rainwater harvesting, in contrast to the conventional notion that water should mainly be drawn from rivers, lakes and groundwater.

In many African countries access to water sources such as rivers and lakes is often limited, meaning that conventional irrigation is not a feasible (nor sustainable) option. Focusing on retaining more water in the soils and developing strategies for collecting rainwater could increase resilience to droughts and help to create more integrated farming systems, where there is little need for external water resources.

The article highlights successful examples of rainwater harvesting in farming systems in Ethiopia, Tanzania, Kenya, India and other countries. Some of the successful strategies include terracing, building ditches or small dams, and establishing storage systems such as ponds. Research has proven that utilising these strategies can improve the yields substantially.

Falkenmark and Rockström stress that water and agriculture are intrinsically connected and need to be considered in an integrated manner in order to ensure both sustainable water management and food production. Further, they recommend the SDGs need to include clearer guidance on the most effective strategies for dealing with water scarcity, where rainwater harvesting should be one of them.

Read the article in full here.

Agriculture: increase water harvesting in Africa

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