Trends and Outlook: Agricultural Water Management in Southern Africa

Type Report
Title Trends and Outlook: Agricultural Water Management in Southern Africa
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2015
URL Report South Africa.pdf
About 70 percent of citizens of the Southern African Development Community (SADC)
depend on rainfed agriculture for their livelihoods (SADC 2003). Moreover, enhanced and
sustainable development of this sector is the engine of improved economic growth, sociohuman
development, food and nutrition security and alleviation of poverty (SADC 2014a).
Broad-based agricultural growth with agriculture-based industrialization can replace the
extractive, capital-intensive and often ‘jobless growth’ path as currently persists in SADC’s
dual economies. Inclusive agricultural growth not only contributes to national food security at
affordable prices, export and foreign currency; it also creates employment for the rapidly
growing new generations, narrows the wealth gaps, and stabilizes SADC’s young
However, rain fed agriculture is directly exposed to the hazards of climate. SADC’s rainfall
patterns are characterised by high and unpredictable variability over the seasons, years, and
decades. Moreover, Southern Africa is predicted to warm up faster than the rest of the world
(IPCC, 2014). It is one of the few regions in the world that will experience significantly drier
conditions, more extreme and unpredictable dry spells, droughts, and floods, while sea levels
will rise faster here than elsewhere. These increased temperatures and less predictable,
more variable extreme events hold SADC’s farmers and economy ‘hostage to hydrology’. This
is also true where average rainfall is abundant. These predictions of long-term climateinduced
changes render the need for ‘no regret’ measures today even more urgent.
A key ‘no regret’ measure that turns these climate hazards into opportunities is improved
agricultural water management, or ‘agwater management’. Agwater management
encompasses a broad menu of techniques ranging from improved on-field water harvesting
and soil moisture retention to year-round water storage for year-round fully controlled
irrigation of crops, trees and livestock feed; improved water supplies for livestock; and the
development of fisheries and aquaculture. Agricultural water management was a vital
component in Asia’s Green Revolution to boost the ‘trickle-up’ growth path through poverty
alleviation (Jazairy, 1992).
The CAADP of the African Union’s (AU’s) New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD)
recognized this unlocked potential throughout Africa by prioritizing the first of its four pillars,
that of ‘Sustainable Land and Water Management’. In pillar one, African states committed to
the doubling of irrigated area from the 3.5 percent at the time to 7 percent by 2015 (CAADP
SADC’s Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan (2003, revised in 2007 and 2015) reaffirms
CAADP goals, including pillar one. SADC operationalizes this through both its Water
Division and the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources (FANR) Division. The SADC Regional
Agricultural Policy (RAP) (SADC 2014a) envisages the improvement of the management of
water resources for agriculture (SADC 2014a, section 10.5). In the results framework,
outcome 1.4 foresees that water infrastructure for agriculture is expanded and upgraded.
The RAP commits to assess the effective utilisation of existing irrigation infrastructure and to
promote new infrastructure development (SADC 2014a, section 16.1 (75)). In terms of
monitoring, the RAP results framework signals the need to provide baseline data on the
number of dams, irrigated area and irrigation management practiced in the SADC region
(SADC 2014b).
The Regional Strategic Action Plan IV (RSAP IV) (SADC 2015), which is based on the SADC
Water Policy (2006) and Strategy (2007) aims at ‘An equitable and sustainable utilization of
water for social and environmental justice, regional integration and economic benefit for
present and future generations’. Noting that there is about 50 million hectares (ha) of
irrigable land available within the SADC Region of which only 3.4 million ha (7 percent) is
currently irrigated, the RSAP IV emphasizes the importance of infrastructure development
and water resource management for food security in the water-food nexus, and the stronger
urgency to take action in the view of climate variability and change. RSAP IV also highlights
the benefits of multipurpose dams for both energy and irrigation. At local level, SADC Water
commits to conduct action-research to develop and sustainably implement resilient waterrelated
infrastructure; and to innovate affordable and appropriate technologies and
innovative approaches and practices. Priority interventions are the demonstration and
upscaling of community-based water for livelihoods projects (SADC 2015).

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