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Water demand to increase by 28% by 2050

By Bongiwe Zwane-Maseko

The demand for water in Eswatini is expected to increase by 28 per cent by 2050. This is likely to be further exacerbated by climate change, in that variable climate, unreliable rainfall patterns, and extreme weather events all contribute to water scarcity and stress.

This is according to the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) Country Strategic Opportunities Programme (COSOP) 2022-2027. IFAD supports the Government’s goal of strengthening agricultural productivity and eradicating rural poverty.

The programme outlines that Eswatini’s administrative capital Mbabane has already experienced severe water shortages in recent years due to the El Nino phenomenon.

“The Shiselweni and Lubombo regions have also experienced prolonged drought conditions and it is projected that the streamflow of rivers will decrease by 40 per cent by 2050, negatively impacting groundwater reserves, particularly in the Lowveld. Investments in water harvesting and water treatment at the household level, smallholder irrigation, the rehabilitation of dams and water sources, and the promotion of integrated catchment management will assist in mitigating water scarcity in rural areas,” the Programme document states.

It further highlights that the forestry sector plays a critical role in Eswatini’s economy (primarily through the export of timber) and employs a large section of the population. It states that forests play a significant role in sustaining ecosystems and providing medicinal, cultural, and spiritual benefits to local communities.

“Eswatini has eight types of forests including montane and highland acacia woodlands, indigenous bushveld, mixed woodlands, and plantation forests. In the years between 2000 and 2020, the country lost 22 per cent of its forest cover which is the equivalent of 49.0Mt of carbon dioxide. Forest degradation in Eswatini is caused by such factors as deforestation resulting from the expansion of agricultural land, particularly for sugarcane production, wildfires, or the harvesting of fuelwood. Interventions such as afforestation, agroforestry, renewable energy alternatives, and sustainable land management practices can help conserve forest resources,” reads the document.

IFAD recommends that there should be a special focus on the importance of domestic agriculture, noting that disruptions in food supply chains and loss of income due to the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated the importance of household gardens in providing access to fresh, diverse, and nutritious foods, such as vegetables, legumes, and fruit, in the face of shocks.

“There is also a need to reduce high food losses. Improved food production will not be sufficient to improve household income and food security without a commensurate reduction in post-harvest losses. The scaling up and sustainability of nutrition interventions requires strengthening the country’s capacity to promote better access to more nutritious food, to increase awareness and knowledge of the important health outcomes of nutritious food, and to effectively monitor the nutrition outcomes of projects and programmes,” the document reads.

It further states that investment in such activities as irrigation, water harvesting, crop diversification, climate and weather information, biodiversity conservation, land rehabilitation, agroforestry, early warning systems, drought tolerant species, climate-resilient infrastructure, renewable energy and climate-smart agricultural practices, have proven critical in reducing farmers’ vulnerability to climate shocks and in enhancing their food security and livelihoods.

“There is a need for innovation in the use of technology. The application of earth observation tools such as remote sensing and GIS has proven useful in mapping natural resources, monitoring land use practices, land use planning, and in the determination of environmental degradation hotspots. To make optimal use of the tools, more investments in capacity building are required at the project level as well within government agencies.”

The expected overall objective of the COSOP is to propel growth in agricultural production and productivity to improve food security, create wealth, reduce rural poverty, and contribute to the GDP without undermining the environment and natural resource base while improving the resilience of smallholder farmers.

“Programmes and projects under the 2022-27 COSOP will contribute towards gender equality and women´s empowerment, youth empowerment, the integration of vulnerable groups such as PWDs and PLHIV; improve nutrition especially among women, children, elderly, and vulnerable groups; improve nutrition monitoring and evaluation systems, nutrition education and campaigns, facilitate access to weather and climate information and support climate-informed production decisions.

They will also contribute to good agricultural practices (GAP) and landscape rehabilitation, promote waste management and valorisation, reduce post-harvest losses, strategically support the development of value addition while promoting environmental hygiene, promote decent work and workplace safety, support agricultural extension and advisory services, community action planning processes and improve climate-resilient marketing ecosystems,” the Programme document states.

It adds that projects under this COSOP, IFAD will aim to increase the capacity of institutions that are engaged in the implementation of rural development activities at the level of local communities. This will include government departments and implementing agencies such as the CFI, ESWADE, National Nutrition Council, and chiefdom development committees, amongst others.

“IFAD investments in Eswatini can contribute to the country’s ambition to become land degradation neutral by 2030. Agricultural production and productivity in Eswatini are limited by land degradation, which manifests through soil erosion, declining soil fertility, deforestation etc. IFAD’s investments in sustainable land management (SLM) practices such as soil and water conservation measures, agroforestry, afforestation, conservation agriculture and integrated soil fertility management through the SMLP/CSARL and FINCLUDE projects contribute to increased agricultural productivity, food security and better livelihoods for smallholders. Future investments should continue to support the country’s land degradation neutrality targets through investments in SLM measures to increase productivity, food security, GHGs, and increasing soil carbon stocks.”

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