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Irrigation Waters More Than Crops in Africa

Localized irrigation systems, when made affordable through financing, have the potential to grow food, economies and development in Africa, researchers find.

A new study by Center on Food Security and the Environment researchers finds that smallholder irrigation systems - those in which 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 - have great potential to reduce hunger, raise incomes and improve development prospects in an area of the world greatly in need of these advancements. Financing is crucial, as even the cheapest pumps can be prohibitively expensive otherwise.

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 Jennifer Burney, lead author of the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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 and Stanford Woods Institute Senior Fellow Rosamond 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.

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