Thursday, July 31, 2008

Water and the rural poor

2. Water and the rural poor: interventions for improving livelihoods in sub-Saharan Africa

Authors: Faurés,J.; Santini,G.
Produced by: Land and Water Development Division, FAO (2008)

Insecure access to water for consumption and productive uses is a major constraint on poverty reduction in rural areas of sub-Saharan Africa. This publication addresses the linkage between water and rural poverty in the region, in order to help decision-makers make informed choices on where and how to invest. Drawing on past experiences, it demonstrates that there are many opportunities to invest in water in support of rural livelihoods. It discusses conditions for success and proposes water-based, context-specific, and livelihood-centred approaches to poverty reduction in rural areas.

The report argues that the likelihood of implementing successful interventions in the water sector varies according to the main sources of livelihood of rural populations, dictated in large part by the predominant farming systems, themselves closely related to agro-ecological conditions. Understanding the geographical distribution of the rural poor and their relation to livelihood zones therefore helps in designing intervention strategies to improve water management and increase both the resilience and productivity of agriculture, as well as agricultural incomes.

To this end, the report proposes a method for identifying the locations where water constraints are a major factor in determining poverty and where interventions can be made that would take large numbers of poor farmers out of poverty. It identifies and maps 13 major "livelihood zones" in SSA, each of which offers distinct opportunities for livelihood sustenance and development, has different agro-ecological conditions, and shows different angles for water-related investments for poverty reduction.

The report also identifies four main categories of rural people and analyses their specific water-related requirements. The four groups are: (i) the extremely vulnerable; (ii) traditional smallholders, livestock keepers and nomads; (iii) emerging market-oriented smallholders; and (iv) large commercial farmers. It is emphasised throughout that the choice of interventions at different scales should be taken from a non-prescriptive menu of appropriate options and based on an understanding of the particular context and target group.

The report concludes by discussing a set of typical water intervention options, and analyses their range of application and potential for poverty reduction according to the various livelihood zones. Six categories of possible interventions are discussed in view of their poverty-reduction potential:
  • better management of soil moisture in rainfed areas
  • investment in water harvesting and small storage
  • small-scale community-based irrigation schemes
  • improved water access and control for peri-urban agriculture
  • development of water supply to meet multiple water uses
  • an environmentally-aware system of improved water access for livestock in arid and semi-arid areas.
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