Watering the Future

Africa holds the key to the global population’s growing demand for food.
The continent has many hectares of untouched land, waiting to grow the crops needed to feed the ever increasing demands of a growing population.
The land is there, the demand is there and yet the supply has not been able to follow
The logical question is: why supply is not keeping up with demand?
It has been said by the experts that just seven percent of Africa’s arable land is under irrigation and this is contributing to the food problems affecting Africans.
Jonathan Kamkwaka, writing for the World Bank blog said, “As little as seven percent of the continent’s arable land is irrigated – or artificially watered. The rest of African farmland is subject to the vagaries of erratic rainfall.”
Ultimately, the African citizenry risks hunger if there is inconsistent rainfall.
Jessica Frommer, who is communications manager at EMRC – an international organisation providing a platform for Africa’s private and public sector to come together and discuss partnership opportunities – says the lack of irrigation capacity has put Africa’s food security situation at risk.
Frommer says: “There is no denying that Africa’s climate has put pressure on the continent’s agricultural development, as farmers still only depend on one or two kinds of crops and risk starvation if there is lack of rainfall.
“Many countries in Africa continue to be among the lowest per-capita energy consumers in the world, which is necessary for agricultural development.”
Thus, the growing change in climate patterns is the main issue that is contributing to the lack of agricultural development in Africa and irrigation technology can counter this.
Joe Sanhanga, the executive chair of Ferro Irrigation Systems in Zimbabwe, adds that the growing policy debates within the context of climate change must include serious talk and action on matters related to irrigation.
“In our case to survive, Africans should use new irrigation technologies and desist from traditional rainfed agricultural practices.” The changing rainfall patterns across Africa means more money and energy should be invested in irrigation technologies and support – by way of inputs subsidies – to farmers, especially smallholders.
According to the World Bank, successful agriculture is dependent upon farmers having sufficient access to water.
“There are two main issues linked to water. There is the issue of ‘physical water scarcity,’ which is where there is not enough water to meet all demands, including that needed for ecosystems to function effectively, and ‘economic scarcity,’ which is caused by a lack of investment in water or insufficient human capacity to satisfy the demand for water.”
Thus, policy formulators in Africa should make sure that African farmers are covered when it comes to access to water for their farming activities.
Problems of water scarcity should be remedied and embracing irrigation technologies is the way for the continent.
Food production should be strengthened by improving irrigation and empowering African communities.
Frommer says, “Agriculture and food production in Africa can be strengthened by focusing on improving irrigation, ensuring that water reaches parched lands and strengthening the hands of farmers who produce food against climate odds.”
Irrigation technology can boost crop yields and in the process raise household income on the continent.
According to a World Water Week report titled “Water for wealth and food security: Supporting farmer driven investments in agricultural water management”, expanding the use of smallholder water management techniques could increase yields by up to 300 percent in some cases and could add tens of billions of dollars to household revenues across the African continent. F
or Africa to be able to feed itself, African political and business leaders, along with researchers and other stakeholders, should fund the development and proliferation of simple technologies that alleviate the situation of small-scale producers.
The idea is to promote and sustain food self-sufficiency so that resources can be freed from importing basics and instead invested in other areas that require attention.
They can do this through the simplification of irrigation technology.

May 2013
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