The transboundary Zambezi River Basin (ZRB), the fourth largest in Africa, faces many challenges from
the perspective of the Water-Energy-Food-Ecosystem (WEFE) nexus, including, among many others,
hydropower, reservoir multipurpose optimization and release management, rainfed and irrigated
agriculture development, impact of land use and agricultural practices (including livestock and
fisheries), role of ecosystem services (natural parks, wetlands), pressures on resources due to
population increase and climate variability/change and extreme events risks (drought and flooding).
This report dealt with the water and agriculture aspects in the Zambezi River Basin focusing on
irrigated and rainfed agriculture through appropriate agricultural water management practices. This
report is complementary to and has to be read in conjunction with the report from University of
Malawi on agriculture and water in the Zambezi River Basin.
Agriculture is the largest water consumer in the Zambezi River Basin. Agricultural activities are
dominant in Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Interestingly, probably more
than 90% of the agricultural activity in the basin is based on flood plain cultivation and rain dependent
agriculture, and this is what sustains the bulk of the rural population in the Zambezi River Basin.
Irrigation is important in the basin, but on a comparative basis it covers estimates from 147 000 ha to
259 000 ha only, but because it is water-use intensive, it factors significantly in the water use equation
in the basin. Irrigation is estimated to consume about 3 235 million cubic meters of water currently
amounting to 1.4% of the basin’s renewable water resources. There is huge irrigation development
potential in the basin, and indeed there are ambitious plans to triple the area under irrigation by 2025
which will increase the water for irrigation to about 4.1% of the basins’ renewable water resources.
Smallholder irrigation practices are dominant in the Zambezi River Basin, consequently basic
agricultural water management coupled with sustainable agricultural intensification is a key aspect of
agricultural production supporting many rural households. Typical practices in the basin include;
bucket irrigation systems, gravity fed off-river and reservoir irrigation, dambo irrigation farming,
treadle pumps used in conjunction with bucket or drip kit irrigation, motorized pumping irrigation,
drip irrigation including drip kits, sprinkler irrigation and centre pivot irrigation. The last two tend to
dominate commercial irrigation with small-scale sprinkler irrigation being found also in smallholder
formal irrigation. Most of the agricultural water management practices offer opportunities for uptake
and sustainable agricultural intensification based on criteria such as quick and tangible benefits, low
risk of failure, estimated cost of the intervention, and technology characteristics such as complexity,
divisibility, acceptability and compatibility to the socio-economic environment.
The water-energy-food-ecosystem (WEFE) nexus has emerged as an increasingly prominent global
policy, governance and research agenda. The WEFE nexus presents an opportunity for policymakers,
researchers and development agencies to integrate the sectors in order to optimise the use of the
resource base, maximise synergies and minimise trade-offs and conflicts. Since the Zambezi River
Basin is transboundary and there is competition for natural resources by sector (water, energy,
agriculture) and by country (ZRB riparian countries), the WEFE nexus presents itself as a viable tool for
resources management. An exploratory WEFE nexus analysis of the ZRB was conducted based on the
indicators; water availability per capita, water productivity, food self-sufficiency, cereal productivity,
energy accessibility, energy productivity and ecosystems good and services. Most of the WEFE
indicators showed marginal sustainability.
The success of agricultural water management interventions will depend to a large extent on the
training of the relevant stakeholders so as to capacitate them in terms of knowledge, attitude and
skills. Before any training can be undertaken, typically a needs assessments has to be undertaken to
determine the stake holders who require training, the type of training required and the best way to
offer that training. For agricultural water management interventions, returns to training investment
are best if this training is focused on those working directly with farmers and the farmers themselves.
Short courses for the training of agricultural extension staff and farmers were identified, and these
included; smallholder irrigation water management and crop production, dambo irrigation farming
with ecosystems goods and services in mind, drip kit irrigation, operation and management for local
food security, and soil and water conservation practices and conservation agriculture under rainfed
agriculture. A WEFE nexus short course for policy makers, development implementers and researchers
is also proposed.

 

- Annex 29: Senzanjie A. and Dirwai T.L., 2020. Water and agriculture: a concept note. ACEWATER2 report JRC122957 (Component of deliverable)
- Annex 30: Senzanjie A. and Dirwai T.L., 2020. Assessing Water-Energy-Food-Ecosystem (WEFE) interdependencies across the Zambezi river basin: agriculture and water. ACEWATER2 report JRC122957 (Main deliverable)

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