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EFFICIENT WATER MANAGEMENT IN AGRICULTURE

By DORCAS KABUYA CHAABA
WATER is a global resource which has to be conserved and used efficiently for sustainable National Development because it is becoming scarce due to changes in climate and increasing population growth.
Despite being endowed with about 40 percent of the water resource in Southern Africa, Zambia has not being spared from the devastating effects of climate change.
It is common knowledge that agriculture is one sector that cannot do without water, and with the climate variability currently being experienced globally, the importance of water in the sector cannot be overemphasised.
It is for this reason that Zambia was identified to undertake a project dubbed, ‘Efficient Agricultural Water Use and Management Enhancement in Paddy Rice Fields,’ by the Food and Agriculture Organisation in line with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) target 6.4, which focuses on increasing water-use efficiency across all sectors.
Crop water use efficiency is the ratio of water used for plant growth to the water lost by plants through evapo-transpiration.
Rice is one crop that is increasingly constrained by water limitation and hence, the increasing pressure to reduce water use in irrigated production as a consequence of global water scarcity partly due to climate change.
In Zambia, rice production which is mainly grown under rain-fed condition in paddies under continuous flooding. While continuous flooding provides a favourable water and nutrient supply under anaerobic conditions, it nevertheless consumes a large amount of water as paddies are usually over flooded. This not only affect the growth of the crop but also poor managing this scare resource.
This project is funded by the Government of Agriculture of Japan through the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), and recognises the importance of rice to the Zambian Economy both as a staple and cash crop.
A roundtable consultative meeting with various stakeholders involved in water management was called to validate the findings of the project team on the current status, limitations and potential of the water use in paddy fields coupled with identifying key elements to improve its management.
Speaking during the roundtable meeting under the project, Deputy Director under the Ministry of Agriculture in charge of crop production, Alick Daka who graced the meeting noted that productive use of water leads to improved income and nutritional security.
Mr Daka stated that the experiences shared during the meeting should be the basis of development of strategies and investment portfolio in the next phase of the project.
“As a ministry we are looking forward to investment portfolios and possible development of bankable projects that can be implemented to enhance the efficiency use of water in the agricultural sector in Zambia,” he explained.
The project is being coordinated by Department of Agriculture and the Zambia Agriculture Research Institute (ZARI) under the Ministry of Agriculture.
Project Coordinator, Shadreck Mwale who is the said the implementation of the project was necessitated by the fact that most of the rice grown in the country is rain-fed and only a small percent of the crop is irrigated.
Mr Mwale said the cooperating partners interested in investing in irrigated rice but there was need to understand and identify the gaps in the sector particularly policy documents which govern the sector because of the multi-functionality of water.
“Beside irrigation, water is used by domestic, wildlife animals, and various sectors of the economy get certain amount of water from the many water bodies hence the need for efficient water-use,” he emphasised.
He further noted that it is unfortunate that in Zambia, there are no mechanisms for measuring the amount of water used in paddy rice fields adding that the project is meant to assess the current status and come up with project profiles which will later be developed into concepts.
“After this multi-stakeholder consultation and the one to follow next year in August, concept notes on investment in the rice subsector will be shared with the donors and cooperating partners, so that projects are developed that addresses the identified priority areas,” explained Mr. Mwale.
Meanwhile, ZARI Deputy Director, Mweshi Mukanga, noted that there is need to increase the hectarage of rice under irrigation in Zambia adding that only Sefula Irrigation Scheme in Mongu District supported by The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) is active in rice production.
Dr Mukanga who made a presentation on the National Outlook Report noted that following the development of the National Rice Strategy, the Zambia Government together various cooperating partners has increased its support to the development of irrigation infrastructure in order to increase the production of crops by small scale farmers.
He also stressed that though Rice is currently the third most important cereal crop, farmer yields have been very low.
Dr Mukanga called for promotion of efficient water use in rice production and to build capacity among farmers running the irrigation schemes,” he said.
There is an imminent need to improve on efficient water-use and management especially with the advent of climate change. -NAIS

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