Small-scale farmers may have solution to irrigation in Africa

We often hear that irrigation in Africa is too limited, and that the key to a “green revolution” on the continent is to expand to levels seen in Asia.

Farmer-led irrigation comes in many different shapes and forms. Remi Nono-Womdim/Flickr

But what if there is much more small-scale, informal irrigation in Africa than we thought? Could this be the basis for irrigating Africa?

In our recently published paper, we looked at initiatives taken by small-scale African producers in expanding irrigation. We found that farmer-led irrigation comes in many different shapes and forms. Informality, flexibility and adaptability are the watchwords. Most significantly, such irrigation initiatives are led by farmers, although they also rely on networks of technology suppliers, equipment repairers, market brokers, extension agents, transporters, banks and credit agencies, among others.

This sort of irrigation was dismissed as “just gardening” by an irrigation specialist we engaged with during our study: too small to make a difference, and not geared to commercial production. Instead, engineer-designed irrigation schemes are often advocated, in Zimbabwe as elsewhere. But the history of these schemes in Africa has not been a happy one. They have repeatedly failed, as strict cultivating and watering regimes are imposed, and high-cost equipment breaks down.

Yet, such schemes remain central to development programmes across the continent, despite the disastrous record. What is the alternative? Could farmer-led systems lead the way?

Informal irrigation

In our study on land reform farms in Zimbabwe, published as part of a wider collection from across Africa, we found that farmer-led irrigation in our sites proportionally covered many times more area than formal irrigation schemes do at a provincial level. And this despite official statistics suggesting that informal irrigation accounts for under 10% of national irrigated area.

The mismatch in the figures is striking. Of course, extrapolation is problematic, but evidence from across the country suggests that farmer-led systems, across multiple small plots, is widespread. Without external support, land reform farmers use their own initiative and resources, making use of available water – from small dams, rivers, streams or wells – to boost production.

Areas irrigated range from small homestead plots to large fields. One commercial irrigator was securing an income of around US$30,000 from five hectares, with input expenses of US$12,000, and was employing some 20 people. Most had more intermediate operations, using a variety of pumping systems, whom we classified as “aspiring irrigators”, with plot sizes averaging 0.43 hectares.

Regional mapping is now capturing the true extent of small-scale irrigation more effectively, while research in Mozambique shows how accounting for multiple, small farmer-managed plots would nearly double the national estimate of total irrigated area.

Could farmer-led systems, then, be the basis for a new irrigated “green revolution” in Africa; one that is already happening?

Conditions for success

Access to cheap technology has been essential. The price of mobile pump sets has massively declined in recent years. Made in China, available in every town, and repairable by local mechanics, such pumps can be bought in Zimbabwe for as little as US$250. Combined with flexible piping, this means that water sources can be used year-round.

Since acquiring the land in 2000, around three-quarters of those irrigating in our sites have built new wells, many of them subsequently deepened, while 85% have purchased pumps of different types. Across 49 plots, over 8km of piping has been bought in the last few years.

Because such farmer-led irrigation systems can be operated flexibly across a range of scales, available labour and capital can be matched to the production system. Some very small plots, usually around homesteads, are favoured by women, who can combine watering and tending vegetables with domestic and care work.

Young people, who did not receive plots during the land reform of 2000, are enthusiastically embracing irrigated farming as a livelihood. Without any chance of a formal job in town due to the deeply depressed economy, they are investing in farming, aiming to scale up over time. Technical knowledge, urban contacts and other skills are being deployed for successful businesses, focused on horticultural farming and trading.

At the other extreme, larger plots with irrigation systems that use submersible pumps – powered by generators and fitted to newly-drilled boreholes – are being established. These farmers have upgraded to significant commercial operations, based on contracts with supermarkets and vegetable traders in nearby towns and market centres.

Indeed, many of the irrigated plots in our sample are geared to commercial production. This is not “just gardening”. These farms are supplying regional towns, including supermarkets, with vegetables. As a video from our sites shows, this is boosting the local economy, with market traders, brokers, transporters and others all benefiting.

As irrigated agriculture expands, there are also dangers of creating market gluts. There is a limit to how many perishable tomatoes can be sold. Diversification is key and some of those in our study area are trying out new vegetables, from butternut squashes to sweet peppers. With expanded mobile phone coverage, people’s ability to negotiate contracts and supply markets in a timely way also improves.

