Concerns have risen over conflicts around access to fresh water that might result in the next world war if we do not change how we manage this vital resource. With the increasing effect of climate change and population growth, water scarcity is on the rise, and it is estimated that there is a 70% to 75% chance of wars being fought over water within the next century. This means that the fight over water will only intensify.
Four billion people, almost two-thirds of the world’s population, experience severe water scarcity for at least one month a year. Over two billion people live in countries where the water supply is inadequate. Half of the world’s population could be living in areas experiencing water scarcity, in as early as 2025 or in the next two years.
Water is a critical input of the food system, with agriculture production as the most significant water consumer. About 70% of freshwater globally is used in agriculture. In Sub-Saharan Africa, 81% of fresh water is used for agriculture, 15% for industry and 5% for domestic use. In this regard, the agricultural sector has a huge role in resolving the challenges associated with the water crisis. This involves thoroughly reconsidering how water is managed and can be repositioned in the broader water resources management context.
Climate-smart agricultural (CSA) practices offer opportunities for conserving water and transforming food systems in increasingly unpredictable climate conditions. However, in Africa, the adoption of CSA practices has been low. A telling example is conservation agriculture, one of the major CSA practices promoted in Africa and other continents. However, only 1% of the continent’s total arable land applies conservation agriculture.
One of the researchers linked to the University of Pretoria through the Food Systems Research Network for Africa (FSNet-Africa) project, Dr Nana Afranaa Kwapong, recently conducted a study using an innovative participatory research approach to capture the complexities associated with the adoption of CSA practises in rural Ghana. The study shows that for CSA practices to be successful, promotion and implementation must be done in a way that is equitable and inclusive, including the voices of the stakeholders.
The study used participatory videos to provide farmers with an opportunity to describe the community’s experience with the CSA innovations. The farmers were able to suggest what they consider essential in addressing climate change in their communities and measures to encourage the uptake of CSA innovations. Farmers shared their experiences with CSA interventions through participatory videos, which they produced themselves, with minimal support from the researcher. The videos provide insight into what happens during the innovation process.
The study found that many farmers desire to increase their yields and soil fertility and conserve water for plant use. Farmers selected CSA practices that were less labour intensive, less costly, and fitted to their current farming practices and the local context. Some examples of CSA practices that farmers adopted to conserve water included planting on ridges to prevent water runoff from the field, making it available for plant use. Also, farmers perceived planting trees as beneficial in bringing rain and reducing temperatures. With climate change impacting smallholder farming activities and livelihoods, such water-conserving innovations are essential for farmers to cope with the increasingly unpredictable climate conditions. The farmers first ‘experimented’ on small plots (about one-third of their land) before committing to CSA practices on their entire farm. Once they proved that the innovation was beneficial, they would scale it up to the whole farm.
Photo: Use of ridges to conserve soil moisture
Water is a fundamental part of smallholder farmers’ activities and livelihood. The pressing need to address water-related challenges and the significant amount of water that the agricultural sector uses demands innovations that can encourage smallholder farmers to adopt practices that support in managing the water crisis. The findings from this study highlight the need to integrate farmers’ voices using innovative approaches such as participatory videos to better understand farmers’ experiences in the innovation process.
It’s not only the agricultural sector that needs to take action. We can all take responsibility for managing the water crisis by changing some of our day-to-day practices. We can plant trees in our communities and use water more efficiently. We can take shorter showers, fix leaking taps, not leave the tap running when brushing our teeth, etc., to make water more available for many people, including smallholder farmers who feed us. Small efforts can make a difference. Let’s work together to be water-wise.
Watch the participatory videos on these links:
Bompari farmers’ experience with CSA, Upper West Ghana https://youtu.be/mSL4obdSZ_c
Tolibri Farmers’ experience with CSA, Upper West Ghana https://youtu.be/VQIWuc2i17s