More ir­ri­ga­tion, less mi­gra­tion

The ef­fect of cli­mate change in Africa’s semi­arid coun­tries is driv­ing young peo­ple out of ru­ral ar­eas into cities

Mail & Guardian - - Africa - Go­van Whit­tles

In­vest­ing in ir­ri­ga­tion in Africa’s semi-arid ar­eas could stem the flow of mi­grants from the con­ti­nent across the Mediter­ranean Sea into Europe and sig­nif­i­cantly curb ur­ban mi­gra­tion, the African Union has found.

The AU com­mis­sioned a study on the rate of mi­gra­tion and its causes in ru­ral ar­eas in semi-arid coun­tries such as Eritrea, Dji­bouti, Su­dan and Chad. Its find­ings show that a short­age of water for crops has driven many young peo­ple away from the agri­cul­ture in­dus­try.

The study found that in­creas­ingly er­ratic rain­fall and en­croach­ing de­ser­ti­fi­ca­tion on arable land is forc­ing peo­ple out of ru­ral ar­eas into cities, said Mure Ag­bon­la­hor, the AU’s semi-arid food and grain re­search and de­vel­op­ment of­fi­cer.

“Ninety-two per­cent of the semi­arid re­gions are rain-fed. That’s very bad. It’s ter­ri­ble ac­tu­ally. If you look at the rain­fall du­ra­tion, it’s nor­mally less than three months,” Ag­bon­la­hor said on the side­lines of the Africa Green Revo­lu­tion Fo­rum in Kigali, Rwanda, ear­lier this month.

“We have found that the mi­gra­tion across the Mediter­ranean is linked to the de­creas­ing rain­fall in semi-arid re­gions. And the peo­ple mi­grat­ing are mainly the youth,” he said.

The find­ings were de­scribed as “wor­ri­some” at the con­fer­ence. The World Bank’s agri­cul­ture global prac­tice di­rec­tor, Simeon Ehui, said: “Eighty per­cent of the peo­ple live in ru­ral ar­eas and about 60% of them de­rive their in­come from agri­cul­ture.

“When you don’t have any op­por­tu­ni­ties for peo­ple to de­velop and when there is no ir­ri­ga­tion for agri­cul­ture, you see peo­ple mov­ing across the con­ti­nent and to Europe.”

Farm­ers in these re­gions have started cul­ti­vat­ing drought-re­sis­tant sorghum and mil­let be­cause of de­creas­ing rain­fall, Ag­bon­la­hor said. But this has not been enough to stem the flow of peo­ple to the cities.

African coun­tries have lagged be­hind other de­vel­op­ing coun­tries such as In­dia, which has re­duced its re­liance on rain-fed agri­cul­ture by cul­ti­vat­ing farmer-led ir­ri­ga­tion sys­tems such as water pumps from rivers, bore­holes and water stor­age.

Only 4% of the con­ti­nent’s agri­cul­ture is un­der ir­ri­ga­tion and the rest of the con­ti­nent re­lies on rain­wa­ter to grow crops, Rwanda’s prime min­is­ter, Anas­tase Murekezi, said at the fo­rum’s open­ing.

Tushaar Shah, of the In­ter­na­tional Water Man­age­ment In­sti­tute in Anand, In­dia, said that in sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa the po­ten­tial for ir­ri­ga­tion farm­ing is un­tapped be­cause the re­gion has bil­lions of cu­bic litres of ground­wa­ter. “But be­cause ground­wa­ter is viewed as a frag­ile re­source [in Africa] and left to the non­govern­men­tal agen­cies to de­velop, South Asia has been able to cap­i­talise from it and in­crease ir­ri­ga­tion to around 80% of its agri­cul­ture [be­cause gov­ern­ments have in­vested in ir­ri­ga­tion], while sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa’s ir­ri­ga­tion re­mains at 4%.”

Drought and un­pre­dictable weather pat­terns were blamed for the con­trac­tion of 29% of South Africa’s agri­cul­ture sec­tor in the last quar­ter.

