New water systems can break dryland poverty traps

But only under certain conditions

Photo: R. Kautsky/Azote
- Small-scale water system technologies can potentially provide an opportunity for dryland farmers to escape poverty traps, but only if investment is combined with broader thinking, including social aspects and concerns about the environment. This is the conclusion from a study entitled Dealing with Drought: The challenge of using water system technologies to break dryland poverty traps. The study was conducted by Resilience Centre researchers Elin I. Enfors and Line J. Gordon in the Makanya catchment of semi-arid Tanzania.

The article on the study, which is published in the journal Global Environmental Change, focused on finding alternative strategies for smallhold farmers in dealing with rainfall uncertainty.

Although the cultivated drylands in sub-Saharan Africa are characterized by reasonably good seasonal rainfall, the distribution is extremely unpredictable, making the capacity for coping with temporal water shortages essential for the farmers in the region.

Conventional solutions have been to develop large-scale irrigation systems, however recent studies have shown that small-scale systems might prove more suitable in areas of the world where some 45-50 percent of the population live in extreme poverty and are vulnerable to climate changes.  

- Farmers in these regions have small initial endowments and face critical risks related to the climate, the strategies available to them generally have low marginal returns, says Elin Enfors.

The right investments are needed
Strongly linked to poverty in semi-arid and dry sub-humid sub-Saharan Africa, is water for crop production. This constitutes a main constraint to food security for millions of smallholder farmers in these regions. The limited crop water availability in combination with a range of other constraints such as poor soils, insect pests, and lack of input and labour, makes small-scale farming a highly uncertain food and income source.

Gordon and Enfors argue that the farmers can escape these poverty traps, if investments are:

- made in well-designed systems that really do reduce harvest losses during agricultural drought seasons and/or improve production enough to generate a surplus during good seasons

- deliberately promoting the positive effects from using small-scale systems

- coordinated with relevant poverty-reducing investments at other levels

Source: Gordon, L.J. and Enfors, E., 2008, Land degradation, ecosystem services and resilience of smallholder farmers in Makanya catchment, Tanzania. In Bossio, D., Geheb, K. (eds) Conserving land, protecting water, CABI ,UK, 33-50.

Reference

Citation

Gordon, L.J. and Enfors, E., 2008, Land degradation, ecosystem services and resilience of smallholder farmers in Makanya catchment, Tanzania. In Bossio, D., Geheb, K. (eds) Conserving land, protecting water, CABI ,UK, 33-50.

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