Integrating gender and harnessing local knowledge

West African farmers choose technologies for water storage

West Africa

In many parts of sub-Saharan Africa, droughts are a continuous threat to smallholder farming. Today, about 25% of people in the region experience water stress, and increasing rainfall variability linked to climate change is set to make their livelihoods even more precarious. Small scale water storage can help farmers withstand dry spells – but which of the many available methods should farmers choose?

Over the course of 3 months in 2015, researchers from the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) explored this question with 6 communities in Burkina Faso’s Yatenga Province, and conducted a household survey in Mali. These activities were part of a wider project, building climate-smart farming systems through integrated water storage and crop–livestock interventions.

D. Kadyampakeni

The research team used a household survey to identify which water storage methods local farmers were already using. They followed this by asking groups of local people to evaluate and rank a range of water storage technologies, including some which were new to them. Various criteria were considered, including: feasibility, food security, effectiveness for climate adaptation and effectiveness for climate mitigation. During lively discussions, farmers showed an excellent understanding of climate-smart agriculture and made their requirements very clear.

The research identified several promising water storage technologies for villagers to test. These included micro-pits and semi-circular bunds, harvesting water from roofs, shallow wells, solar pumps and drip irrigation. Researchers were gratified by the large number of farmers who volunteered to help try out these methods.

Given the trends of population growth and increasing rainfall variability throughout sub-Saharan Africa, the role of water storage in securing livelihoods in the region cannot be overstated. Improving water storage will increase agricultural resilience and make it possible for farmers to produce crops throughout the year. Ultimately, it should mean reduced poverty and better food security for farming households.