Irrigated land in sub-Saharan Africa has the potential to grow from 7m hectares to 38m hectares © 123RF
Irrigated land in sub-Saharan Africa has the potential to grow from 7m hectares to 38m hectares © 123RF

Just 6% of African arable land is irrigated

17 January 2019

Sub-Saharan Africa has the potential for 38m hectares of irrigated land if governments made it a policy priority, according to research.

The report, conducted by Malabo Montpellier Panel, revealed that only 6% of arable land in Africa is currently irrigated, despite increasing erratic weather brought on by climate change and a growing population in the continent.

In comparison, in Latin America and Asia 14% and 37% of arable land is irrigated respectively. The report stated that there is potential for irrigated land to increase, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, where the available land and water resources could see irrigated land grow from 7.7m hectares, to 38m hectares, but irrigation must be made a priority by governments in order to ensure the continent’s food security.

While interest in irrigation has surged among small-scale farmers, the report said due to a growing population on the continent, people at risk of hunger could grow by 5% by 2030 and 12% by 2050 if additional investment into irrigation is not made.

Ethiopia and South Africa are cited as examples of the positive impact that placing irrigation on government agendas and increased investment can have on agricultural productivity and economic growth. Between 2002 and 2014, Ethiopia’s irrigated land increased by 52%, making it the country with the fastest irrigation development growth in the continent.

The report said: “Ethiopia’s specialised network of institutions with clear commitments and missions related to irrigation development has helped to ensure this investment generates the desired returns. Ethiopian farmers have experienced reduced seasonal variability in productivity, higher crop yields and increased incomes as a result of the government’s policies prioritising irrigation.”

As well as growing areas of irrigation, the report also detailed how innovation is urgently needed to sustain water use, as less than 2% of Africa’s irrigated land makes use of treated waste water, presenting huge untapped potential. Failure to manage water resources effectively, the report warned, could leave over half of Africa’s population without access to drinking water by 2030.

As part of the report, Malabo Montpellier Panel presented its key policy actions for both the public and private sector in order to improve the resilience of rural communities and spur overall agricultural growth in Africa.

Separately, in Burundi an experimental hybrid rice field has expanced from five hectares to 48 hectares over nine months. The hybrid rice, developed in China, yields 10 tons per hectare in comparison to indigenous rice’s four tons per hectare.

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