Tuesday, 17 September 2013

IN THE FIELD - What do zebras and maize have in common?

[Dr Evan Christen, ACIAR's Land & Water Resources Program Manager, recently investigated irrigation issues being faced by smallholder farmers in south-eastern Africa, to be addressed in a new ACIAR project...]  

What do zebras and maize in Tanzania have in common? They both need water from the Great Ruaha River.
Zebras and maize crops in Tanzania both need access to the Ruaha River
I’ve just been travelling through the Ruaha catchment looking at irrigation schemes, for a new ACIAR project in south-eastern Africa aiming to increase irrigation water productivity in Mozambique, Tanzania and Zimbabwe. It is clear to me that there are issues at different scales that need addressing.

The bigger picture is that the climate is one of extremes: there are 6 months of rains and 6 months of dry. In the dry season, crops cannot grow without intervention and so irrigation is used. Even in the wet season the rain is not evenly distributed, hence the need for and the government’s desire to expand the use of irrigation.
Smallholder farmers need irrigation to grow crops such as rice (shown harvested on left)
and onions (on right, a popular cash crop)
At the catchment or basin scale, there are challenges of downstream cities and hydroelectric dams making claims on water. These needs must be balanced with the need to maintain the fantastic natural assets that bring millions of tourists to Tanzania every year.

 At the local level, the irrigation schemes have sustainability issues of water shortage (although this is not dire at the moment), but a more pressing issue is the management and maintenance of the irrigation infrastructure. Typical of problems around the world, the canals and offtakes are in poor condition and the government is not able to maintain them fully. The farmers themselves lack the income and management skills to maintain them.
Weir and irrigation offtake
on the Little Ruaha river
This new project will look at options for more sustainable management of common pool resources,  at all these levels. It will address the basin-level problems by promoting discussion across levels of government (district to national) and across government departments (basin water managers, irrigation and departments). At the local level, the project will work with farmers to boost their production using a 'learning by doing' approach that empowers them to experiment and learn for themselves. At the irrigation community level, we will use innovation platforms as a communication mechanism to bring together a broad base of stakeholders to address bottlenecks with government, marketing and social issues.

The project is being funded by the Australian International Food Security Research Centre within ACIAR and is being led by the Australian National University. Other partners are CSIRO, University of South Australia, Food Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN), University of Pretoria (South Africa), National Institute of Irrigation (Mozambique), Ardhi University and Sokoine University of Agriculture (Tanzania) and the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi Arid Tropics (ICRISAT).

By Dr Evan Christen, ACIAR's Land & Water Resources Program Manager

More information

ACIAR Project FSC/2013/006 Increasing irrigation water productivity in Mozambique, Tanzania and Zimbabwe through on-farm monitoring, adaptive management and agricultural innovation platforms

ANU news item: Increasing irrigation water productivity in Mozambique, Tanzania and Zimbabwe

ACIAR's Land & Water Resources Program

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