Accessing water for productive agricultural use remains a challenge for millions of poor smallholder farmers, who constitute the majority of producers in sub-Saharan Africa (sSA). In 2006, 225 million hectares of land was cultivated in sSA. However, the total area equipped for irrigation was 7.2 million hectares, only 3.2% of the total cultivated area.
Hunger, malnutrition and poverty still persist, particularly in rural areas, despite recent growth in agricultural GDP. Improving access to water, while removing economic and institutional constraints, could enable millions of smallholder farmers to adopt irrigation and successfully grow their way out of poverty. At the same time, this action will reduce hunger and malnutrition.
Facilitating productivity gains by improving farmers’ access to water will help governments and international agencies to achieve many of the proposed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). There are four interrelated measures that will be of particular use. These are: increasing investment in sustainable water infrastructure (from small scale to large scale) and technologies to augment water supply; guaranteeing water and land rights for poor smallholder farmers, including women and young people; including smallholder farmers in viable value chains and improving their access to adequate financial and extension services and markets; and increasing water use efficiency and agricultural productivity. These measures are essential if sSA governments are to attain the SDGs of ending poverty and hunger, and achieving food security and improved nutrition by 2030.
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