Unlocking the potential of rainfed agriculture

Report Published: December 2018

Developed for the Transforming Investments in African Rainfed Agriculture (TIARA) initiative, this report explains the importance of green water and establishes the business case for investing in rainfed agriculture in Africa at scale.

  • Africa is facing a crisis. One-third of people across the continent are food insecure. Two-thirds of the population are trapped in a cycle of poverty, exacerbated by climate change and rapidly rising population growth. There are high levels of degradation of land, forests and soil which reduces the productive capacity of land and agricultural output.
  • Rainfed agriculture depends on infiltrated rainfall, which is stored in the upper layers of the soil and is available to plant roots, called “green water”. Rainfed agriculture builds climate resilience and helps moves farmers beyond subsistence farming towards sustainable livelihoods, development and economic growth.
  • There is a significant opportunity to maximise the capture, storage and use of green water and unlock the potential of enhanced rainfed agriculture. Particularly when over 95 percent of African food production is rainfed, yet only 5 percent of public agricultural water investments support rainfed agriculture.
  • The estimated cost of green water management in rainfed smallholder farming is only $250-500 per hectare, a cost-effective and sustainable increase in productivity with multiple knock-on effects. The public sector must lead large-scale programmes to improve rainfed agriculture, supported by the international development sector and where feasible, the private sector.

Transforming Investments in African Rainfed Agriculture (TIARA) is an emerging advocacy effort to scale up green water and enhance rainfed agriculture across Africa through financial investments and political leadership, led by the Stockholm International Water Institute, the Stockholm Resilience Centre and the Sustainable Development Goals Center for Africa.

Summary

This report opens with a reminder of the water, food and poverty challenges faced by Africa before presenting the business case for investing in green water and rainfed agriculture.

Based on calculations of yield per dollar invested, the paper makes a strong case for investing in enhanced rainfed agriculture by managing green water and provides a fresh look at overcoming barriers to rural poverty.

The paper concludes with a discussion on how to integrate green water into broader strategies and identifies potential options for financing water for enhanced rainfed smallholder agriculture.