Earlier this month I spoke to an executive from an irrigation company. He said: “Farming is easy. You just add water.”
This might be an over simplified view of the very dynamic and ever-changing agricultural industry, but there is some merit in the statement. According to research done by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, Africa can increase its agricultural productivity by at least 50% if the continent develops its irrigation potential.
These findings were published in 1997, which begs the question: Why has it not happened yet? Unfortunately, it is not as simple as just adding water. In order for Africa to fully develop its irrigation potential, certain key elements need to be addressed.
First, Africa cannot be seen as a whole. There is a worrying trend of generalisation when it comes to Africa. Some researchers and organisations tend to view Africa with a “one size fits all” approach. Africa is as large as it is diverse, and each region should be handled according to its own unique circumstances.
For a large-scale irrigation project to be viable and sustainable, the following aspects need consideration:
• The availability of water for agriculture. Irrigation needs to be effective especially in times of drought. The farmer needs to have a secondary source should the river dry up – which is a common occurrence in some regions.
• Adequate infrastructure. Irrigation systems need pipelines and electricity in order to function. In remote areas there are innovative solutions for electricity supply such as solar panels and other forms of renewable energy.
• The private sector. Irrigation companies in Africa are not in short supply. Farmers are generally spoiled for choice. A positive effect of the highly competitive irrigation market is that prices are reduced in order to be more affordable than the competition. Secondly, the irrigation systems tend to be of high quality.
• The financial sector. Irrigation systems are an expensive investment. A positive observation that we have made in the industry is that banks and development corporations are getting on board with irrigation companies to help the farmer finance his or her irrigation projects.
• A flexible supplier. Irrigation companies need to realise that not every farmer in Africa can afford, or actually needs, a giant 90-hectare centre pivot. The majority of farmers in Southern Africa are small-scale farmers, wanting to expand their businesses. The good news is that for these farmers there are many options to choose from. From mini centre pivots that are driven by solar power, or a diesel generator, to micro or drip irrigation.
• Government involvement. The world’s population is expanding, which means that there is increasing pressure on the environment, and on the agricultural sector to increase production. Governments need to play a pro-active role in securing future water supply and macro-infrastructure to enable farmers to work their lands.
Once all of these aspects are in place and working together, there can be a noticeable improvement in agricultural production in Africa. ProAgri and Agri4all will keep the farmers up to date with the latest irrigation technology on the market.
Remember to get your free copy every month, visit our websites www.proagri.co.za or www.agri4all.com. Also find us on Facebook where we have expanded to include Malawi, Tanzania, Kenya, and Mozambique. We are now active in 9 SADC countries.
Readers are also encouraged to contact me directly via the e-mail address provided below. I would love to hear what you are busy with on your farm, or what is happening in your region.
Jaco Cilliers – firstname.lastname@example.org