Rethinking irrigation policy

Small-scale, flexible, farmer-led irrigation is not a panacea for the challenge of expanding irrigation and boosting production in Africa. Standard irrigation schemes will continue to be part of the answer. Yet the hidden extent of informal irrigation, led and managed by farmers, is clear across Africa.

There are challenges for sure. Opportunities are unevenly spread, with larger operations dominated by richer men. Markets are limited, and issues of product diversification, storage and processing must be tackled. Sources of water for irrigation are constrained, and sustainable use and access regulations are needed.

With the right policy framework and support – not blinkered by a narrow and outdated view of irrigation – these challenges can be surmounted. As Zimbabwe contemplates new land and agriculture policies, farmer-led irrigation approaches must be central.

Felix Murimbarimba and Jacob Mahenehene also contributed to this article.


Earth tremor hits Abuja: here are what you need to know

Residents of several parts of Abuja have been thrown into panic, following the occurrence of earth tremors.


Accordiong to reliable sources, the tremors could be felt in Jabi, Gwarinpa, Utako, etc.

A resident of Mpape, Omada Ogwuche said that the vibration started for some days now. She said they had thought it was the usual breaking of rocks by big companies, but that it’s now clear that something is wrong. “I will be leaving the house with my people right now. It’s getting so terrible and I’m afraid . It appears like an earthquake is about to happen,” she said.

It was also confirmed by The Director-General of Bureau of Public Service Reforms, Dr. Joe Abah.

“I felt my house in Jabi, Abuja, vibrate around 9pm last night. It didn’t feel like an earth tremor.

“It was more like an explosion that pushed air, rattled the windows and shook chandeliers. Almost exactly like when the This Day Office in Utako was bombed some years ago,” he wrote on his Twitter page.

According to Twitter user, @bashiryusuf, the latest happened on Friday morning.

He wrote: “Another heavy tremor just occurred at 6.01am in Maitama, Abuja. Truth is, this seem like a warning for an earthquake.

“I think the authorities should do some scientific investigation or evacuate residents as a matter of precaution.”

However, Ikenna Okonkwo, who is a lecturer in the Department of Geology at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, has called for calm.

When Mercy Abang, a journalist, said: “Before today – residents in parts of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) experienced earth tremor – Mpape and parts of Maitama districts.

“It got to Wuye, Gwarinpa, Utako, Jabi and others this morning – shouldn’t Nigerians be told there’s an Earth Quake to expect? And what to do?”, Okonkwo replied: “Very unlikely. You could have a few more similar tremors though. But nothing major. There is need for official clarification to calm residents down though.”

Federal government issues warning alert!

The Federal Government, through the Federal Capital Territory Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), has urged residents to take precautions, following a purported earth tremor, which occurred in some parts of the city on Wednesday night and Thursday morning.

The tremor reportedly occurred in Mpape and Maitama Districts of the FCT, Abuja. The incident occurred at about 9:00 p.m. on Wednesday night and 6:00 a.m. on Thursday morning. A resident of Mpape, who declined to be named, told Daily Sun, last night, that the tremor led to stampede in the area and that she had to take cover under her table while the vibration lasted.

She blamed it on alleged quarry activities and blasting of rocks in Mpape District.  She also said explosives are usually used during blasting of the rocks.

FEMA, in statement, said the tremor maybe a sign of seismic movement within the earth and said “it could also be caused by a sudden break along lines which result in sudden release of energy that makes the ground to shake.

The statement was signed by FEMA Director General of, Mr. Abbas Idriss.

SOURCE: The Bloomgist/Sun News/Daily Post

De Beers moves 200 elephants from SA to Mozambique

The mining company De Beers says it has started an operation to move 200 elephants from a nature reserve it owns in South Africa to neighbouring Mozambique.


De Beers says its Venetia Limpopo Reserve is currently home to more elephants than the ecosystem can sustain, whilst across the border Mozambique’s elephant numbers have been declining.

Moving 200 elephants over a distance of 1,500 km (932 miles) is an ambitious task.

De Beers says it has just started relocating the first 60. Working with the Peace Parks Foundation, the animals in the Venetia Limpopo Nature Reserve will be tranquilised before being loaded onto lorries and driven across the border to Zinave National Park.

