Irrigation on rise in Africa as farmers face erratic weather
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.