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Rain harvest key to conquer African drought

DECADES OF drought aid to central Africa have been wasted, an ICE audience heard last week.

'Small scale farmers operate in a poverty cycle - directing aid towards these farms is a waste of time, ' explained associate professor at the Sokaine University of Agriculture in Tanzania, Nuhu Hatibu.

'This aid would generate far greater benefits if targeted toward medium sized farms which have the funds required to make the technical investments needed, ' he said. 'If farmers don't have the funds they shouldn't be farming, they should go and do shoe-shining instead.'

Hatibu was speaking last week at a meeting organised by the International Commission on Irrigation and Drainage (ICID).

He and his colleague John Gowing, deputy research director at Newcastle University's 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.

Annual rainfall in these dryland areas is often comparable to parts of northern Europe at around 800mm. But rain falls with high intensity and variability.

Hatibu said drought was inevitable in central Africa, but there are huge benefits from managing shorter dry periods.

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 fears 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 'as the water falls on their land they are perfectly entitled to use it 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.

INFOPLUS www. icid. org. uk

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