Sustainable water management for food security

Droughts and extended dry spells have further exacerbated the precarious water supply situation in Ethiopia. In order to counteract the drying up of the Ziway-Shallal basin, Caritas is training the small farmers in efficient, ecological cultivation methods that both conserve natural resources and lead to higher crop yields.


Country / Region / Place

Target group
7840 direct and over 2m indirect beneficiaries

Funding requirement
1'387'013 Swiss Francs

Project duration
01.07.2019 to 31.08.2023

Project number

Project objective
Food security is improved by promoting sustainable water usage and cultivation systems in lake- and wetlands.


Background information

In both the Sahel Zone and the Horn of Africa, ensuring food security is a key challenge for poverty reduction and development throughout the region. The peoples in the Sahel Zone and the Horn of Africa are particularly hard affected by changing climatic conditions. The climate fluctuations, together with intensive and inefficient agricultural water usage, are leading to water shortages and endangering food security in the entire region. According to the UNHCR (2015), the nutritional situation for more than 20 million people is insecure.

In terms of population, Ethiopia, with its estimated 100 million inhabitants, is one of the largest African countries. Around 70% of the workforce earn a living in agriculture or animal husbandry. However, most of the rural population derived no benefit at all from the economic growth of recent years. Droughts and extensive dry spells have exacerbated the already tight water supply situation. The scarcity of water leads to strong pressure on the portions of arable land, and this prevents sustainable use of the affected ecosystems.

Numerous projects in recent years have focused on industrial irrigation systems to increase productivity for arable portions of land in arid areas. However, such systems are based on the premise of intact lake- and wetlands, but these have now become unreliable due to population growth and the unregulated use of existing resources.

The selected project regions were, two wetlands in Mali which were classified in accordance with the international Ramsar standard (for more information refer to subproject in Mali), and one area in Ethiopia. The project regions are comparable in terms of water availability, agricultural intensity, risk to ecosystems and the market situation, and display similar social dynamics. The livelihood of the local population is severely affected, both by the high pressure to use ever more natural resources, and the massive use of agrochemicals. Although the areas surrounding the lakes and wetlands do have potential for economic development, they are experiencing falling water levels and face the danger of drying up in the near future if they remain subjected to inappropriately managed, unsustainable usage.


What are we doing?

Through this project, Caritas Switzerland is promoting sustainable water usage and crop cultivation systems that are designed to increase agricultural productivity and enable long-term protection of an endangered ecosystem. The switchover to appropriately adopted cultivation methods will bring stability for local markets and strengthen the resilience of small farmers.

The project focuses on stabilizing and protecting the available water resources. It creates incentives for small farmers, private sector organizations and government agencies to adapt to more sustainable water usage for agriculture. Caritas Switzerland is promoting methods to make irrigation systems more efficient. These measures are intended to raise awareness that the livelihood of the local population can be maintained only with sustainably effective systems. These aim at ensuring that consumers of larger quantities of water, such as companies from the local agricultural industry, as well as the processing industry, shift to sustainable water usage techniques.

In order to maintain production potential and soil fertility, water-efficient, agro-ecological measures are supported; for example, planting drought-resistant crop varieties. The farmers are assisted in their task of organizing themselves in cooperatives, which help them to obtain better market conditions. In addition to making more efficient use of the precious water, local farmers can use this same approach to increase their crop yields and better meet their food needs. New techniques for the production, storage and preservation of their products will improve energy efficiency, reducing the pressure on the natural resource wood and thus the ecosystem. Another important aspect of the project is the technical support in the creation and implementation of the respective local development and water usage plan, which Caritas Switzerland provides jointly with various local partners.

In Ethiopia’s Ziway-Shalla basin, awareness-building is being provided to inform local interest groups about the consequences of the present water usage situation. In addition, workshops and training courses are organised, in which small farmers are introduced to water-efficient, agro-ecological and climate-friendly cultivation methods that contribute to higher crop yields and more sustainable use of natural resources. National and international market access shall be improved through certification and rain field cultivation.

At institutional level, modalities for water usage are developed. In cooperation with the local government authorities, plans for water management are then drawn up for the regulation of the water quantities drawn by the respective user groups. Based on this water usage metering data, the various users are then charged fixed tariffs per m3. The income thus derived can be used not only to finance the local authority activities but also to enforce long-term compliance with the developed rules and standards.


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