As the world is getting drier and water sources are becoming more scarce due to changing weather patterns, the only way out for our countries is to adopt irrigation technology.
The essentiality of irrigation farming was underlined by President Jakaya Kikwete last week when addressing the summit of heads of state of the East African Community (EAC) on food security and climate change.
As President Kikwete rightly pointed out, our countries cannot afford to continue relying only on rain for agriculture. We need to increase food production by applying all available farming technologies.
Obviously, lack of irrigation makes our farmers in the region vulnerable to even slight climate change, resulting to food shortages due to poor harvests.
Improved farming practices, like drip irrigation and water recycling, have helped other countries like Israel conserve water and almost double its farming output in the last decade, leaving the country with a food surplus.
It is risky to be dependent on rain, which allows only one harvest each year. But with irrigation, farmers can have as many as three harvests per year, and therefore avert food shortages.
Our countries must take seriously the challenges thrown by President Kikwete by taking a pro-active role and become food self-sufficient and a food warehouse for the continent.
It is true that the EA region has enough land and water sources, so what is needed is to use those opportunities available to produce enough food for the people.
According to the 2009 Least Developed Countries (LDCs) Report, lack of water has increasingly led to a drop in food production in many countries in the region.
“There are major challenges for sustainable food production in LDCs where water shortage affects humans and livestock and where the potential for small scale irrigation and water harvesting is limited,” the report says.
As for Tanzania, only 15 per cent of the 40 million hectares of arable land is currently cultivated. The estimated potential for irrigation is 2.1 million hectares.
Regionally, Kenya has the highest irrigation potential at around 29% and Rwanda at 5%. Kenya has 103,205 hectares under irrigation; Uganda, 9,150 and Rwanda, 8,500. In Egypt, 77% of the agricultural land is under irrigation.
Surely, given the changing trends of the climate, our farmers need to adopt irrigation because that is where the future of agriculture lies.