According to the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) early warning and vulnerability assessment systems, more than 28 million people – roughly 10 percent of the population of the region – are already food insecure due to the low harvest recorded last year as a result of poor rains.
Just like in Namibia, agriculture is an engine for socio-economic development for nearly all SADC countries, but the sector is experiencing challenges to contribute fully to sustainable development.
Extreme weather conditions, such as drought caused by the El Niño weather phenomenon, have resulted in crop failure and low harvest, albeit Namibia is expecting a slight increase of some 43 000 tonnes of maize this season.
The formulation of specific strategies in Namibia is to achieve the target area of approximately 27 000 hectares for the Green Scheme Programme over a period of 15 years, starting in 2009. Government currently operates green schemes at Mashare and Ndonga-Linena, Etunda, Mashare, Shadikongoro, Uvhungu-Vhungu and Shikondo.
Changing weather conditions have made it difficult for the SADC region to rely on rainfall for agriculture because lower precipitation translates to lower yields.
Thus the calls for an urgent need to invest in regional water infrastructure such as irrigation to ensure that farmers are cushioned from the effects of changing climate.
The development of irrigation infrastructure will allow the region to grow crops all year round and not only depend on climate conditions. Irrigation will enable the region to boost production and meet the growing demand for food. Furthermore, it will improve the incomes of farmers should they grow high-value crops.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), irrigation has the capacity to increase yields of most crops by between 100 percent and 400 percent.
The SADC region benefits from rivers such as the Congo and Zambezi.
Furthermore, nine SADC member states have access to oceans. The coastal countries are Namibia, Angola, the DRC, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Seychelles, South Africa and Tanzania.
It is important, therefore, for SADC countries to take advantage of their proximity to the oceans to draw water for agricultural use. To achieve this, appropriate technologies must be designed to desalinate water to enhance food security, the FAO states.
While significant progress is being made by SADC member states to increase the use and uptake of irrigation, there is a need for the region to fully embrace irrigation in a bid to address food security.
According to available figures from selected SADC countries, the use of irrigation in the region is still very low. In fact, it is estimated that less than 10 percent of arable land is under irrigation, which is also the case in Namibia.
To promote the use of irrigation, SADC in 2012 developed the Regional Infrastructure Development Master Plan, which outlines plans for infrastructure development up to 2027. The Water Sector Plan, for example, identifies 34 infrastructure projects to be implemented over that period, including increasing the irrigated area from the current 3.4 million hectares to 10 million hectares by 2021.
The SADC Irrigation Investment Plan, drawn from the infrastructure master plan, is estimated at US$2.4 billion. Some of the major projects planned include the Shire Valley Irrigation Project in Malawi, the Ruhuhu Valley Irrigation Scheme in Tanzania and the Upper Okavango Food Security Project in Angola and Namibia.