A staggering 40% of groundwater is used for global irrigation, this alone indicates the importance of this precious resource in navigating the population through the effects of climate change. Credit: SADC Groundwater Management Institute.
  • Opinion by Thokozani Dlamini (Pretoria, South Africa)
  • Interpress service

This is according to a scoping study relating to the status of groundwater resource management in SADC. The study goes on to say that over a staggering 40% of groundwater is used for global irrigation, this alone indicates the importance of this precious resource in navigating the population through the effects of climate change.

Groundwater has become indispensable, especially for agricultural production in many countries, and is said to account for half of South Asia’s irrigation and China where it accounts for two-thirds of cereal crops produced.

Sustainable groundwater development for water and food supply can never be overemphasized to mitigate the worsening effects of climate change. As surface water becomes more variable and uncertain, groundwater provides a critical buffer for commercial and smallholder farmers – who depend on groundwater to keep their crops green.

Therefore, it is imperative that sustainable and innovative strategies are developed to ensure sustainable supply of groundwater resources for improved livelihoods.

Groundwater responds to water demand in a more flexible and reliable way, enabling farmers to increase their yields and mitigate the effects of extreme water shortages. While water is generally a critical input for agricultural production and plays an important role in food security, science reveals that sub-Saharan Africa is not on track to meet the Sustainable Development Goal of ending hunger.

The Summary Report on the State of Food and Nutrition Security and Vulnerability in Southern Africa 2022 says food and nutrition insecurity in the region remains unacceptably high and concerted efforts are needed to build resilience to address the multiple and increasing shocks facing the region.

The report further claims that the number of food insecure people is projected to increase to 55.7 million in the period 1 April 2022 to 31 March 2023 in the 12 Member States that provided data for the 2022 Regional Synthesis Report on Food Security, Nutrition and Vulnerability.

“More food needs to be produced to meet future demands due to population growth, lifestyle changes and dietary changes and this requires robust agricultural water solutions to sustainably manage water resources,” said Dr Manuel Magombeyi regional researcher at the International Water Management Institute.

Dr. Magombeyi further argues that it is crucial that people in general understand that as the demand for food increases, so does water use and all these increases are in the midst of climate change, and therefore a thorough rethinking of how water is managed in the agricultural sector, and how it can be reallocated in the the broader context of overall water resource management and water security is crucial.

Unfortunately, according to the United Nations Development Programme, at least 821 million people were estimated to be chronically undernourished as of 2017, often as a direct result of environmental degradation, drought and loss of biodiversity.

Malnutrition and severe food insecurity appear to be increasing in almost all regions of Africa. Several studies indicate that innovative agricultural water solutions are urgent if we are to meet Sustainable Development Goal 2, Zero hunger for all by 2030, as promulgated by the United Nations.

In the SADC region alone, at least 11 million people are facing critical food shortages due to drought caused by climate change. This situation requires groundwater practitioners to think deeper and look for innovative solutions to support the agricultural sector to improve food security.

According to the Agricultural Water Management in Southern Africa Report, investment by both the public and private sectors in Ag-water solutions represents an untapped opportunity. It is important that both sectors invest in Ag-water solutions to achieve the overall goal of poverty reduction and broad-based agricultural growth. Most of these ag water solutions have been implemented on a smaller scale. It is now important that they are scaled up for the benefit of larger communities, especially if the solution works well.

SADC Groundwater Management Institute has in recent years been successful in helping rural communities in some SADC member states to ensure they have access to water resources by exploiting groundwater resources available in the respective countries.

Through the project Sustainable Groundwater Management in SADC Member States supported by the World Bank Group between 2016 and 2021, SADC-GMI managed to reach communities in Eswatini, Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia, Zimbabwe and helped them unlock groundwater resources for improved livelihoods.

Thokozani Dlamini is the Communications and Knowledge Management Specialist for the SADC Groundwater Management Institute

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