Irrigated and integrated production systems help Mozambique adapt to climate change

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A shorter version of this lesson has been featured on the booklet produced by the MDG-F Environment and Climate Change window "Seeds of Knowledge - Contributing to Climate Change Solutions". - Read more about the booklet or download it in English / Spanish / French / Arabic.

Contents

Summary

In arid and semi-arid areas with insufficient and irregular rainfall, the best possible use should be made of existing water resources. Pumping water from the Limpopo River, the JP has assisted 3 communities to set up production units which combine crop growing with fish and livestock production. Essentially these should be “closed systems” which require virtually no external inputs. The wastes from crop growing areas are used to feed the fish and other animals and the manure from the animals is returned to the fields.

Although this is a pilot experience in semi-arid areas of Mozambique, it has created widespread interest and has great potential for replication where sufficient water to fill out the tanks exists, even from small rivers or lagoons. One should keep in mind that those tanks need restocking every other week due to evapotranspiration, seepage, etc. This type of system makes a significant contribution to family diets and incomes and is a viable adaptive measure to climate change in dry areas. But, as it not a traditional practice, the challenge for the future is to demonstrate the benefits and ensure sustainability, particularly when using pumping systems instead of gravitational systems to stock the ponds.

This experience has shown that where adequate water (such as a perennial river) exists in arid or semi-arid areas, the potential for producing food through the judicious use of this water is very high. Intensive, integrated crop and livestock production in these areas can significantly improve food security at the district level, increase household incomes and assist rural communities adapt to the negative effects of climate change.

Purpose of the activity

The purpose of this activity was to help farmers adapt to climate change and improve their diets by producing food or cash crops, including animals and fish, in semi-arid areas where there is available small bodies of water.

Original issue addressed by the activity

The initial situation before the JP started was one of virtual stagnation in irrigated food production, despite the existence of some perennial water sources. Agriculture was largely rain fed. A small number of individuals owned water pumps which they used to produce irrigated crops but on a small scale. There was a high degree of food insecurity in the area and farmers had turned to the forest for food and income. Forest resources were being greatly over-exploited.


The issue that was the basis for development and implementation was the high vulnerability of the population to the effects of climate change, notably increasing droughts. The population was hungry, and had virtually no other sources of income except the sale of charcoal and bush poles.

Strategy chosen to address the issue

The strategy chosen was to work through the agricultural department of the Chicualacuala District Government to promote an expansion of irrigated production in areas close to the Limpopo river. Resident communities were requested to unite in farmer associations (one of which already existed) to make the targeting of assistance from the JP easier and more effective. JP staff worked side by side with government extension staff and community members to implement production activities

Implementation of the strategy

The JP is currently working in three communities that live close to the Limpopo River and one community 20 kms from the river. Work initially began in one community and then progressed steadily to the others. At each site numerous meetings took place between JP/Govt staff and the respective community members to discuss ways to improve food security and climate change adaptation. Irrigated production was identified as the most logical activity given the proximity to the river in three of the sites. (The fourth site has a small lake and a borehole with solar pump provided by the JP).

At the community level, the beneficiaries were involved in planning and executing the activities carried out by the JP. These include water harvesting, agriculture, irrigation, livestock production, integrated fish farming, pig-keeping, forestry management and the creation of natural resource management committees. Women are fully involved in these activities. In some activities such as agriculture, fish farming and pig-keeping, women form the majority. Ages are within the range of those considered economically active, from late teens to about 65 years old.

In each community, interested families signed up to join the farmer associations. The areas being cultivated had to be fenced to prevent the intrusion of farm animals. The JP provided barbed wire and the community provided the posts and the labour. Each association now has a fenced, communal field within which each member has his/her individual plot. There are no communal plots within these fields. The JP provided (gratis) the initial supply of seeds and agricultural chemicals to help the farmers get started. Irrigation pumps and tube were also supplied free of cost. As part of the exit strategy, free distribution has stopped one year before the end of the JP and farmers have to buy or arrange seeds and other inputs for themselves including maintenance and repair of the pumps and tubes.

Challenges and Innovations

Challenges have included internal disputes between certain influential members of two of the associations which have had a negative impact on the production activities and management of the fields. The JP responded by providing training in farmer associations and how they should work effectively.

A further challenge was (and still is) marketing of the crops, particularly vegetables which are the main winter crop. Overproduction in 2009, coupled with poor market access resulted in the spoilage of tons of produce. Between 2009 and 2011 more than 400 tons of vegetables crops were produced in these 3 communities.

