Categories: Articles, Irrigation, Resource managementPublished On: 17th April 2024

Managing water sources is key to water security

By 6 min read

rainwater harvesting in the bucket after heavy rain

Everything needs water. You do not need to be a farmer to know this. Small-scale to mega farmers, emerging farmers to seasoned growers, everyone understands that crops need water to grow, and livestock need water to drink. But the threatening reality of climate change is bringing water concerns with it.

In Africa, there are already a multitude of challenges regarding water security. Drought seems to be ever present and since climate change is no longer looming, but a part of our everyday lives, a shift needs to be made away from simply irrigating crops, towards actively managing water sources.

A snapshot of the water security issues in Africa

What are the other factors that impact water scarcity in Africa and why is climate change so dangerous? Well, that is not an easy answer. Often, climate change is only seen as rising global temperatures, and not the erratic weather patterns the world is actually experiencing. These weather extremes can cause floods but also prolonged droughts in areas that are accustomed to decent rainfall replenishing natural supplies like rivers and lakes. Extreme heat causes water to evaporate from these systems.

Another factor playing into water scarcity is the imbalance between supply and demand.

Africa’s annual population growth is approximately 2,4%, which sounds small on paper, but for a population of over 1,4 billion, it means roughly thirty million new people each year with no sign of slowing down. Additionally, collapsing infrastructure or the lack of infrastructure means that not enough water is stored safely. There is simply not enough water to go around.

Other factors such as pollution and contamination exacerbate the situation. Africa’s water bodies are filled with pollution to varying degrees and agricultural run-off from fields is contributing to the problem.

With today’s technology, there are irrigation systems that help you stay on top of your water use. (Source: Pixabay)

Is groundwater the solution?

Other forms of water sources are available on the continent. Wells and boreholes are dug to supply communities and farmers alike for household and irrigation purposes.

This appears to be the most reliable alternative when rivers dry up because the continent has approximately a hundred times more water available underground than in surface water. Aquifers store nearly 660 trillion m3 of water.

With less than 1% of groundwater used for agriculture, and less than 5% of Africa’s agricultural land under irrigation, the solution seems simple: Improve irrigation and use groundwater. But this poses its own challenges. The groundwater available in Africa’s aquifers can be difficult to extract due to complex subterranean structures.

The reality is that farmers in Africa need to shift their focus from irrigation to water management.

How can farmers improve their water management?

It may be important to note that a lot of the changes needed to make a difference in the water scarcity that exists within the various countries of the continent, can only happen if governments step in to work towards real change.

But farmers cannot wait around for the day that governments step up; they need to grow food for their communities and make a living for their families. So, what can be done in the meantime to ensure farming families survive? There are a few steps they can take to understand and improve their water management.

Farmers cannot always rely on rain to provide enough water for their crops. (Source: Karolina Grabowska on Pexels)

Step 1: Understand water management

Water management in agriculture is the efficient use of water to irrigate crops at crucial growth stages and provide animals with water for survival. For irrigation it is necessary to look at soil health which impacts water retention, as well as irrigating crops at the right time.

You can conserve water by irrigating crops early in the morning and late in the afternoon to nighttime. This ensures that most of the water you use is absorbed by plant roots and there is less evaporation.

Use an irrigation method that is most water efficient. Techniques such as flood irrigation uses a lot of water. Instead, turn to options that reduce wastage like drip irrigation, microsprinklers, and precision irrigation. With the latest technology, some systems also can be switched on or off remotely, or give you insight into how much water you are using.

A sprinkler system is just one of the ways to effectively irrigate your crops. (Source: Pixabay)

Step 2: Improve water retention

By improving the soil’s water retention means that you can work more efficiently with your water. When the soil is healthy with loads of organic matter in it, it can hold water much better. Techniques that improve soil’s water holding characteristics are conservation tillage, mixing compost into the soil, and adding a layer of mulch on top of the soil.

Step 3: Choose the right crop

Drought-tolerant crop varieties can improve water efficiency on your farm. They can withstand strain from less water better than other varieties. By practicing crop rotation with these crops, farmers can improve their resilience to water scarcity.

Tranquil sunset over dry African landscape, nature beauty in heat generated by artificial intelligence.

Step 4: Protect your water source

Whether you obtain water from a borehole, well, river or even harvest rainwater, you need to protect the source. Work together with all who share the source to ensure the well or river remains free of pollutants and garbage. Take care not to over-use the source either. There are technological tools that can assist you in monitoring your water levels and ensuring you always know how much water is available. Gallagher Animal Management has a product that helps you stay on top of your water levels. Their water monitoring system is a wireless system that monitors water levels throughout the day.

Dams and infrastructure in some countries are insufficient to secure water sources. (Source: Pixabay)

Sources:

Bensen, D. (2023) What is causing water scarcity in Africa? Healing waters, Healing Waters International. Available at: https://healingwaters.org/what-is-causing-waterscarcity-in-africa/.

Mahed, G. (2024) Africa’s aquifers hold more than 20 times the water stored in the continent’s lakes, but they aren’t the answer to water scarcity, The Conversation. Available at: https://theconversation.com/africas-aquifers-hold-morethan-20-times-the-water-storedin-the-continents-lakes-but-theyarent-the-answer-to-water-scarcity-201704#:~:text=The%20volume%20of%20groundwater%20that’s,freshwater%20stored%20in%20Africa’s%20lakes.

Steyn, M. (2022) Klimaatsverandering: Boere regoor Afrika ly, ProAgri. Available at: https://proagri.co.za/klimaatsveranderingboere-regoor-afrika-ly/.

Villholth, KG. and Altchenko, Y. (2015) Mapping irrigation potential from renewable groundwater in Africa – a quantitative hydrological approach, Copernicus Publications. Available at: https://hess.copernicus.org/articles/19/1055/2015/hess-19-1055-2015.pdf.

It is better to irrigate your crops at night or early in the morning when it is cooler, to limit evaporation. (Source: Pixabay)

To find out more about a system that could work for you, you can visit the Holland Greentech website (www.hollandgreentech.com).
Find out more on Gallaghers website at https://gallaghersa.co.za/pages/water-monitoring-system.

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