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Dialogue Volume 2 Issue 5: Investment in agricultural water management and policy issues for SADC
February 2003

The need for investment in agricultural water management- including irrigation, water harvesting and soil moisture conservation- for poverty reduction and food security in the SADC region has probably never been more apparent than it is today. For example, recent analysis by FAO indicates that, in Sub-Saharan Africa as a whole, 75% of the agricultural growth required by 2030 will have to come from agricultural intensification rather than arable land expansion. It is now generally accepted that agricultural intensification can only be achieved through investment in agricultural water management.

However, the indicators are that investment in the subsector has slowed down over the past 20 years and continues to decline. There are thought to be several reasons for this, but the common denominator appears to be that the donors' (and perhaps some of the governments') perception of the subsector is one of a disappointing performance in terms of viability, sustainability and hence impact. The basis for this perception is attributed to high costs (investment costs for publicly funded irrigation developments in the region are said to be more than 10 times higher than the average South Asian costs), implementation problems and poor operation and maintenance of public systems (leading to declining crop yields). To make matters worse, because of poor access to markets, smallholder farmers are obliged to take much lower farmer gate prices than their developed country counterparts (or, often, those received by large-scale commercial farmers within the region). At the same time food crop prices, in particular, are declining in real terms. Furthermore, water sector policy reformists in the region consistently claim that the use of water for agriculture is inefficient compared with competing urban, industrial, mining and even environmental uses; consequently, water development for agricultural use is now under threat in some parts of the region, despite its obvious importance for poverty reduction and food security.

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