Zambia: Water Key to Improved Agriculture, Food Security

AFRICA is indeed a land of abundant resources, water inclusive.

It boasts of 17 rivers with a total estimated area of 100,000km, 160 lakes larger than 27km sq. It has vast wetlands and a limited but widespread ground water.

In addition, the continent has a huge potential for energy production through hydro-power production.

This picture of water in Africa is, however, deceptive as the distribution of this vital resource appears to be uneven and unequal, especially in the sub-region which has been experiencing severe water scarcity.

This is despite the sub-region being blessed with numerous rivers and lakes.

However, there are natural and man made challenges that have made it difficult to capture the inherent benefits of water resources to support sustainable developments on the continent.

According to a New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD) document on water, there are aggravating factors that have made it difficult to address these challenges.

Yet these challenges need urgent attention to pave way for a good and sound stewardship of Africa water resources.

Further, these challenges need to be addressed for the sake of Africa's development.

Under the NEPAD programme, the three most critical issues concerning lack of access to clean water in Africa include:

-High rainfall variability and climate change

-Managing the multiplicity of trans boundary water basins

-Creating sustainable access to water.

However, even though water may be crucial for a sustained agricultural development, several parts of Africa with the exception of humid and coastal regions, have continued to experience water scarcity.

For instance, in North Africa, water resources for agriculture are already over taxed, says the NEPAD document. This is particularly true of underground water resources that have been severely over exploited, resulting in sea water intrusion in some areas there.

It is believed that there is scope for a potential expansion of irrigation by about 30 per cent in North Africa.

The NEPAD programme says room for expansion could be as much as 300 per- cent in Sub-Saharan Africa where irrigation is responsible for only about a percentage of the crops produced, compared to about 33 per cent of the crops produced in North Africa.

In the wet and Sub-humid areas, water is more abundant and there is an estimated 85 per cent of the irrigation potential that remains untapped.

The existence of this potential does not necessarily mean that it is going to be possible to create the needed access to water to meet the needs for agriculture and food security in Africa.

Among the challenges to prividing access to water for agriculture are:

-Inefficiency of existing irrigation systems, with some having an estimated wastage of as much as 60 per cent of pumped water

-Climate change and inadequate facilities for predicting the change coupled with limited capacity to fund the costs of adaptation needed

-The high demands of water by the agriculture sector with regard to municipal and industrial demands uses as much as 80 per cent of allocated water.

These challenges will have to be overcome if sustained access to water for agriculture and food security is to be achieved.

When this is achieved, inconsistent food security that has characterised Africa would be a thing of the past.

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