What is the irrigation potential for Africa? A combined biophysical and socioeconomic approach
Although irrigation in Africa has the potential to boost agricultural productivities by at least 50%, food production on the continent is almost entirely rainfed. The area equipped for irrigation, currently slightly more than 13 million hectares, makes up just 6% of the total cultivated area. More than 70% of Africa’s poor live in rural areas and mostly depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. As a result, agricultural development is key to ending poverty on the continent. Many development organizations have recently proposed to significantly increase investments in irrigation in the region. However, the potential for irrigation investments in Africa is highly dependent upon geographic, hydrologic, agronomic, and economic factors that need to be taken into account when assessing the long-term viability and sustainability of planned projects. This paper analyzes the large, dam-based and small-scale irrigation investment potential in Africa based on agronomic, hydrologic, and economic factors. We find significant profitable irrigation potential for both small-scale and large-scale systems. This type of regional analysis can guide distribution of investment funds across countries and should be a first step prior to in-depth country- and local-level assessment of irrigation potential, which will be important to agricultural and economic development in Africa.
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