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Managing water is key to adapting African agriculture to climate change

managing water

A unanimous decision on how to take action on climate change is incredibly rare. Yet, African nations have overwhelmingly included climate resilient agriculture in their indicative pledges to the United Nations. And agriculture is seen as a major focus through a common position of the African Union on climate adaptation.

Agriculture employs more than 60% of Africa’s working population. But low productivity and high levels of food insecurity persist. So the inclusion of agriculture in strategies should come as no surprise. The question is: how are African nations going to move from pledges to progress?

The Moroccan government, host of this year’s COP22 climate talks, is seeking the answer with the launch of the ambitious Adaptation of African Agriculture initiative. The initiative is high on the agenda. The aim is to mobilize $30 billion to make agriculture more resilient to the changing climate.

Improved water management

This is one of the three key pillars of the initiative – and for good reason. Globally, agriculture uses around 70% of freshwater supply. But water sources are increasingly under threat. Thanks to climate change, annual rainfall in some regions of Africa – especially southern and northern Africa – is expected to decrease. Droughts will be more frequent, more intense and will last longer.

Increasing the amount of water for agriculture through water storage at all levels from field to reservoir will be a part of the solution. But existing water sources also can be managed better. In fact, certain regions in Africa have untapped water. Take west Africa, for example, where Ghana withdraws less than 2% of the available surface and groundwater resources. Yet crops are still perishing when drought hits, and people are still going hungry.

The challenge across the region is to provide an environment that enables countries to draw on the water where needed and use it in the most effective and sustainable way possible. Where water supplies are already under pressure, improving the productivity of water use in agriculture would make more water available for other uses.

The urban, energy and industrial sectors can also encourage productivity gains an
d more sustainable and climate resilient practices through benefit sharing mechanisms like the Tana Water Fund.

wetlands logowetlands sustainable

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Wetlands: Providing more than a billion livelihoods

More than a billion people depend on wetlands for a living ! Just stop and think about that number – and about what a wetland actually is. The Ramsar Convention defines a wetland as any land area that is saturated or flooded with water, either permanently or seasonally, along with all beaches and shallow coastal areas.

This definition covers all inland wetlands such as marshes, ponds, lakes, fens, rivers, floodplains, and swamps... as well as the whole range of coastal wetlands which include saltwater marshes, estuaries, mangroves,lagoons and coral reefs. Then we should add in all manmade wetlands such as fishponds, rice paddies, and salt pans.  

Wetlands host a diverse range of jobs, including a few we might not normally think of:

Rice farming

  • Rice, grown in wetland paddies, is the staple diet of 3.5 billion people and accounts for 20 % of all calories consumed by humans.
  • Almost a billion households in Asia, Africa and the Americas depend on rice growing and processing for their main livelihoods.
  • Some 80 % of the world’s rice is produced by small-scale farmers and is consumed locally.

wetlands logowetlands sustainable

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Wetlands and sustainable livelihoods: From vicious circle to virtuous cycle

Wetlands are essential for humans to live and prosper. They provide freshwater and ensure our food supply. They help sustain the wide variety of life on our planet, protect our coastlines, provide natural sponges against river flooding, and store carbon dioxide to regulate climate change.

From vicious circle...

Alarmingly, 64 % of the world’s wetlands have disappeared since 1900, and freshwater species populations declined by 76 % between 1970 and 2010. The wetlands that do still remain are often so degraded that the people who directly rely on them for fish, plants, and wildlife – often the very poor – are driven into even deeper poverty.

wetlands logowetlands sustainable

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Sustainable livelihoods: Wetlands can deliver

What does the term livelihood mean? Quite simply it is the set of capabilities, activities and resources that are required for someone to make a living.

What makes a livelihood sustainable? Ideally it should be able to:

  • cope with and recover from man-made and natural crises.
  • maintain its viability over time, without undermining the natural resource base.

Africa Must Prioritize Water in its Development Agenda.

By Miriam Gathigah Edited by Phil Harris
Africa must now go beyond household water access indices to embrace water as a key development issue say experts at the Jan. 15 17 U.N. International Water Conference in Zaragoza. Credit to Miriam Gathigah IPSAlthough African countries have been lauded for their efforts towards ensuring that people have access to safe drinking water in keeping with Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), they have nonetheless come under scrutiny for failure to prioritize water in their development agendas.

Thomas Chiramba, Head of Freshwater Ecosystems Unit at the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) in Kenya, told IPS that in spite of progress on the third component of MDG7 – halve the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation by 2015 – water scarcity still poses a significant threat to sustainable development in Africa.

Attending the United Nations’ International Water Conference being held in this Spanish city from Jan. 15- 17, he said that “there is too much focus on household water access indices and not enough on linkages between water and sustainable development.”




Current Issue: Africa Water & Sanitation & Hygiene November - December 2017 Vol.12 No.6