Nearly four years ago, researchers documented for the first time how farmer-led irrigation in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia is transforming food security at an astonishing scale. They also showed that smallholder water management innovations hold potential to boost crop yields and household revenue by tens of billions of US dollars.
Since then, however, new research for development has revealed how small-scale irrigation may have benefits that reach far beyond food security alone.
Four ways to invest in smallholder irrigation
The research was initially carried out by the CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE) and its partners under the AgWater Solutions project. At its conclusion, the project recommended four key areas that investments should focus on in order to unlock the potential of small-scale irrigation:
increasing access to water resources, including sustainable groundwater, small reservoirs and rainwater harvesting;
catalyzing smallholder value chains, removing information and marketing constraints;
creating policy synergies, such as aligned energy policies; and
taking a watershed perspective to reduce adverse environmental impacts.
Building on this work, WLE and USAID have supported research and development of business models that can operationalize these recommendations, while also exploring new solutions and creating a better understanding of potential additional impacts and benefits from investments in smallholder irrigation.
New technologies produce new opportunities and remove constraints
One new opportunity is solar pumps, which has only recently become a financially viable option for smallholder farmers. Solar power irrigation has taken off in India and is starting to take hold in sub-Saharan Africa, where solar powered pumps can serve as a more versatile, green alternative to motor pumps. The Africa Rising project, in collaboration with the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), has begun demonstrating solar powered pumps in two regions of Ethiopia.
A plague of locusts fly above the road between Belo Tsiribihina and Morondava. Madagascar is battling its worst locust plague since the 1950s. People are going hungry, as the insects have destroyed so much of the island’s crops. Measures to fight the plague have been hampered by a lack of funds and poor organisation.
Yemen braces for locust ‘plague’
by Adel Aldaghbashy
Many juvenile locusts have matured into flying adults
Presence of vital honeybees limits insecticide control efforts
Any outbreak could go on to hit Oman, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Iran
Yemen is bracing itself for a “locust plague” that scientists are unable to stop due to fears that any intervention would also kill bees that are vital to its economy.
The country’s Desert Locust Control Centre issued a warning on 18 April that many desert locusts in the country had reached their flying adult phase, while the remaining juveniles could do likewise in a matter of weeks.
The centre says control efforts this month, especially in the southern coastal province of Shabwah, have largely failed. Yemen is already struggling under the weight of civil war, which has made many affected areas unsafe.
“The intervention process to control locusts through insecticide spraying was very difficult due to a number of obstacles, the most important of which were the security aspect and the presence of beehives,” says Ahmed Al-Eryani, a spokesman for the centre. This is because pesticide spraying is likely to kill the bee populations crucial to the region’s agriculture and honey production, he explains.
Sub Saharan Africa is currently experiencing a food crisis due to drought. The World Food Program estimates that 10 million people in the region will require food aid in the coming year.
How can water resources be better used to ensure food security in these arid and semi arid areas?
One particularly promising way is to explore groundwater irrigation. It is a growing sector, and as surface water becomes more variable and uncertain, it provides an important buffer for farmers. It also responds to their water demand in a more flexible and reliable way, which would allow them to increase their yields and mitigate the effects of extreme water shortages.
An important vehicle to promote poverty alleviation, especially in rural areas, groundwater irrigation can provide much needed food, as well as rural employment. Crop yields in areas that are currently already using this resource, either solely or in combination with surface water, are typically much higher than those using surface water irrigation alone.
At the moment, groundwater is a largely untapped resource in sub-Saharan Africa, with only 1% of cultivated land being equipped for groundwater irrigation in all of Africa, as compared to 14% in Asia. There are sufficient groundwater stores in many parts of the continent so the potential to increase use for irrigation is quite high.
Ease of extraction and demand are uneven, however, and renewability of groundwater must be considered in order to make any groundwater irrigation schemes beneficial and sustainable over the long term. This requires a good estimation of upper limits for sustainable irrigation and most appropriate geographic areas for development.
The question then is: where does it make sense to develop renewable groundwater irrigation?
One of the biggest problems for sustainably constructing greenhouses in the drylands is that of the strong winds. Most of the existing greenhouse constructions in developing countries do not resist these winds and the recurrent need to invest in reparations discourages those who see greenhouses as a valuable tool for sustainable economic development of the local people.
It is my sincere conviction that a good solution for this problem can be found in switching from man-made constructions with greenhouse frames (metal or bamboo) to “living greenhouses” with poles (stems) of growing trees.
In every single region on earth one can find (or introduce) easily rooting tree species. For some of them it suffices to directly planting cuttings in the local soil to get these cuttings rooting and developing after a while. One of these trees species is the Chinese willow (Salix matsudana) of which a number of varieties are grown all over the world, even in the desert, e.g. the Navajo willow (Salix matsudana var. Navajo), growing in Arizona.
Having in my garden in Belgium a couple of these willows, I developed the idea that with some cuttings I could “construct” a long living, sustainable “teepee”. Within a very short period such a shady little tent (a greenhouse) was grown:
The 3 meter long branches, used as teepee poles, soon developed numerous lateral branches, some of which were cut off and planted nearby to produce new poles for a second, a third, a fourth, … teepee in the future.