Mozambique’s own elephant population was decimated during the country’s civil war that ended in 1992. But it is feared that since 2010 the country’s elephant population has halved due to rampant poaching partly fuelled by China’s demand for ivory.

De Beers was founded by British imperialist Cecil Rhodes and until recently controlled the global trade in diamonds.

Water shortages: what other cities must learn from ‘Day Zero’

Cape Town was set to run dry on April 12, 2018, leaving its 3.7 million residents without tap water.


“Day Zero” was narrowly averted through drastic cuts in municipal water consumption and last-minute transfers from the agricultural sector. But the process was painful and inequitable, spurring much controversy.

The city managed to stave off “Day Zero,” but does that mean Cape Town’s water system is resilient?

We think not.

This may well foreshadow trouble beyond Cape Town. Cities across the Northern Hemisphere, including in Canada, are well into another summer season that has already brought record-setting heat, drought and flooding from increased run-off.

Water crises are not just about scarcity

Water scarcity crises are most often a result of mismanagement rather than of absolute declines in physical water supplies.

In Cape Town, lower than average rainfall tipped the scales towards a “crisis,” but the situation was worsened by slow and inadequate governance responses. Setting aside debates around whose responsibility it was to act and when, the bigger issue, in our view, was the persistence of outdated ways of thinking about “uncertainty” in the water system.

As the drought worsened in 2016, the City of Cape Town’s water managers remained confident in the system’s ability to withstand the drought. High-level engineers and managers viewed Cape Town’s water system as uniquely positioned to handle severe drought in part because of the vaunted success of their ongoing Water Demand Management strategies.

They weren’t entirely mistaken — demand management has cut overall daily consumption by 50 per cent since 2016. So what went wrong?

Limits to demand management

First, Cape Town’s approach to water management was not well-equipped to deal with growing uncertainty in rainfall patterns — a key challenge facing cities worldwide. Researchers at the University of Cape Town argued recently that the conventional models long used to forecast supply and demand underestimated the probability of failure in the water system.

Second, Cape Town’s water system neared disaster in part because demand management seemed to have reached its limits. Starting late last year, the city imposed a limit on water consumption of 87 litres per person per day. That ceiling thereafter shrunk to 50 litres per person per day.

Despite these efforts, Cape Town consistently failed to cut demand below the 500-million-litre-per-day citywide target needed to ensure that the system would function into the next rainy season.

The mayor accused the city’s residents of wasting water, but her reprimanding rhetoric should not be seen as a sign that the citizens were non-compliant. The continuously shrinking water targets were an untenable long-term management strategy.

Buffers are key to water resilience

In the end, “Day Zero” was avoided primarily by relying on unexpected buffers, including temporary agricultural transfers and the private installation of small-scale, residential grey-water systems and boreholesin the city’s wealthier neighbourhoods. The former increased water supply and the latter lowered demand from the municipal system. These buffers are unlikely to be available next year, however, as the water allocations for the agricultural sector will not be renewed and there is uncertainty in the long-term sustainability of groundwater withdrawals.

For more than a decade, Cape Town has levelled demand, reduced leaks and implemented pressure management and water restrictions. This made Cape Town’s water system highly efficient and therefore less resilient because there were fewer reserves to draw from in times of unusual scarcity.

The UN Water 2015  report found that most cities are not very resilient to water risks. As water managers continue to wait for climate change models to become more certain or more specific, they defer action, paralyzing decision-makers.

If we really want our cities to be water-resilient, we must collectively change long-held ideas about water supply and demand. This will require technological and institutional innovation, as well as behavioural change, to create new and more flexible buffers — for example, through water recycling, green infrastructure and other novel measures.

Although Cape Town avoided disaster this year, that does not make it water-resilient. Despite the arrival of the rainy season, Cape Town is still likely to face Day Zero at some point in the future.

There’s a good chance that the city is not alone.

Untaxed Toxic: perils of global trade in bootleg liquor exposed

Up to half of all alcoholic drinks consumed in Africa and Latin America are illicit, often with fatal consequences.


Indonesian customs officers in Jakarta throw bottles of illegal whisky for a steamroller to crush. Photograph: Achmad ibrahim/AP

Up to half of all alcoholic drinks consumed in countries across Africa and Latin America are illicit – more than double previous estimates – according to new analysis.

Methanol, mortuary formaldehyde and battery acid were among a cocktail of toxic ingredients found in unregulated drinks, according to the International Alliance for Responsible Drinking (Iard).

