Smallholder irrigation a development priority in sub-Saharan Africa

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A new study published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by FSE researchers finds smallholder irrigation has great potential to reduce hunger, raise incomes, and improve development prospects in an area of the world greatly in need of these advancements.

But even the cheapest pumps can still be prohibitively expensive without financing.

Distributed irrigation systems are those in which the water access (via pump or human power), distribution (furrow, watering can, sprinkler, drip lines, etc.), and use all occur at or near the same location.

These systems have the potential to use water more productively, improve nutritional outcomes and rural development, and narrow the income disparities that permit widespread hunger to persist despite economic advancement.

Only 4 percent of agricultural land in sub-Saharan Africa is currently irrigated. 

"Success stories can be found where distributed systems are used in a cooperative setting, permitting the sharing of knowledge, risk, credit and marketing as we've seen in our solar market garden project in Benin," said lead author Jennifer Burney

Moving forward development communities and sub-Saharan African governments need a better understanding of present water resources and how they will be affected by climate change.

"Farmers need access to financial services—credit and insurance—appropriate for a range of production systems," said co-author Rosamond L. Naylor. "Investments should start at a smaller scale, with thorough project evaluation, before scaling up."

FSE continues to contribute to these evaluations and added eight new villages to our project in Benin last year.