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Zambia is a landlocked country covering an area of 752 610 km Total cultivable land is estimated to be over 16 million ha, or 21.7% of the total area. About 1 million ha is cultivated, which is 6.3% of the cultivable area and 1.4% of the total area.

The population is about 9 million (1994), with an annual growth of 3.2%. Average population density is 12.3/km. The rural population is estimated to be 62%. The mining sector's contribution to GDP has declined from 36% in 1970 to 8% in 1990, and manufacturing has almost doubled, from 24% to 43%. Agriculture's share of GDP has risen from 13% in 1985 to 17% in 1990. The agricultural sector has an enormous potential for expansion, given the right economic climate by freeing product and input pricing, ensuring security of land tenure, providing credit and modifying taxation. About 60% of the population is currently dependent upon agriculture, which provides employment to 67% of the labour force.

Basic statistics and population

Area of the country 1994 75 261 000 ha
Cultivable land 1994 16 350 000 ha
Cultivated land 1994 1 029 570 ha
Total population 1994 9 196 000 inhab.
Population density 1994 12 inhab./km
Rural population 1994 62 %
Water supply coverage    
Urban population 1994 43 %
Rural population 1994 30 %

Climate and water resources

The mean annual rainfall is 1 011 mm, and is least in the south - 750 mm/year - and increases uniformly to 1 400 mm/year in the north. Most of the cropping land in the central zone receives 900 mm to 1 200 mm/year. Rainfall is unimodal, influenced by the intertropical convergence zone (ITCZ) and concentrated in November to April. The climate is cool and dry from May to August, and then becomes hotter with the onset of the rains. Zambia has five major river systems:


Water balance

Water resources:      
Average precipitation   1 011 mm/yr
    760.7 km/yr
Internal renewable water resources - total   80.2 km/yr
Internal renewable water resources - per caput 1994 8 721 m/yr
Global renewable water resources   116.0 km/yr
Dependency ratio   30.9 %
Total dam capacity 1994 200 km
De-salinated water   - 10 6 m/yr
Water withdrawal:      
- Agricultural 1994 1 318 10 6 m/yr
- Domestic 1994 270 10 6 m/yr
- Industrial 1994 118 10 6 m/yr
Total   1 706 10 6 m/yr
per caput 1994 186 m/yr
as a % of internal renewable water resources   2.1 %
Other withdrawal   - 10 6 m/yr
Produced   - 10 6 m/yr
Treated   - 10 6 m/yr
Re-used treated waste-water   - 10 6 m/yr

Irrigation and drainage

Irrigation potential 1992 520 000 ha
1. Full or partial control Irrigation: equipped area 1992 46 400 ha
- surface irrigation 1992 28 400 ha
- sprinkler irrigation 1992 17 200 ha
- micro-irrigation 1992 800 ha
% of area irrigated from groundwater 1992 5.4 %
% of area irrigated from surface water 1992 94.6 %
% of equipped area actually irrigated 1992 99 %
2. Spate irrigation area   - ha
3. Equipped wetland and inland valley bottoms   - ha
4. Other cultivated wetland and inland valley bottoms 1992 100 000 ha
5. Flood recession cropping area   - ha
Total water managed area (1+2+3+4+5) 1992 146 400 ha
- as a percentage of cultivated area 1992 14.2 %
-increase over last 10 years 1980-1991 8 %
- power irrigated area as % of water managed area   - %
Full or partial control schemes: Criteria    
Large schemes > ha - ha
Medium schemes   - ha
Small schemes < ha - ha
Total number of households in irrigation Irrigated crops:      
Total irrigated grain production 1991 81 500 t
as a % of total grain production 1991 5.4 %
Harvested crops under irrigation (full or partial control) 1991 46 400 ha
- wheat 1991 14 500  
- sugar cane 1991 12 400 ha
- rice 1991 9 500 ha
- vegetables 1991 5 600 ha
- other 1991 4 400 ha
Drainage - Environment:      
Drained area   - ha
as a % of cultivated area   - %
Flood-protected area   - ha
Area salinized by irrigation   - ha

Average annual water resources are globally estimated at around 116 km of which about 80 km originates within Zambia. Groundwater resources are estimated to be about 47 km/year. There are extensive limestone aquifers covering an area of 25 000 km extending from Lusaka to the northwest.

The total dam capacity is approximately 200 km of which major dams (including Kariba) account for 188 km An inventory of the country's dams is currently being compiled by the Water Resources Board. The country's energy requirements are mainly provided by hydropower (Kariba and Kafue), from a total installed capacity of 1 643.5 MW and annual generation of 10 500 GWh.

Total water withdrawal is about 1.7 km (1994) (Figure 1).


The irrigation potential, based on water and soil resources, has been estimated to be 1.4 million ha. Of this, 520 000 ha, including existing dambo and irrigated areas, could be economically developed in the future.

The Total water managed area is about 146 400 ha (Figure 2).

