Photo credit: IWMI
Water from a river is diverted to a small tank to be used in Ethiopia for cultivation – Photo Fitsum Hagos
Is small beautiful for Africa’s farmers?
More than half a billion Africans, or some two thirds of the continent’s population, depend on farming as their primary source of livelihood. While this number includes pastoralists and the landless, the great majority of these are smallholder farmers, 80 per cent of whom farm less than two hectares.  For many the one key factor constraining an improvement in their lives is a lack of access to water. This is not because the landscape lacks water – far from it: only a tiny fraction of the available water is productively used. The critical issue is one of timing…
Rainfall in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa is highly seasonal. This means that unless farmers can store water and then have the means to access it, they are limited to one harvest per year. Aside from natural surface stores like lakes and wetlands, water can be accumulated in ponds or reservoirs, or underground in aquifers. Then, of course, some form of pump is usually needed to get the water from where it is stored to where it is needed.
Early attempts to improve agricultural water access in Africa usually revolved around the construction of large publicly run irrigation schemes. But the results were generally disappointing: overall the large systems did not deliver the expected increases in crop yields or farm incomes. More recently the focus has shifted to smaller on-farm water access. Both approaches are important, but ceding control of water management to individual farmers has many advantages in countries where public institutions are often weak. If farmers can control their own water access, they have a much better opportunity to grow high value crops like vegetables during dry periods.
The situation is complex, however. Well managed public irrigation schemes can still deliver spectacular results. Individual farm innovations are popular with smallholders, but many do not have the resources to invest. In some areas a combination of the two can be the most appropriate solution to equitable and sustainable water management.
Read the full article: IWMI
Photo credit: SciDevNet
The shrinking Gilgel Abbay River, the main source for Lake Tana
Copyright: Petterik Wiggers/Panos
Low funding hampers Africa’s climate change adaptation
by Gilbert Nakweya
- Sub-Saharan Africa ranked third in climate change adaptation financing in 2013
- Experts call for increased funding to help the region address climate issues
- They also advocate for partnerships and involvement of local communities
Inadequate funding for adaptation programmes is one of the acute challenges preventing countries in Sub-Saharan Africa from effectively addressing the impacts of climate change, experts say.
Delegates who attended the 9th International Conference on Community-Based Adaptation to Climate Change (CBA9) held in Kenya on 27-30 April heard that insufficient and uncertain financing has made it difficult for African countries to enhance and sustain effective adaptation programmes to deal with the adverse effects of climate change.
Finding a way to get increased investments from the private sector specifically devoted to adaptation programmes provides the greatest opportunity to combat climate change in Sub-Saharan Africa, the conference heard.
Read the full article: SciDevNet
Photo credit: SciDevHealth
Image credit: Hailey Tucker, One Acre Fund
Focus on soil health to achieve SDGs
“Many of us fail to consider the importance of preserving the health of the earth’s soils for now and generations to come.”
David Guerena and Margaret Vernon, One Acre Fund
- In Sub-Saharan Africa, about 65 per cent of soils are degraded
- Promoting soil health could lead to biodiversity and increased productivity
- The results may take time, but promoting soil health could help achieve SGDs
Crucial and last frontier
Seventy per cent of poor people in rural areas depend on agriculture for their livelihoods.  These rural areas comprise large numbers of smallholder farmers, who cultivate less than two acres of land.
Lacking access to quality inputs, tools training, and financing, smallholder farmers are often at the mercy of unproductive soil. Promoting soil health, through strategies such as agroforestry, intercropping and composting is one important way to increase the productivity of these small plots of land.
These strategies could help smallholder farming communities increase their resilience to environmental shocks and grow their way out of hunger and poverty.
Soil is the greatest reservoir and the last frontier of biodiversity. Most known antibiotics come from organisms that were isolated from the soil. The soil biosphere controls the cycling of most major plant nutrients, such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and sulfur. What other secrets are held in the soil biosphere? In one gram (one pinch) of soil, there are over one billion individual organisms and over one million unique species!  We know less than one per cent of who they are and less than one per cent of one per cent of what they do.
Read the full article: SciDevNet