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Access to land and water critical for smallholder farmers

Farmers prepare the soil for new planting season in Swaziland. Many rural women around the world do not have the tenure rights to the land or access to the governance systems where decisions are made. ©IFAD

12, November 2015 – A few years ago environmental specialist Ray Gama began working with small farmers in Swaziland's Lubombo region, an area known for flat-topped mountains and vast fields of sugar estates.

It was in the village of Siphofaneni that Gama found a community besieged by drought and struggling to get anything to grow.

"Farmers were being hard hit by drought which resulted in crop failure on an almost annual basis. The rains were erratic, and crops would die off before maturity," says Gama, the Environment Manager for theLower Usuthu Smallholder Irrigation Project (LUSIP-GEF).

The IFAD-supported initiative, with funds from the Global Environment Facility (GEF), aims to reduce land degradation, preserve biodiversity and mitigate the impact of climate change through the application of sustainable land management practices.

"Because there was little rainfall, there were very little returns," he explains. "People were dependent on international organizations and NGOs for food donations to help meet the food shortage."

This week Gama was in Rome to share his lessons learnt at Land & Water Days, a three-day event jointly organized by IFAD, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP).

From 10 to 12 November, a variety of experts, practitioners and other  stakeholders discussed land and water policies, governance, investments, and adoption of management practices linked to food security and resilience to climate change.

"The only resource rural people have is land. So we are improving their ability to support themselves by bringing in water. The two are linked," says Gama.

Gama explains that, for farmers living in Lubombo region, water scarcity is a daily challenge. It is common for people to walk long distances to fetch drinking water, and in some instances to share water sources with livestock.

Through the LUSIP-GEF project, IFAD provided the support to build a dam and a system of canals to feed the dam and distribute the water to the farmers.

"The results were very clear. Farmers who did not have access to irrigation or water, their crops would simply fail. But just next door, where there is irrigation, you have very good crop yields," says Gama.

"So we have found that irrigation is an opportunity that small farmers should have to adapt better to water scarcity and climate change."
 

 

IFAD facilitated an interactive panel session at Land & Water Days which looked at local solutions to linking land and water governance and how these can be sustained through national and local policies and institutions.

Climate change impacts most vulnerable

Land and water are fundamental to the livelihoods of poor rural people. They are a source of food, shelter, income and social identity. Secure access to land and water reduces vulnerability to hunger and poverty.

But for many of the world's poor rural people in developing countries, access is becoming more tenuous than ever.

Around 70 per cent of IFAD-supported projects are located in ecologically fragile, marginal environments, and many include actions on improved land and water governance and management.

Experts believe that the situation for the world's poor will get even worse, with climate change devastating the livelihoods of smallholder farmers who are most affected by greater risks, from rising sea levels to more frequent storms, floods and droughts.

"Climate change has a huge impact on land and water. It is where you can see some of the first impacts on the livelihood of people," says Rikke Olivera, IFAD's Senior Technical Specialist on Natural Resources Management.

"Rainfall patterns are changing. They are becoming more variable, often with more rain concentrated in shorter periods every year causing floods and dry spells," says Olivera.

"This makes how you manage land and water resources extremely important, because if you are living in already stressed ecosystems, they are less resilient to these changes coming from climate change."

Olivera facilitated an interactive panel session at Land & Water Days which looked at local solutions to linking land and water governance and how these can be sustained through national and local policies and institutions.

Three IFAD-supported projects, together with a representative of the International Land Coalition, presented and exchanged on their complementary experiences including the Pastoral Water and Resource Management Project in Sahelian Areas (PROHYPA) in Chadthe Poverty Reduction Project in Aftout South and Karakoro – Phase II (PASK II) in Mauritania; and the Lower Usuthu Smallholder Irrigation Project (LUSIP-GEF) in Swaziland.

"If you look at food security, rural women are producing most of the food. In most cultures and livelihood setups they are also responsible for collecting the water," says Olivera.

"So for them, land and water are extremely important to be able to feed their families. However, they often don't have tenure rights to the land or access to the governance systems where decisions are made," she continues.

"We also have this increasingly young population in Africa and also in other regions of the world. We know that one of the main issues they are struggling with is how to access land and water," she explains.

Olivera says that this is what makes events like Land & Water Days – an opportunity to link land and water governance for more sustainable and inclusive development – so important.

"IFAD has had a number of successful projects and interventions supporting rural people's access to land and water at local level," says Olivera.

"With an event like this, we are looking at how we can get from locally viable solutions to something that can be implemented on a wider scale."