It goes without saying that cuttings of this Chinese willow can also be planted in two lines, e.g. over a distance of 50 meter with a cutting every 50 cm, to form a tunnel greenhouse. One can easily let these willow cuttings quickly grow into a young tree, pruning them into vertical poles.
Once these poles in the two parallel lines are high enough, one can bend them towards each other and bind their tops to form a “living tunnel”. Lateral branches, reaching a length of e.g. 30 cm, are pruned, except those in the plane of the tunnel walls. One can even “weave” these lateral branches into a strong network.
The canopy of the tunnel is filtering the heavy sunlight and air humidity inside the tunnel is higher, due to the transpiration of the leaves. These natural conditions (shade and humidity) are most profitable for growing plants, e.g. vegetables and/or herbs inside the tunnel.
Living tunnels can be used as a nursery for the production of hundreds (if not thousands) of saplings from cuttings. But they can also be used as a shady kitchen garden in which numerous food crops can be grown in containers, e.g. in bottle towers (see<http://youtu.be/-uDbjZ9roEQ>) with less water than the volume of irrigation water normally used on open fields, with irrigation in the morning and the evening.
Once a single living tunnel greenhouse exists in a location the construction of new tunnels is unlimited. It suffices to make the right choice of a tree species that is adapted to the local environmental conditions, easily rooting and developing relatively quickly.
The Chinese willow (Salix matsudana) is one of those species easily adapting to different types of climate. I got mine from the drylands in Arizona and it is growing remarkably well in Belgium. My 2 cuttings (30 cm in 2003) are now in 2016 12-14 meter high ! I would recommend to use the Navajo variety of this Chinese willow (Salix matsudana var. Navajo), a drought-tolerant variety growing in desert-like circumstances, only needing a minimum of water.
Anyway, whatever the tree species chosen (preferably an easily rooting local one), I am quite sure that it must be feasible for all the rural people on earth, to set up their own “living teepee” or their “living tunnel greenhouse”. The choice is theirs.
It would be a fantastic tool to combat malnutrition or hunger.
“No more plastic greenhouses or tunnels needed : grow your own live greenhouse (a tipi/teepee or a tunnel) with branches of the drought-tolerant Navajo willow, also globe willow, or the Chinese willow (Salix matsudana). One can grow these willows with a minimum of water in the drylands, even in the desert.
Such a live greenhouse offers remarkable advantages : natural shade and higher air humidity inside because of the transpiration by the leaves.
In drylands or deserts people can easily grow plants, e.g. young fruit trees and vegetables, inside the greenhouse, which can also offer shelter against the sun heat.
Outgrowing branches of the willow can be pruned to construct progressively new greenhouses.”
Women in agriculture and food security programming: Promoting more meaningful change
Bryan Crawford-Garrett, Oxu Solutions
Women make up approximately half of the world’s farmers, but there is massive inequity between male and female farmers—especially in the developing world.
These inequities are most pronounced in terms of women lacking equal access to and control over productive resources. To address this ‘gender gap’ in agriculture, there are numerous NGOs, multilateral agencies, and donors working to improve women’s engagement in and empowerment through agriculture and food security programming. Certain programming principles promoted by these actors have been well-documented elsewhere, such as the importance of considering women’s time and workload demands and the benefit of including both men and women in training and other project activities. In order to promote more meaningful change, however, programs need to be more precise in their design and more ambitious in their measurement, and implementing staff must have the appropriate support and skills to facilitate lasting impact.
“Traditional agricultural development programs primarily serve men’s interests and often include increases in income and profits…as high-level objectives. Depending on the context, however, female farmers or entrepreneurs may have different preferences.”
How can we strengthen the impact of women in agriculture and food security programs in a development context?
In this post I offer four overarching considerations that are critical to improving the outcomes of women engagement and gender equality programs in agriculture and food security. These recommendations are based on work across numerous organizations and contexts the past few years with colleagues at Oxu Solutions to design, evaluate and learn from initiatives that promote women’s engagement in and empowerment through agriculture and food security programming.
1. Be clear, precise, and realistic about the ultimate desired change for the program and for women within that program
Food Tank has compiled a list of indigenous fruits, vegetables, and grains from across the globe, which may improve health while contributing to environmental sustainability.
31 Indigenous Crops Promoting Health and Contributing to Food Security
According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), just twelve crops provide 75 percent of the world’s food. Three of these crops, rice, maize, and wheat contribute to nearly 60 percent of the protein and calories obtained by humans from plants. Since the beginning of the 20th century, some 75 percent of plant genetic diversity has been lost.
Restoring interest and investment in indigenous crops may offer a solution to food insecurity and the increasing loss of biodiversity. Some traditional plant varieties can help improve nutrition and health, improve local economies, create resilience to climate change, revitalize agricultural biodiversity, and help preserve tradition and culture.
Botanical Explorer Joseph Simcox travels around the world, documenting and tasting thousands of crops. He traverses the wilderness, interviews villagers, and searches markets across the globe for rare and indigenous crops. Joseph helps preserve species and varieties that are in danger of extinction, improving biodiversity and distributing rare seeds to the public.
Food Tank has compiled 31 indigenous fruits, vegetables, and grains from many regions across the globe. These foods are not only good for the environment, but delicious, too!