/Bigger yields with less water prepare farmers for climate change

Bigger yields with less water prepare farmers for climate change

Farmers can now produce more yield with less water as farmers are getting geared to produce more with less water under climate change proofed irrigation solutions. This approach has been tested in two places in Zimbabwe: the Mkoba irrigation scheme in the central part of the country and the Silalatshani scheme a bit further south. Both places receive little rain and experience frequent dry spells, droughts, and high temperatures.

In each scheme, we provided twenty farmers with the two tools described above, and we established agricultural innovation platforms that were open to everyone. After four years, farmers achieved a number of impressive results, with some of the most significant highlighted below.

Farmers have decreased the amount of water they use for irrigation. In both places, farmers use about 30 per cent less water than before, using the tools to avoid over-watering and thus saving scarce water resources.
Despite this, yields have increased by 25 per cent or more for 86 and 76 per cent of households at Mkoba and Silalatshani, respectively. This means that water productivity has increased—farmers grow a lot more crops with a lot less water.
What’s more, these benefits extended beyond the farmers who were supported by their new tools. Through the agricultural innovation platforms, farmers learned from each other, and even those without tools started irrigating less frequently.
Finally, farmers are increasing their interactions with people outside the community, getting information about new value chains and markets, boosting the potential to make additional profit from their increased yields.
These are a few promising first steps on the path toward a beneficial cycle where increased yields lead to greater incomes that can be invested in irrigation equipment, food, education and health. Such investments increase communities’ resilience to external shocks, including extreme weather.

Achieving climate resilience at scale
Zimbabwean farmers are, like many other farmers in Southern Africa, facing the harsh reality that already scarce resources are becoming even scarcer as well as less reliable due to climate change impacts and climate variability. While there are still no easy solutions, the combination of farmer-friendly tools and opportunities for learning and networking could help build climate resilience.

That’s why we are now working with both the Zimbabwean Department of Irrigation and with multilateral African institutions to find out how to scale up and out these innovations via policy and practice. This way, Zimbabwean farmers may be better placed to tackle increasingly destructive disruptions brought on by climate change and variability in the future.
Andre van Rooyen/ICRISAT.