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Rain harvest key to conquer African drought

Institution News

ANNUAL RAINFALL in central Africa areas is often comparable to parts of northern Europe at around 800mm. But rain falls with high intensity and variability.

Associate professor at the Sokaine University of Agriculture in Tanzania, Nuhu Hatibu Hatibu said drought was inevitable in central Africa, but there are huge benefits to be gained by managing the shorter dry periods.

Speaking at a recent meeting organised by the International Commission on Irrigation & Drainage (ICID), Hatibu and his colleague John Gowing, deputy research director at the UK's Newcastle University centre for land use and water resources research, reported on their studies into rainwater harvesting (RWH).

RWH is a method of gathering runoff rainwater that falls in and around farms and using it for irrigation, to maximise crop production.

'Farmers will take on RWH projects themselves - whereas more conventional irrigation needs to be implemented by outside organisations, ' they said.

Precipitation is so intense that any run off was previously seen as a hazard by locals. Gowing feels this free resource should be tapped, stored and used to maximise crop yield.

Audience members expressed concern that this run off may be needed downstream by other users who would themselves lose a resource on which they depend.

But Gowing argued that 'farmers are perfectly entitled to use the rain that falls on their land however they so desire.'

Earlier, Drylands Research director Michael Mortimore said identified the need in Central Africa for more flexible farming methods, with a greater variety of crops and livestock to cope better with the variable rainfall.

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