African man holding an irrigation monitoring device

The South Australian idea that’s growing in sub-Saharan Africa

Farming families in Mozambique, Tanzania and Zimbabwe are quite literally reaping the benefits of a breakthrough in irrigation, nurturing previously unused land to flourish and new communities to grow.

Over the past 25 years UniSA researchers have embedded themselves in overseas communities, solving agricultural problems that have led to effective water use and new policies.

UniSA researchers devised a cheap and easy-to-use management tool that works with existing agricultural forums to connect small-scale irrigators to new markets, better infrastructure, and improved knowledge and financing options.

Funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research, the project involved more than 1,700 farmers, who could access more profitable crop varieties, reduce their watering and increase available land use from less than 40 per cent to almost 100 per cent.

Accordingly, the better practices have doubled crop yields overall. Even tail-end users at the farthest reaches of the irrigation canals can now produce crops reliably for the first time because they have access to a better quality, more reliable water supply that is no longer drained by farmers upstream.

This increased efficiency has had an additional benefit, with many households using their newly-found free time to diversify into small business ventures and increase their income. This increased revenue has led to spending on new farm equipment or land improvements, and also investing in their children’s education – with some now attending university for the first time.

UniSA’s research has also spurred changes in policy and legislation, along with better land tenure and financing. Sithembile Ndema, Policy Officer, Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network, observed: ‘The farmers have benefited because they do not suffer in silence, but instead have a platform where they can engage.’

Image courtesy to Henning Bjornlund