Transforming Investments in African Rainfed Agriculture (TIARA)

Investing in rainfed agriculture is a cost-effective approach to improving agricultural productivity, climate resilience and building sustainable livelihoods across rural Africa.

Read our latest report from the TIARA project on how rethinking food imports could positively impact the livelihoods of African smallholder farmers:

Read full report

One-third of people in Africa are food insecure. Two-thirds are trapped in a cycle of poverty, exacerbated by climate change and rapidly rising population growth.

Africa faces a number of interconnected challenges. The continent is one of the two driest on earth with limited and highly variable natural rainfall. Rainfall variability and evapotranspiration are predicted to increase, while annual average rainfall is likely to decrease in much of Africa as a result of climate change. Nearly 95 per cent of Africa’s agricultural land is rain-fed and depends on infiltrated rainfall. Yet only 5 per cent of public agricultural water investments support rainfed agriculture.

African precipitation
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The consequences of this crisis are critical and far reaching and further exacerbated by climate change and rapidly-rising demographic pressure. One third of people across the continent are facing food insecurities and 22.7 per cent of the population in Sub-Saharan Africa are undernourished. Net food imports are predicted to reach $110 billion by 2025. Africa’s annual food import bill weakens African economies, decimates its agriculture and exports jobs from the continent.

Two thirds of the African population are trapped in a cycle of poverty which has economy-wide impacts. High levels of land degradation reduce the productive capacity of the land and agricultural output. At the centre of this crisis is the African farmer, typically engaged in rainfed subsistence farming, which is often undertaken in harsh conditions.

Rainfed agriculture, integrated with other approaches, offers a low cost and sustainable solution to the crisis in Africa.

Rainfed agriculture depends on infiltrated rainfall water which is stored in the upper layers of the soil and is available to plant roots. This is called green water. Capturing and maintaining soil moisture to ensure it is available when the plants most need it is the key to productive rainfed agriculture. Water capture increases water availability by reducing rainwater runoff and groundwater seepage, while water storage reduces evaporation.

Enhanced rainfed farming has the highest potential to improve food production and reduce poverty in Africa, with a high return on investment. The estimated cost of green water management in rainfed smallholder farming is $250-500 per hectare. This is the cost of small-scale rainwater harvesting and in-field soil moisture retention techniques and is largely low-technology and labour intensive.

The yield per dollar invested in improved rainfed agriculture is potentially nine times that of small-scale irrigation and six times that of large-scale irrigation. This can also play an important role in stimulating food production locally, creating jobs and contributing to economic growth.

Many approaches to rainfed agriculture have been available for decades and are based on well-established scientific findings that have been proved in practice throughout the world. Given that 95 per cent of cultivable land and agricultural activity is rainfed, there is a massive opportunity to increase rainfed agriculture at scale across Africa.

Water availability and storage is key to transforming agriculture but the opportunities must be promoted in conjunction with and in support of blue water and overall watershed management. And while securing green water removes uncertainty and increases sustainability, improved rainfed agriculture is only meant as a first step in sustaining rural livelihoods.

The first step in building sustainable livelihoods is ensuring that at a minimum, farmers do not fall below the subsistence point by securing green water, which will be available in all but the most persistent droughts.

Unlocking the potential of rainfed agriculture across Africa requires increased awareness of the opportunities and a significant injection of investment.

The current level of expenditure on rainfed agriculture is insufficient. Emphasis must be placed on increasing investments in green water for enhanced rainfed agriculture. The public sector will likely need to lead large-scale programmes to improve rainfed agriculture, supported by the international development sector and, where feasible, the private sector. There are a range of potential sources of funding including redirecting existing sources of funding, as well as identifying new sources.

Public sector financing could include a range of different fiscal mechanisms and activities such as subsidies, public work programmes, farmer support and extensions services, micro-credit for inputs, market access roads, and small-scale infrastructure such as small dams and rainwater harvesting systems. Multilateral development agencies such as the World Bank and the African Development Bank could provide governments with credit to invest in enhanced rainfed agriculture and regenerating rural economies.

There is an emerging cost-benefit rationale for the public financing of rainfed agriculture programmes but governments and other stakeholders need a more compelling rationale to prioritize increased investments. This includes increased awareness about the importance and management of green water.

“Financing rainfed agriculture will require improving sector governance and mobilizing existing funding sources including off-set financing, PES, Green Funds for Land Reclamation; climate finance and micro-credit schemes. There are also opportunities to allocate resources more efficiently, improve government policies and structure mechanisms to achieve impacts at scale.”

Mr. Kevin Urama, Senior Policy Advisor to the President on Inclusive & Green Growth at the African Development Bank at the 2018 Malin Falkenmark Symposium.

Regarding Transforming Investments in African Rainfed Agriculture (TIARA) ? Please contact us.
The TIARA initiative is working to scale up rainfed agriculture across Africa through financial investments and political leadership.

The TIARA initiative will work to scale up green water solutions and rainfed agriculture through knowledge development, advocacy and catalysing investments. The end goal is to increase the storage and capture of green water at scale to help move African farmers away from subsistence farming and towards more sustainable livelihoods within a 3-5 year time frame. Enhanced rainfed agriculture will contribute directly and indirectly to seven of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): 1, 2, 3, 6, 8, 13 & 16.

Knowledge: TIARA will enhance knowledge of how to implement rainfed agriculture in Africa and the related challenges and opportunities. TIARA will create a platform to help disseminate existing work and to identify best practice but will also commission research where required. The focus will be on understanding the costs and benefits of rainfed agriculture including the role of key stakeholders and enabling public policy.

