More water for African farms
Nothing can grow without the right amount of water, at the right time - and farmers can't necessarily rely on rain for the moisture their crops need. EU-funded researchers have shown that water harvesting techniques could help to boost food security, stimulate growth and foster resilience in African dryland areas.
Update: 23 November 2017
Water harvesting involves capturing and storing run-off for productive use. The Wahara project focused on its potential in dry parts of Africa where agriculture depends entirely on rainfall, without access to irrigation. Such dryland areas account for some two thirds of the continent’s surface and produce most of its food.
“We brought together experiences in Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Tunisia and Zambia, which allowed us to exchange information and to draw more general lessons that are conducive to further adoption of water harvesting in Africa,” says project coordinator Rudi Hessel of Stichting Wageningen Research, in the Netherlands.
“The main advantage is that water harvesting improves the water availability over time. And our results showed that it works,” he adds. “Significant increases in yield were obtained, and crop failure under drought conditions was prevented.”
Widespread adoption of water harvesting techniques would therefore contribute to water security in dryland areas, the Wahara researchers argue. Given the likely implications of climate change, the importance of sheltering the populations of such regions from the effects of drought is growing.
Hessel sees the project’s participatory approach as one of its main achievements. “Water harvesting techniques were selected in collaboration with stakeholders,” he reports.
The introduction of such techniques can only be successful if the proposed solutions make economic sense to the farmers, the Wahara team notes. Other preconditions for success identified by the project, which ended in February 2016, include policy support, local ownership, and access to adequate finance.
“What works is putting the farmers at the centre of it all, respecting their agency, treating them as clients rather than beneficiaries,” the partners stress. Farmer-to-farmer learning systems linked with formal education and research systems could help to disseminate water harvesting technologies, the team concludes.