World Water Day: ‘The voices of farmers are integral to the advancement of climate-smart agriculture’ – UP-led study

Posted on March 23, 2023

World Water Day is observed annually on 22 March, and raises awareness of the billions of people around the world that do not have access to safe drinking water.

About 4 billion people, almost two-thirds of the world’s population, experience severe water scarcity for at least one month a year. More than 2 billion people live in countries where the water supply is inadequate, and half the world’s population could be living in areas that may experience water scarcity in as early as 2025 or within the next two years.

With the increasing effect of climate change and population growth, water scarcity is becoming a reality, and it is estimated that there is a 70% to 75% chance of wars being fought over the resource within the next century.

By conserving water, we can make more of it available to more people, including the smallholder farmers who feed us. Water is a critical input of the food system, with agriculture production being the most significant water consumer. Globally, about 70% of fresh water is used in agriculture; in sub-Saharan Africa, 81% of fresh water is used for agriculture, 15% for industry and 5% for domestic use. As such, the agricultural sector has a significant role to play in resolving the challenges associated with the water crisis. This involves thoroughly reconsidering how water is managed and how it can be repositioned in the broader water resources management context.

Climate-smart agricultural (CSA) practices offer opportunities to conserve water and transform food systems in increasingly unpredictable climate conditions. However, in Africa, the adoption of CSA practices has been low. A telling example is conservation agriculture, a major CSA practice – only 1% of the continent’s total arable land applies conservation agriculture.

Dr Nana Afranaa Kwapong, who is associated with the University of Pretoria (UP) through the Food Systems Research Network for Africa (FSNet-Africa) project, recently conducted a study that made use of a participatory research approach to capture the complexities associated with the adoption of CSA practices in rural Ghana. The study shows that for CSA practices to be successful, promotion and implementation must be carried out in an equitable and inclusive way.

The study used participatory videos to provide farmers with an opportunity to describe the community’s experience with CSA innovations. Farmers were able to suggest what they consider essential in addressing climate change in their communities as well as measures to encourage the uptake of CSA innovations. They shared their experiences with CSA interventions through videos, which they produced with minimal support from the researcher. These videos provide insight into what happens during the innovation process. 

The study found that many farmers would like to increase their yields and soil fertility, and conserve water for plant use. They selected CSA practices that were less labour intensive, less costly, and suited to their current farming practices and the local context. Some examples of CSA practices that farmers adopted to conserve water included planting on ridges to prevent water run-off from fields. They also felt that planting trees contributed to bringing rain and reducing temperatures.

With climate change impacting smallholder farming activities and livelihoods, these water-conserving innovations are essential for farmers to cope with increasingly unpredictable climate conditions. The study found that farmers first “experimented” on small plots (about one-third of their land) before committing to CSA practices on their entire farm. Once they proved that the innovation was beneficial, they scaled it up to apply it to the entire farm.

                                        Farmers make use of ridges to conserve soil moisture.

Water is a fundamental part of the activities and livelihoods of smallholder farmers. The pressing need to address water-related challenges and the significant amount of water that the agricultural sector uses call for innovations that will encourage smallholder farmers to adopt practices to mitigate the effects of the water crisis.

The findings from this study highlight the need to integrate the voices of farmers to better understand their experiences with innovative practices.

But it is not only the agricultural sector that needs to take action. We can all take responsibility by changing some of our day-to-day practices. We can plant trees in our communities and use water more efficiently by taking shorter showers, fixing leaking taps, not allowing water to run while brushing our teeth, and more. Small efforts can make a difference – let’s work together to be water-wise.

Click on the following links to watch the participatory videos:

Bompari farmers’ experience with CSA, Upper West Ghana:

Tolibri farmers' experience with CSA, Upper West Ghana:

Dr Nana Afranaa Kwapong is a lecturer in the Department of Agricultural Extension at the University of Ghana and an FSNet-Africa fellow

Dr Elizabeth Mkandawire is the network and research manager for FSNet-Africa

Dr Eness Paidamoyo Mutsvangwa-Sammie is a postdoctoral FSNet-Africa research fellow

- Author Dr Nana Kwapong, Dr Eness Paidamoyo Mutsvangwa-Sammie and Dr Elizabeth Mkandawire

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