Rural infrastructure and agriculture

Rural infrastructure and agriculture

How to improve agriculture in Sub-Saharan Africa??

Role of agriculture

  • By 2030, Sub-saharan Africa’s (SSA’s) population growth rate is expected to be 2.1% per annum [1] – amongst the highest predicted
  • In SSA by 2015, 2 out of 5 are predicted to be living in poverty
  • An estimated 7 out of 10 of the world’s poor live in rural areas
  • Food security may not improve in many poor areas without increases in local agricultural production [1]
  • Without adaption measures, climate change is predicted to have a negative impact on crop production in SSA (decrease of 1.55% in one study [2])

Agricultural yields

“In future, 80% of increased crop production in developing countries will have to come from intensification: higher yields, increased multiple cropping and shorter fallow periods” [1]
Increased yields have a key role to play in providing food and alleviating poverty.

Irrigation and efficiency

The terminology of ‘efficiency’ in irrigated agriculture is not always consistent, and can be misleading. An alternative to the traditional ‘efficiency’ definition considers what portion of water is consumed and what of the remaining is recoverable for other uses:

Consider: the catchment scale, the downstream users of non-consumed irrigation water, and catchment storage.

See [3] and [4] for useful discussions on this.
SSA is currently heavily dependent on rain-fed agriculture (around 75% of cereals produced are under rain-fed) [5]. There is potential for appropriate increase in irrigated agriculture in SSA as whole (with opportunities varying by country).

Consider the scale – smaller scale may be better

Small-scale irrigation

Large scale irrigation schemes have not always been successful in SSA [6]. Small-scale irrigation schemes (SSIs) mean farmers and landowners being responsible for and managing their own irrigation on relatively small plots. SSIs can be beneficial because:

  • The reliance on outside support (where access may be difficult) is limited
  • Local labour and skills can be used to implement them, using equipment and management practices developed with the community
  • Small plots of land can be developed for irrigation as appropriate, even if the area as a whole is not suitable for large-scale irrigation


  • Use of groundwater for storage and irrigation. Impacts on groundwater resources and regulation are important factors here, but potential is good in some areas, see [7]
  • Bucket or drum drip irrigation systems
  • Pumps, e.g. treadle pumps, hand pumps, pressure pumps

Other issues to consider

  • Energy use and carbon emissions: agricultural emissions come from a large number of small emitters, three-quarters being in developing or transition economies [8] – how to quantify and address?
  • Changing patterns of settlement – urbanisation
  • Role of legislation and policy
  • Financing for small-scale irrigation –See [9]
  • Education and skills building for small-scale growers


  1. World Agriculture, towards 2015/2030: Summary Report, Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO, 2002)
  2. IFPRI Discussion paper 00873, Economy-wide Impacts of Climate Change on Agriculture in Sub-Saharan Africa, Calzadilla, et al (2009)
  3. Efficient Irrigation; Inefficient Communication; Flawed Recommendations, Perry, C.; Wiley Interscience (2007)
  4. Rethinking Water Scarcity: The Role of Storage, EOS Vol 90, No. 28 (2009)
  5. Demand for products of irrigated agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa, FAO (2006)
  6. Increasing Food Production in Sub-Saharan Africa through Farmer-managed Small-scale Irrigation Development, Vaishnav, T, Ambio Vol. 23, No 8 (1994)
  7. Water Policy Brief, Issue. 32: Banking on Groundwater in Times of Change, IWMI (2010)
  8. Stern Review, the Economics of Climate Change, Part IV, HM Treasury (2006)
  9. Financing Small-Scale Irrigation in Sub-Saharan Africa Vol 1, World Bank (2006)

    Further reading
    Comprehensive Assessment of Water Management in Agriculture – International Water Management Institute (2007)

    Handbook for the Assessment of Catchment Water Demand and Use – HR Walling ford (2003)