Does the Limpopo River Basin have sufficient water for massive irrigation development in the plains of Mozambique?

P. van der Zaag, D. Juizo, A. Vilanculos, J.A. Bolding, N.C. Post Uiterweer

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This paper verifies whether the water resources of the transboundary Limpopo River Basin are sufficient for the planned massive irrigation developments in the Mozambique part of this basin, namely 73,000 ha, in addition to existing irrigation (estimated at 9400 ha), and natural growth of common use irrigation (4000 ha). This development includes the expansion of sugar cane production for the production of ethanol as a biofuel. Total additional water requirements may amount to 1.3 × 109 m3/a or more. A simple river basin simulation model was constructed in order to assess different irrigation development scenarios, and at two storage capacities of the existing Massingir dam. Many uncertainties surround current and future water availability in the Lower Limpopo River Basin. Discharge measurements are incomplete and sometimes inconsistent, while upstream developments during the last 25 years have been dramatic and future trends are unknown. In Mozambique it is not precisely known how much water is currently consumed, especially by the many small-scale users of surface and shallow alluvial groundwater. Future impacts of climate change increase existing uncertainties. Model simulations indicate that the Limpopo River does not carry sufficient water for all planned irrigation. A maximum of approx. 58,000 ha of irrigated agriculture can be sustained in the Mozambican part of the basin. This figure assumes that Massingir will be operated at increased reservoir capacity, and implies that only about 44,000 ha of new irrigation can be developed, which is 60% of the envisaged developments. Any additional water use would certainly impact downstream users and thus create tensions. Some time will elapse before 44,000 ha of new irrigated land will have been developed. This time could be used to improve monitoring networks to decrease current uncertainties. Meanwhile the four riparian Limpopo States are preparing a joint river basin study. In this study a methodology could be developed to estimate and safeguard water availability for those users who under the law do not need registration – but who do need water
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)832-837
JournalPhysics and Chemistry of the Earth
Issue number13-14
Publication statusPublished - 2010


  • southern africa
  • management
  • nile


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