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Globalization

'On-farm water solutions will be a life-changer'

A new study by the International Water Management Institute found that small-scale irrigation schemes can protect millions of farmers in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia from food insecurity and climate risks.

According to the "Water for wealth and food security" report by the International Water Management Institute, expanding farmer-driven water management techniques could increase crop yields up to 300 percent. Experts said that's good news as food prices soar due to the weak monsoon season in Asia and a major drought in the United States, where the world's largest corn and soybean crops are cultivated.

Increased crop yields through improved smallholder water management techniques could add tens of billions of dollars to household revenues of some of the world's poorest people, who often do not benefit from large-scale irrigation projects set up across the developing world.

DW spoke with Dr. Timothy Williams, Director for Africa at the International Water Management Institute, about the improved water management systems for small-scale farmers.

DW: Water is a major growing constraint on food production for smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. What can be done to improve their situation and ensure their people have sustainable crops and enough of them?

IWMI's Director for Africa, Timothy Williams

IWMI's Director for Africa, Timothy Williams

Timothy Williams: The small-scale irrigation technologies can help in various ways. One, it can provide them with the opportunity to have access to supplementary irrigation when rain fails during the growing season. Secondly, these technologies can allow them to tap into available water sources. Water resources in Africa are huge, and much of this water is yet to be utilized by farmers. By providing them with technologies that can allow them to tap into surface and ground water, say, then they will be able to grow crops on a year-round basis.

Even when we consider the crops growing now, they can tremendously improve yields because one of the constraints to increased production and productivity in Africa is lack of water. By making water available to them through these technologies that they can manage, that they can use themselves, and which they are already using in any case on a very small scale, they can improve yields, increase productivity, and increase incomes.

What's the technology being used for this project?

There is a series of technologies which I have identified. It includes the use of motor pumps to lift water. It includes distribution systems that include drip and sprinkler irrigation. It includes rainwater harvesting because a lot of the water available through rainfall is now wasted by not being adequately captured. It also involves the use of small reservoirs that can be constructed and used by a group of farmers for multiple purposes, not just for crops, but also for livestock watering, for instance.

The report suggests that on-farm water solutions could increase could increase crop yields by up to 300 percent. What will this mean for the people living in these areas?

It's going to be a life-changer - in the sense that when one looks at the situation of food insecurity and with increasing food prices on the market, if farmers have the opportunity to increase yields, they can also contribute to greater food security. And they will have a surplus to supply to the market. So not only will they be able to feed their families, they will also be able to earn income to be able to pay for other services, like education for their children.

That's why it will be a life-changer. It allows them to move closer to achieving the potential that we know exists in Africa and certain parts of South Asia, where there are proven reserves of ground water which can be tapped for irrigation.

Interview: Jessie Wingard / als

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