The JP responded to overproduction of agriculture products by training farmers in agro-processing, especially drying and storage of excess produce. Another response included the supply of a tractor and agricultural implements to increase the cultivated area and facilitate marketing of products. A more far-reaching innovation from the JP was the introduction, within the fenced crop growing areas of integrated fish farming. Fish tanks were dug and stocked with tilapia. On the banks of the fish tanks pig sties, duck pens and rabbit cages were built. The idea is to create an integrated production system based around crop growing activities, from which the waste products or spoiled produce is used to feed the fish and other animals. Manure from the animals and the fertilized water from the fish ponds at (fish) harvest time are returned to the fields. The main beneficiaries from the livestock activities are women members of the associations who make up more than 50% of total members.

The production of integrated fish farming constitutes also a challenge, as market issues were not fully taken into account which resulted in some communities dropping the fish production activity and keeping only the agro-forestry and other livestock activities (pig, cow and goat keeping). The main challenge is the definition of objectives from the beginning, as the JP and government looked at this activity mostly from the subsistence point of view and not commercial fish culture.

Through the JP experience, it has also been proven once again that the use of water pumping instead of gravitational systems to stock the ponds is not sustainable for poor communities.

Results and Impacts

Agricultural production in the fenced areas worked by the association members (about 200 families in total) has increased many times over. This has increased incomes, improved diets and, very importantly reduced pressure on forest resources. Where farmers’ main income source was cutting trees and selling charcoal, now they have the option of producing food on a year round basis. Harvest of fish from the ponds took place several times basically for food consumption, and there is one community that still keeps one pond with fry and juveniles to guarantee future stocks and grow-out for consumption. While the communities and JP realized the potential for selling the fry and juveniles to other projects or villages, unfortunately no further market studies were carried out.

Members of the 3 farmer associations (more than 50% are women) have significantly increased their incomes through the production and sale of vegetables and other crops as well as animals produced with JP support. With new sources of income, some of them started improving house roofing, sending children to the boarding school in the main villages, and having the sense of community and social gathering which before was almost inexistent due to the pastoralist culture associated with the work of men in the South Africa mines.

The use of manure and mulching as well as small irrigation schemes which were not traditional practices in the area became usual for many farmers. The adherence to these production practices has increased with entry of new association members every year.

Next Steps

Corrective actions include those already mentioned above namely:

  • Training in agro-processing and the establishment of integrated fish farming to ensure that waste is reduced to a minimum and that wastes are recycled within an integrated production system.
  • To increase access to markets and transport of produce, the JP has a provided a tractor and trailer which is jointly owned by three communities and is uses for land cultivation and transport of products to the railway line 18 kms away.
  • Training in farmer associations to try to resolve internal (social) problems between some of the members in two of the associations

Potential replication / application

This initiative serves as an example of what is possible, nationally, where water exists. Mozambique is blessed with numerous perennial rivers but use of the water for agricultural production is very limited. There is tremendous potential (for relatively little cost) to increase food production and productivity, improve food security, household nutrition and increase adaptive ability to climate change through the development of irrigated, integrated production systems close to rivers. Neighbouring countries that share the same river, notably South Africa and Zimbabwe, understand very well the value of these water courses for food production.

Water is central and critical to climate change adaptation in Chicualacuala and similar areas. The current and future water resources, from all sources, must be scientifically assessed and used sustainability in order to adapt to climate change and support long-term development. Future project formulation and site selection should also assess the water availability potential, as it will significantly influence adaptive capacity to climate change.

Integrated fish farming with other livestock and agro-forestry products was not envisaged as an intervention by the project in the planning stage, and was developed based on local demands and requests, with mixed results particularly in the production of fish. However, such flexibility will be important in incorporating changes in climate change adaptation programmes, which will help build resilience.

Diversification of the livelihood basis using livestock and forest resources will play an important part in adapting to climate change in this district and other similar areas. Agro-fish farming will remain a very important area for further studies particularly for areas with market potential. It has significant potential for building resilience and developing crop-livestock synergies in a smallholder system operating under gravitational water systems from perennial water bodies, and where livestock are crucial resources in adaptation.

Furthermore, the development of value chains, particularly small enterprises, based on the resource endowment of the district, will be an important means to adapting to climate change.

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