Responding to climate variability and change through improving agricultural water productivity | Natural Resource Management (Soil and Water Conservation)

The low input agriculture widely practiced by farmers in the ECA region cannot meet the growing demand for food and cash income whilst the high risk associated with the variable weather conditions acts as a major constraint to increased uptake and utilization of production technologies that have the potential to increase productivity by several folds while maintaining or improving the resource base. Imp Read more..

Description of the technology or innovation

The low input agriculture widely practiced by farmers in the ECA region cannot meet the growing demand for  food  and  cash  income  whilst  the  high  risk  associated  with  the  variable  weather  conditions  acts  as  a major constraint to increased uptake and utilization of production technologies that have the potential to increase  productivity  by  several  folds  while  maintaining  or  improving  the  resource  base.  Improving Agricultural  Water  Productivity  Project  sought  to  reverse  this  by  increasing  the  availability  and productivity of water in smallholder rain-fed and  irrigated  agriculture at both  farm and  catchment  levels and thereby alleviating the  negative  impacts of  variable rainfall and adapting to the expected changes  in climate.

The  project  through  which  these  innovative  approaches  were  tested  was  implemented  for  three  years (2011-2013)  in  five  countries  namely  Kenya,  Ethiopia,  Eritrea,  Rwanda  and  Madagascar.  Its  objectives were  to:  (i)  Develop  and  promote  gender  responsive  integrated  water  management  options  to  improve water  productivity  and  to  cope  with  impacts  of  climate  variability  and  change,  (ii)  Enhance  capacity  of stakeholders to develop and implement integrated water management options at farm and watershed scales, (iii)  Pilot  IWM  policy  options  and  institutional  arrangements  to  minimize  smallholder  farmer’s vulnerability  to  climate  uncertainties,  and  (iv)  Strengthen  learning  alliances  and  nowledge  exchange systems for scaling up technologies and sharing information on improved water management.

The  project  adopted  the  Integrated  Watershed  Management  (IWM)  approach.  The  approach  links production, conservation and livelihood objectives of people with a stake in a given watershed. It provides a  framework  for  integrating  technical,  economic  and  social  nowledge  in  identifying  constraints,  and  in supporting  planning  and  decision  making  to  achieve  sustainable  solut ions.  The  concept  of  IWM  goes beyond  traditional  integration  of  technical  interventions  such  as  SWC,  ISFM,  and  INRM  to  include production, environmental, market and poverty reduction related innovations that help diversify livelihood opportunities,  link the poor stakeholders to new  opportunities  for  income generation, and reduce  market and climate-induced risks. The concept ties together the biophysical notion of a watershed as hydrological
unit  for  technological  interventions  with  that  of  the  political,  social  and  economic  institutions  that determine the demand, viability and sustainability of such interventions. Hence, the community-based but watershed  wide  IWM  interventions  create  synergies  between  targeted  technologies,  policies  and institutions that improve productivity, resource use sustainability and market access for resource users. Using  this  approach,  two  small  agricultural  watersheds  of  5-10  m2   area  involving  about  150-200
households were identified within each country and used to  conduct project activities. Mwania and Kalii watersheds in Machakos and Makindu Districts, respectively, were selected for Kenya; Karama and MuseBivumu  in  Nyamagabe  and  Bugesera  Districts,  respectively,  in  Rwanda;  Adulala  and  Ketchema  in Ethiopia;  Amadir  and  Molqi  in  Eritrea;  and  Ankazomiriotra  and  Avaratrambolo  in  Mandoto  and Manjakandriana Districts, respectively, in Madagascar.  Several technologies were selected, evaluated and availed to farmers to enhance productivity and income in all the participating countries.  The technologies were selected jointly with farmers based on their ease of adoption, investment required and ability to make best use of increased water availability. They were evaluated jointly with the farmers using “mother-baby” trials and up-scaled through field days and farm visits. Majority of the technologies adopted were mainly for soil and water conservation (SWC) due to their perceived benefits. The benefits included decreased run
off and erosion, increased water infiltration, improved soil moisture conditions, and improved soil physical properties. High adoption rates and significant increases in crop yields were reported across the countries.

In  Kenya,  for  instance,  out of  198  farmers  trained  on  terracing  to  conserve  soil  and  water  and  improve productivity, 252 constructed them on their  farms and realized  very good maize  yields. Similarly, of the 146 farmers trained on pitting to harvest run-off and grow fodder, 251 managed to dig over 20,000 pits on their farms and plant Napier grass for their livestock. The extra adopters learnt from their neighbors who attended  the  trainings.  By  embracing  these  and  other  technologies  such  as  forecast-based  farming,  tiedridging,  seed  priming,  improved  agronomic  practices,  improved  crop  varieties,  and  micro-dosing  among other  technologies  farmers  posted  good  yields  throughout the  project  period  despite  most  seasons  being bad. Maize yields ranged from 1.2 t/ha to 3.2 t/ha compared to baseline yield of less than 500 kg/ha (Figure
1). Hence,  most households  in the two watersheds, over  70 %, are food- secure. They were also able to harvest  over  10  tonnes  of  fodder  (Napier  grass)  from   pitting/tumbukiza  compared  to  “zero”  at  project inception (Figure 2).


