News / Africa

Small-Scale Irrigation Nets Large-Scale Payoff

Rainwater harvesting is a small-scale irrigation technique. (SIWI)
Rainwater harvesting is a small-scale irrigation technique. (SIWI)

Multimedia

Audio
TEXT SIZE - +
Joe DeCapua
A new study shows small-scale irrigation systems could boost farmers’ incomes by billions of dollars in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. The research was discussed at the World Water Week conference in Stockholm.

The study comes from the International Water Management Institute, winner of this year’s Stockholm Water Prize. It said small-scale irrigation systems can protect millions of farmers from the effects of climate change and help ensure food security.

The institute said food prices are rising globally due, in part, to a failed monsoon season in Asia and a widespread, prolonged drought in the United States.

Timothy Williams, the institute’s director for Africa, said prior to 2008 the world enjoyed a long period of low and stable food prices.

“That situation lulled the world into a point where investment in agricultural research declined. The stocks of food that were held around the world declined. And then bad weather in some of the major producing countries and speculation by commodity traders all led to a situation where we found ourselves in 2008,” he said.

That was the beginning of the food crisis that extended into 2009. Since then, higher, more volatile food prices have become the norm.

“The forecast indicates that the era of low food prices is over. We will be experiencing increased food prices over the next few years. And what that does is to increase the vulnerability of very poor people in developing countries, who spend about three-quarters of their income on purchasing food,” said Williams.

The report – Water for Wealth and Food Security – says the use of “smallholder water management techniques could increase crop yields up to 300 percent in some cases.” Williams said that’s a good return on low-cost investments.

“It includes the use of motorized pumps to access groundwater. It includes rainwater harvesting. It includes the construction of small reservoirs that a group of farmers can jointly use to irrigate their land. It also includes farming of low lying valley bottoms where there is residual moisture stored in the soil that can allow them to be able to farm all year round and not only during the rainy season,” he said

The techniques are in contrast to the expensive dams and large-scale irrigations systems that were introduced in the 1960s, when many countries gained independence.

Williams says small-scale irrigation systems would be a major benefit to women farmers, who produce much of the food in developing countries.

“By providing access to women farmers you not only improve agricultural production, you also improve the household nutrition. Because women farmers, in addition to producing food for the market, also will have the opportunity to grow a variety of crops – not only staple crops – but also vegetables and fruits that can produce a balanced diet,” he said

However, Williams said even though these systems cost only a few hundred dollars upfront, that’s a few hundred dollars too much for many women farmers. Williams says that’s why the International Water Management Institute promotes equity in financial aid. One example is a revolving loan that covers upfront investment costs with gradual repayments.

The irrigation systems are part of the three-year AgWater Solutions Research Initiative, which was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. It includes a number of international partners, such as the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization and the International Food Policy Research Institute.

World Water Week is an annual event sponsored by the Stockholm International Water Institute.

You May Like

Multimedia Anti-Keystone XL Protests Continue

Demonstrators are worried about pipeline's effect on climate change, their traditional way of life, health and safety More

Thailand's Political Power Struggle Continues

Court gave Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra until May 2 to prepare her defense over abuse of power charges but uncertainty remains over election timing More

Malaysia Plane Search Tests Limits of Ocean Mapping Technology

Expert tells VOA existing equipment’s maximum operating depth is around 6 kilometers as operation continues on ocean bed for any trace of MH370 More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Messagei
X
Penelope Poulou
April 22, 2014 5:53 PM
Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Message

Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pro-Russian Separatists Plan 'Federalization Referendum' in Eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine say they plan to move forward next month with a referendum vote for greater autonomy, despite the Geneva agreement reached with Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine to end the political conflict. VOA's Brian Padden reports from the city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video International Students Learn Film Production in World's Movie Capital

Hollywood - which is part of Los Angeles - is the movie capital of the world, and many aspiring filmmakers go there in hopes of breaking into the movie business. Mike O'Sullivan reports that regional universities are also a magnet for students who hope to become producers or directors.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid