In a Comment piece in Nature, Centre director Johan Rockström and researcher Malin Falkenmark argue that water harvesting and soil water management is not getting enough attention in discussions to define the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Photo: R. Kautskt/Azote


Water harvesting

Missing a great opportunity

Nature Commentary: Meeting global food needs requires increased rainwater harvesting in Africa

Water is central to many of the Sustainable Development Goals, to be agreed by the UN later this year, from providing sanitation and improving health to ending hunger. But in sub-Saharan Africa, where rainfall is low and evaporation is high, crop failure is common, especially after prolonged dry spells or when rains come at the wrong time of year. The new goals may be missing a significant opportunity to help solving this problem.

In a Comment piece in Nature, coinciding with World Water Day on 22 March 2015, Centre director Johan Rockström and researcher Malin Falkenmark argue that water harvesting and soil water management is not getting enough attention in global discussions to define the United Nations’ Sustainable Development goals (SDGs).

They believe that water-harvesting methods — such as terraces, dams, gullies and tanks — and tillage techniques that avoid turning the soil, have proven to be effective in increasing yields and should be introduced across Africa.

To withstand longer droughts, social strategies and infrastructure such as insurance, trade policies and cereal banks should be established to assure food security, they write.

"Without connecting water, food, growth and poverty, the sustainable development framework will not deliver on its promise to Africa," the authors argue.

Johan Rockström and Malin Falkenmark, authors

Rockström and Falkenmark propose an approach for the SDG goal that will improve water security, address hunger and poverty and enhance carbon storage.

"Retaining more rainwater in soils and storing run-off would bridge dry
spells that last weeks, the major challenge to rain-fed food production.
For longer droughts, social and economic strategies are needed to
assure food security."

Read the full Comment here (Requires permission)

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Staff details

Johan Rockström is a Professor in Environmental Science with emphasis on water resources and global Sustainability at Stockholm University, and the Executive Director of Stockholm Resilience Centre.

Malin Falkenmark is a globally renowned water expert. Her interests are interdisciplinary with a focus on water scarcity in developing countries and the policy implication of land-water-ecosystem linkages.

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