                     Figure 1. A farmer admires his bumper maize crop in Makindu due to efficient water management, Kenya


                        Figure 2. Lush Napier grass crop grown using tumbiza/pitting in Machakos, Kenya

In Eritrea, adoption rates were low but encouraging. About 66 out of 450 households adopted agroforestry after training. They planted 1130 Rhamnus prinoides, 218 Psidium guajava, and 198 Papaya seedlings and were able to earn about US$ 450 each in just six months from the sale of Rhamnus leaves and vegetables. Most  of  them  used  this  money  to  buy  sheep  and  poultry  to  diversify  and  increase  income.  Additional income  of  US$  480  was  generated  from  the  sale  of  just  360  Rhamnus  seedlings  from  the  nursery established  by  the  project.  Similarly,  out  of  the  153  households  trained  on  soil  and  water  conservation measures 6 constructed tied ridges and terraces and realized very high sorghum yields after many years of crop failure. Yields ranged from 1.5 to 2t/ha compared to baseline yields of 600kg/ha.

In  Madagascar,  adoption  of  improved  rice  varieties  increased  rice  yields  from  2  to  4  t/ha  whilst  onion yields  increased  from  10  to  25  t/ha  due  to  prudent  management  of  water  and  other  inputs.  As  a  result, communities in Ankazomiriotra and Avaratrambolo watersheds are now 60% food-secure and are able to
earn additional income of about US$ 2500 /ha/year from the sale of onions and potatoes during off-season (Figure 3). 


                Figure 3. Farmers in Madagascar counting their blessings due to prudent management of water

Farmers in Rwanda were able to construct twelve 120-m3  capacity water pans and rehabilitate another 4 to harvest run-off and are now able to grow and sale tomatoes on 0.5 acre plots during off-season when their demand is very high and earn good returns.


                                         Figure 4.  Harvesting run-off to grow high-value crops in Rwanda

Finally,  with  support  from  the  project  and  the  Directorate of  Fisheries  in  Machakos  County,  farmers  in Mwania  watershed  in  Kenya  were  able  to  rehabilitate  an  abandoned  308  m3 -capacity  fish  pond,  harvest run-off,  and  stock  it  with  fingerlings.  About  113m3 of  water  were  harvested  during  the  2013  short  rain season alone. This will improve their income and nutri tion, and also serve as a role model for promoting seasonal fish farming in semi-arid areas.


                                    Figure 5. Harvesting rainwater to grow fish in Machakos (Kenya)

Lessons learnt

  • If properly implemented, IWM project has the potential to transform our rain-fed agriculture to provide adequate food and income
  • The success or failure of  the project(IWM) depends on the composition and management of the innovation platform created
  • To succeed, the project must demonstrate both short- and long-term benefits  
  • IWM projects are long-term in nature and therefore require more time and financial resources to realize full benefits
  • For successful implementation of IWM programs, the managers of the programs should be well versed with the concept and principles of watershed management and should maintain close contacts with all players
  • When properly mobilized and sensitized, communities are willing to invest substantial resources, mainly labour, in resource conservation activities
  • Support by government and non-governmental developmental agencies especially in making capital intensive interventions such as check dams , similar to the ones practiced in India, will enhance the success of IWM programs


Contact details

Dr Hezron Mogaka
Program Manager;  
Natural Resource Management and Biodiversity

Mr. Kizito Kwena
Senior Research Officer (SRO)
Natural Resource Management Research Programme, Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Organisation
(KALRO) -Katumani
P. O Box 340-90100  
Machakos – Kenya
Email: and
Tel: +254726370808

Asmerom Kidane Tecleghiorghis
Director of Natural Resources Management Research Institution
National Agricultural Research Institute
Ministry of Agriculture
P.O.Box 4627
Asmara - Eritrea  
Tel: +291-1-08600046 or 291-1-115026

Dr. Serge LalaRakotoson
Joint Manager, Artelia Madagascar
P.O. Box 519
Antananarivo – Madagascar
Email: and
Tel: +261-202222557 and +261-320267082

Mr. Razakamiaramanana
Regional Research Station Head
FOFIFA /RRS Tsivatrinikamo
P.O. Box 230
Antsirabe – Madagascar
Email: and
Tel: +261320439184,  +261341495012

Dr Admassu Habtamu
Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research
Melekassa Station

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