Rainwater harvesting and management in rainfed agricultural systems in sub-Saharan Africa - A review

B.B. Temesgen, G. Sterk, M. Temesgen, A. Abdulkadir, L. Stroosnijder

Research output: Contribution to journalAbstractAcademic

114 Citations (Scopus)


Agricultural water scarcity in the predominantly rainfed agricultural system of sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) is more related to the variability of rainfall and excessive non-productive losses, than the total annual precipitation in the growing season. Less than 15% of the terrestrial precipitation takes the form of productive ‘green’ transpiration. Hence, rainwater harvesting and management (RWHM) technologies hold a significant potential for improving rainwater-use efficiency and sustaining rainfed agriculture in the region. This paper outlines the various RWHM techniques being practiced in SSA, and reviews recent research results on the performance of selected practices. So far, micro-catchment and in-situ rainwater harvesting techniques are more common than rainwater irrigation techniques from macro-catchment systems. Depending on rainfall patterns and local soil characteristics, appropriate application of in-situ and micro-catchment techniques could improve the soil water content of the rooting zone by up to 30%. Up to sixfold crop yields have been obtained through combinations of rainwater harvesting and fertiliser use, as compared to traditional practices. Supplemental irrigation of rainfed agriculture through rainwater harvesting not only reduces the risk of total crop failure due to dry spells, but also substantially improves water and crop productivity. Depending on the type of crop and the seasonal rainfall pattern, the application of RWHM techniques makes net profits more possible, compared to the meagre profit or net loss of existing systems. Implementation of rainwater harvesting may allow cereal-based smallholder farmers to shift to diversified crops, hence improving household food security, dietary status, and economic return. The much needed green revolution and adaptations to climate change in SSA should blend rainwater harvesting ideals with agronomic principles. More efforts are needed to improve the indigenous practices, and to disseminate best practices on a wider scale
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)139-151
JournalPhysics and Chemistry of the Earth
Publication statusPublished - 2012

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