Agronomy under irrigation key to food security

By Fortious Nhambura
Southern African News Features SANF 16 no 9, April 2016
Southern African Research and Documentation Centre (SARDC)

Agriculture is an engine for socio-economic development however, the sector is experiencing challenges to contribute fully to sustainable development. For example, extreme weather conditions such as drought caused by the El Niño weather phenomenon, have resulted in crop failure and low harvest.
These changing weather conditions have made it difficult for the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to rely on rainfall for agriculture because lower precipitation translates to lower yields.
This calls for an urgent need to invest in regional water infrastructure such as irrigation to ensure that farmers are cushioned from the effects of the changing climate.
Development of irrigation infrastructure will allow the region to grow crops all year round and not only depend on climate conditions. Irrigation will enable the region to boost production and meet the growing demand for food. Furthermore, it will improve the incomes of farmers as they will be able to grow high-value crops.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), irrigation has the capacity to increase yields of most crops by between 100% and 400%.
The potential impact of irrigation in Africa is huge as the continent is home to more than half of the world’s arable land and is endowed with vast water resources.
The SADC region alone has some of Africa’s largest rivers such as the Congo and Zambezi.
Furthermore, nine SADC member states have access to oceans. The coastal countries are Angola, the DRC, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa and Tanzania.
It is important, therefore, for SADC countries to take advantage of their proximity to the oceans to draw the water for agricultural use. To achieve this, appropriate technologies must be designed to desalinate water to enhance food security.
While significant progress is being made by SADC member states to increase the use and uptake of irrigation, there is need for the region to fully embrace irrigation in a bid to address the food security situation.
According to available figures from selected SADC countries, the use of irrigation in the region is still very low. In fact, it is estimated that less than 10% of arable land is under irrigation.
To promote the use of irrigation, SADC in 2012 developed the Regional Infrastructure Development Master Plan, which outlines plans for infrastructure development up to 2027. The Water Sector Plan, for example, identifies 34 infrastructure projects to be implemented over that period, including increasing the irrigated area from the current 3.4 million hectares to 10 million hectares by 2021.
The SADC Irrigation Investment Plan, drawn from the infrastructure master plan, is estimated at US$2.4 billion. Some of the major projects planned include the Shire Valley Irrigation Project in Malawi, the Ruhuhu Valley Irrigation Scheme in Tanzania and the Upper Okavango Food Security Project in Angola and Namibia.
According to the SADC Early Warning and Vulnerability Assessment systems, more than 28 million people, roughly10% of the population of the region, are already food insecure due to the lower harvest recorded last year as a result of poor rains.

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