At present some 46 400 ha are equipped for full or partial control irrigation. A total of 61 900 ha of crops are grown annually in these schemes. of which only 46 400 ha are irrigated (Figure 3). Two crops are grown each year on 15 500 ha. In winter, wheat (14 500 ha) and barley (1 000 ha) are irrigated; in summer, rainfed soybean (12 500 ha) and cotton (3 000 ha) are cultivated on these areas. All irrigation is from surface water, either from weirs, pumping from rivers, or from dams, except for some 2 500 ha, which are reported to be irrigated from groundwater (Figure 4). Surface irrigation (furrow and basin) is practiced on 28 400 ha; there are 17 200 ha under sprinkler and centre pivot; and 800 ha with drip (Figure 5). Some 259 ha under surface irrigation need rehabilitation. There are no standard criteria for defining irrigation farming in Zambia, but three main categories are used in the full or partial control irrigation subsector (Figure 6):

FIGURE 1: Water withdrawal (total: 1.71 km' in 1994)

FIGURE 2: Distribution of the water managed areas (1992)

FIGURE 3: Irrigated crops, full or partial control (1991)

About 100 000 ha are under so-called traditional irrigation. These wetlands and dambos in traditional areas of land tenure have been used for rice, fruit and vegetable production for several generations without government intervention.

The estimated capital cost of small-scale sprinkler irrigation development is $US 4 000/ha. Annual maintenance is about $US 320/ha.

FIGURE 4: Irrigation water sources (1992)

FIGURE 5: Irrigation techniques, full or partial control (1992)

FIGURE 6: Irrigation management, full or partial control (1992)


The Irrigation and Land Husbandry Branch (ILHB) of the Department of Agriculture, in the Ministry of Agriculture Food and Fisheries, is responsible for irrigation planning and development. The Branch consists of four sections: Agricultural Engineering, Irrigation Engineering, Soil Conservation, and Land Use Planning. The ILHB was formed in 1988.

The Water Act controls the water resources of Zambia and is administered by the Water Development Board. The Board allocates water and grants water rights. The Act is at present unclear and there are many loopholes, which has lead to numerous disputes. Effectively, no water charges have been levied on any irrigation abstractions, although water right permits are required, but take many months to obtain. The Act is in the course of revision.

The Ministry of Lands (MOL) is responsible for land tenure and the issue of title deeds.


Apart from traditional wetland farming no significant irrigation development in Zambia occurred until Independence, in 1964, when a pilot scheme of 120 ha was established at Makambala.

Following droughts in 1982 and 1985, together with the decline in world copper prices, the Government placed more emphasis on agriculture. There was an upsurge in irrigation development, mainly in the commercial and semi-parastatal categories, and by the late 1980s about 35 000 ha were under irrigation, and 46 400 ha by 1991.

The main constraints facing irrigated agriculture have hinged upon the lack of appropriate policies and strategies. Furthermore, the Government has not provided sufficient resources for the enhancement of the irrigation subsector. In the 1994 'Agricultural Sector Investment Programme' one of the five main objectives is to "ensure national food security through dependable annual production of adequate supplies of basic food stuffs." (Policy Frame Working Paper, 1993). This objective poses a serious challenge to the irrigation subsector. Irrigated agriculture - for which land and water resources potential are substantial - offers a viable option for increasing crop production and reducing dependency upon rainfall, and thereby achieving national objectives.

The specific objectives for the irrigation subsector in the investment programme are:

Strategies will be directed at eliminating constraints that have hindered development of irrigation in the past. Specific strategies are to:

Approximately 90% of Zambia is traditional land under 'customary tenure,' and 10% is under leasehold tenure. The Ministry of Lands (MOL) holds that the basis for a farmer family to improve its lot and in turn build the nation's wealth is to have title to the rural land it works. MOL is encouraging the taking out of title deeds (leases) on customary land. This will particularly assist the promotion of smallholder irrigation schemes.

This new process of distribution of leases has been carried out mainly in consultation with traditional authorities, but the Commissioner of Lands has ultimate authority to overrule them. By the end of 1991, some 60 000 title deeds to customary land had been issued, and the target was to increase the number to 1 million by 1995/96.


JICA [Japan International Cooperation Agency]. 1992. Master Plan Study on Hydrology Observation Systems of Major River Basins in Zambia. Final Report.

JICA. 1994. The Study on the National Water Resources Master Plan in the Republic of Zambia. Progress Report No. 2 prepared by Yachingo Engineering Co. Ltd.

Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries. 1994. Agricultural Sector Investment Programme. Irrigation Sub-Programme. Prepared by Akayombokwa, I.M., Chibinga, P., Moono, D., & Choseni, P.

Ministry of Agriculture Food and Fisheries. 1993. Irrigation Water Master Plan for State Land and New Proposed Farm Blocks. Technical Proposal. Report prepared by DHV Consultants.

Ministry of Agriculture. Irrigation and Land Husbandry Branch. 1990. Two Decades of Irrigation for Higher Productivity. Proceedings of the International Seminar on Policies for Irrigation Development in Zambia. 2 vols. Government Service for Land and Water Use. The Netherlands.

SADCC [Southern African Development Coordination Conference]. 1992. Regional Irrigation Development Strategy. Country Report: Zambia. Harare.

SARDC Southern African Environmental Issues. Water N 2.

World Bank/Kingdom of the Netherlands. 1989. Study on Options and Investment Priorities in Irrigation Development. Report prepared by Euroconsult/Delft Hydraulics Laboratory/Royal Tropical Institute.

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