In Kenya, one of the most common varieties of home-produced alcohol is called “chang’aa”, or “kill me quick” . The spirit is widely available in poor townships and is often made with contaminated water and potentially lethal methanol. One variant, “jet-five”, is spiked with jet fuel, while another contains embalming fluid.

The figures for consumption of illegal alcohol published by Iard, a non-profit organisation backed by the alcohol industry, exceeded 2014 estimates by the World Health Organization (WHO), which said that illegal and informally produced alcohol accounted for nearly a quarter of all alcohol consumed globally.

The Iard report used data from Euromonitor International to look at consumption of illicit alcohol in 26 countries, the majority in Latin America and Africa. It found that in low and middle-income countries, bootleg alcohol accounted for a “sizeable proportion” of total sales.

The report, Alcohol in the Shadow Economy, said illicit alcohol contributes to widening health inequalities.

The production of illegal alcohol, which is cheaper and often more readily available than regulated alcohol, is largely driven by poverty, the report found, although culture was an important factor. Across Africa, many producers of homebrew are women who are the sole earners for their families.

In five of the seven African countries examined – Uganda, Tanzania, Cameroon, Malawi and Mozambique – at least 61% of the alcohol consumed is illicit. Unrecorded alcohol is also widespread across Asia and in parts of Europe, the report said, but comparable data was not available. In Russia, bootleg accounts for 38% of all alcohol consumed.

In April police in Indonesia seized alcohol containing mosquito repellent and cough medicine, after 141 people died from organ failure after drinking moonshine liquor, or oplosan.

It was the worst case of alcohol poisoning in the country, where 24 people died in 2016, and 12 people died in 2014.

Other deaths have occurred over the past decade in Libya, Russia and the Czech Republic, the report said.

The combined revenue loss from illicit alcohol in 18 countries mentioned in the report was found to be $1.8bn (£1.5bn). The loss to Colombia in 2015 was $406m ; in Mozambique, the loss in 2014 was $285m.

Henry Ashworth, Iard CEO and president, said: “What this report tries to do is to show the scale of the challenge and the cost to health, society and to government.”

He cited South Africa, where communities had flagged concern over disorder, noise and crime associated with unregulated drinking houses or shebeens. A code of practice introduced by individual owners had helped increase the quality of alcohol produced and allowed the operators to maintain order and prevent harm, while remaining outside government control. He cited the UK’s thriving microbrewery industry as an example of how countries could produce viable alternatives.

Experts in public health research on alcohol said the report exaggerates the toxic effects of illicit alcohol. Dr Dirk Lachenmeier, of the Chemical and Veterinary Investigation Agency in Karlsruhe, Germany, said: “Much of our research shows that the composition of recorded and unrecorded alcohol is very similar. Considering around a third of alcohol consumed is unrecorded, there are very few cases of poisoning.”

He said: “Our intention should be to lower total consumption of alcohol, both commercial and uncommercial. Of course, this is not something the alcohol industry is going to support.”

SOURCE: The Bloomgist/The Guardian, UK/Agencies

Nairobi, city where a major clean-up sees a river running through it

Nairobi — Environment Principal Secretary Charles Sunkuli and his Housing counterpart Charles Waweru will on Thursday inspect the Nairobi River Restoration Command Center in preparation for a major cleanup operation.

Photo: Francis Nderitu/Nairobi News

Photo: Francis Nderitu/Nairobi News

Following this, they will lead the operation to clean up the Michuki Park next to the Globe Roundabout off Kijabe Street.

The team leading the regeneration of Nairobi last week committed to ambitious timelines for the delivery of key services, ranging from garbage collection to launching a mortgage refinance company.

Cabinet Secretaries and Principal Secretaries working on the project vowed to hand in their resignation to the President while County Executive Committee (CEC) members will hand in their resignation to the governor should they fail to deliver in their mandate.

The team said garbage would be cleared from all 85 electoral wards in Nairobi within 30 days, and a cleanup of Nairobi River would also start.

More ambitiously, the team will oversee the launch of the Kenya Mortgage Refinance Company, which is at the heart of delivering affordable housing.

Affordable housing is part of the President’s Big Four agenda of putting a roof over many more Kenyans heads, availing healthcare, ensuring no one goes hungry, and creating jobs by growing manufacturing.

