Ir­ri­ga­tion on rise in Africa as farm­ers face er­ratic weather

The Star (Kenya) - - News -

Sub­Sa­ha­ran Africa is see­ing a surge of in­ter­est in ir­ri­ga­tion among small-holder farm­ers, as cli­mate change brings more er­ratic weather, and as ris­ing pop­u­la­tions in coun­tries from Nige­ria to Kenya mean de­mand for a re­li­able har­vest is grow­ing, agri­cul­ture and water ex­perts say.

The In­ter­na­tional Food Pol­icy Re­search In­sti­tute es­ti­mates that more than a mil­lion hectares of small farms are now ir­ri­gated in the re­gion, based on limited govern­ment data and satel­lite im­ages.

In Tan­za­nia, the area of small farms with ac­cess to ir­ri­ga­tion has risen from just 33,500 hectares in 2010 to about 150,000 to­day, in­sti­tute fig­ures show. But up to 29 mil­lion hectares in the East African na­tion alone po­ten­tially could be ir­ri­gated, said Ruth Meinzen-Dick, an IFPRI re­searcher.

Boosts in ir­ri­ga­tion could help pro­tect the re­gion’s food se­cu­rity in the face of more ex­treme weather con­di­tions driven by cli­mate change, and be an en­gine of de­vel­op­ment, she and other ex­perts said at the re­cent World Water Week con­fer­ence in Stock­holm.

“Small-holder farm­ers’ ir­ri­ga­tion is a cli­mate re­silience op­tion,” said Dawit Mekon­nen, an IFPRI re­searcher based in Ethiopia.

SCAL­ING UP In­creases in ir­ri­ga­tion have been driven not only by more ex­treme weather con­di­tions but by grow­ing ac­cess over the last decade to more af­ford­able Chi­nese-made water pumps, said Jen­nie Bar­ron, a sus­tain­able water re­searcher with the In­ter­na­tional Water Man­age­ment In­sti­tute.

But ex­pand­ing ac­cess to ir­ri­ga­tion to a much higher num­ber of farm­ers will re­quire a range of other changes, from cuts to taxes on im­ported ir­ri­ga­tion equip­ment to bet­ter train­ing of farm­ers - par­tic­u­larly women - in the lat­est ir­ri­ga­tion tech­niques, the re­searchers said. En­sur­ing women - who make up about half of Africa’s agri­cul­tural labour force - have le­gal own­er­ship of farm­land is key to en­sur­ing they feel con­fi­dent in mak­ing costly in­vest­ments in ir­ri­ga­tion, the ex­perts said.

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