The Western Cape pro­duces most of the coun­try’s win­ter crops and high-value hor­ti­cul­tural crops such as fruits and veg­eta­bles. Agri­cul­tural econ­o­mist Wandile Sihlobo said the drought in that prov­ince wors­ened the out­look for agri­cul­ture in the coun­try be­cause of a late har­vest in the other re­gions.

“The key is­sue is the de­layed har­vest in the sum­mer crop-grow­ing ar­eas of South Africa, par­tic­u­larly the grain and oilseed pro­duc­tion re­gions. This is on the back of a late start of the sum­mer crop sea­son due to un­favourable weather con­di­tions ear­lier in the year,” he said.

In East Africa, farm­ers have faced sim­i­lar weather pat­terns and ar­rived at the Kigali agri­cul­ture con­fer­ence look­ing for an­swers.

The East­ern Africa Farm­ers Fed­er­a­tion, which rep­re­sents 20-mil­lion farm­ers in 10 coun­tries, de­scribed the past two years as its most dev­as­tat­ing and said it could no longer de­pend on pre­dictable rain­fall and a sta­ble water sup­ply. “We only re­ceived one week of water last sea­son, even though the fore­cast said we were sup­posed to re­ceive two months of rain,” the fed­er­a­tion’s Stephen Muchiri said. “We are now forced to look for al­ter­na­tive ways to water our crops. The prob­lem is we can­not af­ford these pumps be­cause they are up to $300. So we are forced to rely on the big govern­ment projects.

Tan­za­nia’s min­is­ter of agri­cul­ture, Charles Tizeba, said: “There are 94-mil­lion hectares of arable land cur­rently be­ing farmed in Tan­za­nia, of which only 450000 hectares are be­ing farmed with an ir­ri­ga­tion sys­tem. In the past our govern­ment has in­vested in large ir­ri­ga­tion sys­tems. But out of 2400 sys­tems, only 906 are cur­rently func­tion­ing.”

Most of these large-scale ir­ri­ga­tion projects, into which govern­ment has in­vested, had failed, he said, be­cause the cost of main­tain­ing the sprin­klers and pumps was left to the state. A South Su­danese doc­tor, Evan Atar Adaha, has been pre­sented with the Nansen award by the United Na­tions Refugee Agency. Adaha runs an over­crowded hos­pi­tal in Bunj that does not have a reg­u­lar sup­ply of anaes­thet­ics and much of its equip­ment is faulty. De­spite these dif­fi­cul­ties, Adaha and his team per­form about 60 surg­eries a week on refugees from neigh­bour­ing Su­dan. Filippo Grandi, the UN high com­mis­sioner for refugees, said: “Dr Atar’s work through decades of civil war and con­flict is a shin­ing ex­am­ple of pro­found hu­man­ity and self­less­ness. Through his tire­less ef­forts, thou­sands of lives have been saved and count­less men, women and chil­dren pro­vided with a new chance to re­build a fu­ture.”

Dwelling on the di­as­pora

Zim­bab­wean Pres­i­dent Em­mer­son Mnan­gagwa said his govern­ment will ad­dress the vot­ing rights of ci­ti­zens who had left the coun­try. Mnan­gagwa was speak­ing ahead of the 73rd ses­sion of the UN Gen­eral Assem­bly. He said the govern­ment had not able to re­spond to their de­mands be­fore the July 30 elec­tions. “We now have five years where we can work on that ob­jec­tive where we can see whether we can im­ple­ment it,” he said.

Fer­ry­ing re­spon­si­bilty

Tan­za­nia’s pres­i­dent, John Magu­fuli, has fired the board of the mar­itime trans­port au­thor­ity af­ter about 200 peo­ple died when a ferry, the MV Ny­erere, cap­sized last week. The ac­ci­dent hap­pened on Lake Vic­to­ria as the ferry ap­proached the dock on the lake’s big­gest is­land, Uk­erewe. The rea­son the ferry sank is not yet known but it is spec­u­lated that it was car­ry­ing too many peo­ple.

Out­flow: An African Union study has found that water short­ages are driv­ing mi­gra­tion into cities and Europe. Photo: Ma­ciej Moskwa/NurPhoto

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