Advocacy: TIARA will establish the business case for investing in rainfed agriculture and advocate the need for investment to key decision makers. TIARA will work with 5-6 leadership countries such as Kenya and Tunisia and enable high level leadership and political commitments. These countries will act as beacons and encourage the take up of rainfed agriculture across Africa. In parallel, TIARA will enable political leadership at the highest level to mandate the public sector to prioritize improved rainfed agriculture at large scale.

Investments: TIARA will work to unlock public and private investments in green water across Africa. This will require building relationships and leveraging existing approaches to secure financing. There will also be the need to establish and test new financial instruments in support of green water.

There is an emerging body of work on the TIARA initiative and rainfed agriculture.

TIARA at World Water Week at Home 2020

Exploring the potential of Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) to reward farmers for effective water and soil management and the protection of watersheds across Africa. Various PES approaches are assessed alongside good practice examples followed by an open discussion around risks and opportunities and recommendations for future action

TIARA at World Water Week 2019:  from success to scale: improving rainfed agriculture in Africa

On the 25th August 2019 at the World Water Week TIARA hosted a discussion, From success to scale: improving rainfed agriculture in Africa. With inputs from World Vision, ICRAF, IDH and 2030 WRG, this session identified the key success factors from enhanced rainfed agriculture initiatives in Africa and the opportunities for scale. The Dryland Development Program and the Billion Dollar Business Alliance initiatives demonstrated that enhanced rainfed agriculture can have a positive economic, social and environmental impact. A video on farmer voices was played, bringing the voice of the farmer into the session and highlighting the benefits of enhanced rainfed agricultural practices ranging from improved yields, to increase water availability, increased time and resources for education and improved nutrition.


Report: Mapping Financial Mechanisms For Enhanced Rainfed Agriculture in Africa

This document maps international financing mechanisms with the potential to scale investments into enhanced rainfed agriculture. Six key approaches or mechanisms were identified and include public and philanthropic funding, carbon financing, payment for ecosystem services, corporate grants and sustainable procurement, impact investments and conservation finance and crop and weather insurance.

Executive summary: Mapping Financial Mechanisms For Enhanced Rainfed Agriculture in Africa

TIARA background paper: Unlocking the potential for 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, concluding by exploring how to integrate green water into broader strategies and potential options for financing.

TIARA brochure: Transforming Investments in African Rainfed Agriculture

An introductory brochure to TIARA.

TIARA at Africa Water Week 2018: Demonstrating Political Leadership in Enhanced Rainfed Agriculture.

On Tuesday, 30th October 2018 at the Africa Water Week in Gabon, SIWI was joined by the governments of Kenya and Tunisia and the World Bank to explore how governments are improving green water management and rainfed agriculture and transforming rural communities.

TIARA at World Water Week 2018: Malin Falkenmark Symposium 2018

On Sunday, 26 August 2018, the esteemed Professor Falkenmark was joined by various water, agricultural and finance specialists to discuss how to finance and scale up green water practices across Africa and transform the “invisible majority” into net contributors in their national economies.

TIARA first workshop: Kigali expert event summary or detailed report.

In response to a “Call for an African Water Revolution”, over 80 experts participated in a workshop on the 27th-28th June 2018 in Kigali, Rwanda to identify what it takes to scale up green water investments across Africa.

Now is the time to put the big investments where the bulk of the water is, and where the enormous untapped potential is, which is innovations in green water” says Professor Johan Rockström in this compelling video introduction to TIARA.  

Background references on investments, green water and scaling rainfed agriculture.

This document provides a list of articles, reports and organizations that tackle the issue of rainfed agriculture in Africa and investments.

TIARA in Addis Ababa summary: Designing new business models for rainfed agriculture

On Tuesday 12th February 2019, SIWI hosted a lunchtime discussion in Addis Ababa to explore increasing investments in rainfed agriculture. With representatives from multilateral, development investors and bilateral agencies, participants discussed the challenges of investing in green water and identified new business models for investing in this sector.

Summary: scaling up rainfed agriculture in Africa

On Wednesday 6th February 2019, SIWI hosted a  experts meeting at Alpine Attitude in Pretoria as part of the TIARA initiative, to discuss scaling up rainfed agriculture in Africa. This short summary covers the key discussions including defining scale, good practices around scaling rainwater harvesting, effective policy measures, how investments can be used as enablers and scaling principles.

REPORT – Virtual Jobs: African Smallholder Farmers and food imports 

Every tonne of food imported into Africa could have been grown there. This would provide jobs, save money and increase food security: making countries more resilient. Rethinking food imports could positively impact the livelihoods of African smallholder farmers. Every billion dollars spent on importing food is equivalent to hundreds of thousands of “Virtual Jobs”. These are jobs which are lost, or never created, in favour of outsourced food.

What would it take to substitute imports with African-produced food? What is needed to increase crop yields, improve climate resilience and create sustainable livelihoods?

Read full report

TIARA is working collaboratively with a number of local, national and international partners to increase investments and scale up rainfed agriculture in Africa.

Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) is a policy institute that generates knowledge and informs decision-making towards a water wise world. SIWI conducts research, builds institutional capacity and provides advisory services in developing countries in areas related to water governance and transboundary water in response to water-related pressures of climate change, energy provision, food production and urbanisation.

The Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI) is a treaty-based international, inter-governmental organization dedicated to supporting and promoting strong, inclusive and sustainable economic growth in developing countries and emerging economies. 



World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) is a centre of science and development excellence that harnesses the benefits of trees for people and the environment. Leveraging the world’s largest repository of agroforestry science and information, ICRAF develop knowledge practices, from farmers’ fields to the global sphere, to ensure food security and environmental sustainability.