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Limpopo River Basin Research Highlights


Improved integrated management of rainwater can improve smallholder productivity and livelihoods and reduce livelihood risk 




Summary of CPWF Research in the Limpopo River Basin

About 14 million people live in the Limpopo River basin, and many depend on rain-fed agriculture for food and income. However, rainfall in the basin is highly variable, making farming difficult. Climbing temperatures, declining rainfall, and growing water demand further actualize the need to help smallholder farmers find sustainable ways to intensify their agricultural production and strengthen their livelihoods. 

AgridealIn 2009, CPWF set out to improv[e] governance and management of rainwater and small water infrastructure in the Limpopo basin to raise productivity, reduce poverty, and improve livelihoods resilience.” Over the following four years, CPWF, led by the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Framework (FANRPAN), implemented five inter-connected research projects in the basin.

Among the six basins where CPWF worked during its second phase of research, the Limpopo basin is the driest. Annual rainfall in the basin varies between 200 and 1,500 mm, with much of the northern and western parts receiving less than 500 mm per year. In dry years, the upper part of the river flows for 40 days or less. In the more productive areas of the basin, water supply is not meeting demand, and water users are known to experience competition over water and local water scarcity.

Chronic drought interspersed with occasional floods mean that farming—whether rain-fed or irrigated—is risky. As a result, farmers hesitate to invest in new technologies, despite existing infrastructure for smallholder irrigation being largely dysfunctional.

CPWF’s research shows that great potential exists for sustainable development within the basin. Among the opportunities for improving livelihoods in the basin is increasing the productivity of rain-fed crop and livestock systems through better water management. Central to this challenge is understanding the complex relationship between access to and control over natural resources, policy environments, and incentives for smallholder farmers.

Prior to 2009, CPWF implemented nine diverse research projects that investigated a range of water and food issues—including small reservoirs, multiple use systems, and transboundary water governance—as well as a basin focal project in the Limpopo River basin.


Limpopo River Basin: Thirst for Growth (Magazine feature)

This issue of AgriDeal magazine features five stories that provide an overview of the Limpopo River basin; its agriculture, water and development challenges; and how the LBDC is working to improve integrated management of rainwater within the basin.

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Rural Poverty and Food Insecurity Mapping at District Level for Improved Agricultural Water Management in the Limpopo River Basin (Working paper)

The purposes of this paper are to: 1) Identify areas in the Limpopo River Basin with high levels of rural poverty and food insecurity; 2) Identify areas where agricultural water management interventions are taking place; and 3) Check whether current activities of the CPWF in the Limpopo Basin are located in areas of need as per poverty profiles and geographical location of smallholder farms.

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ICT-Based Identification and Characterisation of Small Reservoirs in the Limpopo River Basin in Zimbabwe (Journal article)

A study was undertaken to identify and characterise small reservoirs in the Limpopo river basin in Zimbabwe. The objective of the study was to identify small reservoirs and characterise them in terms of capacity, and chlorophyll-a and turbidity indices, as proxies for measuring environmental degradation of catchments in which these are located.

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Decentralising Zimbabwe’s Water Management: The Case of Guyu-Chelsea Irrigation Scheme (Journal article)

The study was positioned on the hypothesis that ‘decentralised or autonomous irrigation management enhances the sustainability and effectiveness of irrigation schemes’. To validate or falsify the stated hypothesis, data was gathered using desk research in the form of reviewing articles, documents from within the scheme and field research in the form of questionnaire surveys, key informant interviews and field observation.

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Consolidated Participatory GIS Report for Zimbabwe (Technical Report)

In Zimbabwe, a Participatory Geographic Information Systems (PGIS) data collection exercise was carried out in three districts that fall within the confines of the Limpopo River basin. The main objective of the exercise was to identify successful cases on Agricultural Water Management technologies that have been implemented in these districts, and hence, develop a clear understanding of what made these technologies successful from a variety of viewpoints. This report gives a consolidated outline of the intervention technologies that were identified.

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The Goats that Save Water: Linking Water, Food Security and Poverty Reduction

In the Gwanda district of Zimbabwe, a diverse and active innovation platform has created a strong local market for goats, is helping raise the value of one goat from US$10 to $60. The increased value serves as an incentive for farmers to invest in the survival of their goats, by growing their own stock feed, purchasing commercial stock feed and improving rangeland management.

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Markets: From Research to Outcomes

Ten years ago, the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) started a series of “Innovation Platforms” in different parts of Zimbabwe. Each platform consists of a group of farmers, traders, rural develop- ment agencies and extension officers, all of whom meet at regular intervals to discuss the main challenges facing them. These results are clearer in Gwanda, where different stakeholders have been working together for the last six years.

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Science without engagement will not change Africa

We’ve heard repeatedly that Africa has a lot of potential to scale-up productive agriculture practices to feeds its population while mitigating climate change. There is compelling evidence that Africa can feed Africa now and into the future. So what’s the common thread behind successful initiatives?

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Establishing Innovation Platforms – Zimbabwe

Innovation platforms are designed to bring together value chain actors: input suppliers, farmers, traders, processors, and others, in a shared forum to explore their challenges and opportunities. This multi-stakeholder engagement is critical to designing site-specific solutions that align production and market requirements with food and cash crop production, dry season feed and animal health in the face of poor market performance. One CPWF-Limpopo project describes its efforts to establish an innovation platform in Insiza, Zimbabwe.

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A decision-support tool to target agricultural water management interventions (TAGMI)

he Targeting AGwater Management Interventions (TAGMI) is a decision support tool that facilitates targeting and scaling-out of three different Agricultural Water Management (AWM) technologies in the Limpopo and the Volta River Basins. This online tool displays the output of a Bayesian network model that assesses the influence of social and bio-physical factors on the likelihood of success of implementing different AWM technologies.

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Appropriate Climate Smart Technologies for Smallholder Farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa (Policy brief)

Nearly 70% of the population in Sub-Saharan Africa live in rural areas and rely main on agriculture for livelihood security. Low agricultural productivity in the region keeps this population under constant pressure, even though investment in agriculture is a proven way to reduce regional poverty. Studies have shown that GDP growth in agriculture is at least twice as effective in reducing poverty as GDP growth originating outside agriculture. It is therefore necessary to develop and implement appropriate agricultural policies to support proven practices to alleviate poverty.

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Climate Smart Agriculture: More Than Technologies Are Needed to Move Smallholder Farmers Toward Resilient and Sustainable Livelihoods (Policy Brief)

Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) is defined as agricultural practices that sustainably increase productivity and system resilience while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. CSA helps ensure that climate change adaptation and mitigation are directly incorporated into agricultural development planning and investment strategies. Our perspective on CSA is sustainable agriculture, based upon integrated management of water, land and ecosystems at landscape scale.

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