Nairobi, alone, is projected to provide 200,000 new affordable homes under this programme.

SOURCE: Capital FM

U.S. Committed to Stop Spread of Fall Army Worm in Africa

The US government has expressed its commitment to pursue partnership with African nations in the fight against stopping the spread of fall armyworm.

Army worm (file photo).

Army worm (file photo).

In her telephonic press briefing about efforts to combat fall armyworm in Africa to day, USAID Fall Armyworm Task Force Coordinator Regina Eddy said the worm has been identified in over 35 countries of Africa.

She revealed that the US has a decade of experience in controlling fall armyworm so the challenge is transferring that knowledge to African counterparts and opening the path to thousands of technology.

The worm has damaged about 3 million hectares of maize crop since it occurred in Africa two years ago. Additionally, agriculture experts estimate the pest has caused over 13 billion USD in losses for crops across African countries.

To combat the pest in Ethiopia, the US government has been working with government and the private sector on making recommendations on the measures to be taken based on experience, Eddy said.

A total of 210 experts and development agents were reportedly trained early this year so that they can cascade the knowledge and skills to communities, it was learned.

The fall army worm has spread in more than 5 regions of Ethiopia.

SOURCE: Ethiopian News Agency (Addis Ababa)

Muddy downtown Nairobi not for the fainthearted

Downtown Nairobi, more so in the rain, is a no-go zone for ‘slay queens’. Walking in the central business district is a nightmare, especially for those in high heels.


Heading from Moi avenue down to Luthuli Avenue, River Road and the other side of Nairobi away from the cosy Kimathi and Koinange Streets, the roads are packed to the brim with people ferrying goods and rushing to make business deals.

It’s hard to believe that in the crowded streets, the seemingly unkempt people have more money in their pockets than those in the ‘posher’ sides of town. This is the heart of business and entrepreneurship in the city. Wholesale shops, hardware stores, textiles, electronics, clothes and automobile spare parts are in plenty.


Further down, along Landhies Road, heading into Muthurwa and Gikomba markets, the chaos increases tenfold. Hand-drawn carts (mikokoteni) have the right of way on the packed roads. A cart puller tugging his load along got in a swearing match with the driver of a vehicle when the hapless driver tried to join the road at a junction, almost knocking down the cart puller.

Matatus run amok along these roads and pedestrians would rather be knocked down by a personal vehicle than a matatu.

No traffic lights or police officers are in sight to guide traffic; it’s a free for all and the pedestrians, many of whom are heavy laden with loads from the markets, are the ones who suffer most from the bedlam.

When going to Gikomba market, one is advised to carry a small hand bag without too many valuables. It is also advised that one carries it in front of them, lest they are robbed while squeezing through the crowded alleys between stalls.

When it rains, everybody scampers to the nearest permanent building, taking refuge from the drops. The once dusty road turns into a black slosh. When the rain subsides, only those in gumboots can freely walk- others are forced to hope from one stone to another to avoid getting their shoes muddied.


Passing vehicles are avoided and given way, as they are sure to splash people with the black stuff that is made up of mud and waste from the market goods.

Instead of the sweet, earthy aroma that usually accompanies rains, the smell of decaying vegetables and urea wafts through the area.

The smell gets worse near the section of the market where the Nairobi River runs through. Black dirty water with bits of plastic in it flows from a restaurant built above the river.

A small street boy of about seven years was scavenging bottles and other bits of plastic he can sell near the restaurant’s dumpsite. Another boy urinated into the river, oblivious of the men fetching the same water to clean shoes that will be brought into the city centre later to be sold.

South Africa drought declared national disaster

South Africa’s government has declared a national disaster to deal with drought-stricken areas such as popular tourist destination Cape Town.


This will enable authorities to have access to special funds.

The announcement was made by Minister of Co-operative Governance Zweli Mkhize.

He said that the decision was announced at 10:00 local time (12:00GMT) following work done by the Inter-Ministerial Task Team (IMTT) on Drought and Water Scarcity.

An amount of 6 bn rand ($4.7bn; £3.4bn) was set aside in the 2018/19 budget speech for bringing relief to affected communities.

Minister Mkhize emphasised that a stringent process will be followed when allocating relief funds.

“We call on everyone in the country to use water sparingly as we are a water scarce country.”

The national disaster declaration covers a period of three months.