Press Release 97/13

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Press Release 97/13


ROME, April 15 -- Irrigated agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa could be expanded through the use of low-cost water pumps and other irrigation equipment from Asia, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Removal of trade barriers or joint ventures between Asian and African manufacturers could help African farmers to produce more food in countries suffering from chronic malnutrition, FAO said in a study prepared for a sub-regional workshop on irrigation in Harare (14-17 April). The seminar brings together government officials, irrigation equipment manufacturers, farmers and non-governmental organizations from Asia and Africa.

According to FAO, the proportion of irrigated land compared to total arable land in sub-Saharan-Africa is 4 percent, while it is 24 percent in Northern Africa, 37 percent in Asia and 15 percent in Latin America. Total irrigated land on the African continent is estimated at 12.2 million ha. Six African countries (Egypt, Madagascar, Morocco, Nigeria, South Africa and Sudan) account for nearly 75 percent of the total irrigated land in Africa.

"One of the major reasons for the low rate of irrigation in Africa is the fact that irrigation equipment is just too expensive for local farmers and not adapted to local conditions," said Arumugam Kandiah of FAO's Water Service. "Furthermore, equipment components are not matching and spare parts are difficult to obtain."

A series of FAO missions to Malawi, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe found that locally manufactured and imported water pumps are three to ten times more expensive than in Asia. The same applies to sprinkler irrigation equipment, pipes and construction costs of small water control structures.

Most irrigation equipment in Africa is imported from Europe, Israel, United States and South Africa. In Kenya and Zimbabwe, some equipment is manufactured locally; however, they are still expensive, probably because of the lack of competition, the small size of the market and adverse tax and tariff structure.

Many African countries realize the importance of water control in food production, Kandiah said. "These countries believe that a major part of new irrigation should be small-scale to reduce the management problems of large scale irrigation, to make better use of local water resources and to meet the needs of farmers and rural households. Irrigation technology could be transferred from countries like India and China to Africa, for example treadle pumps as well as simplified drip irrigation equipment can be easily manufactured locally and sold at affordable prices.

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