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The paper argues that, to ensure the contribution of irrigation to African agricultural transformation, several challenges need to be taken into consideration: Climatic uncertainties and change; water and land resources scarcity, soil fertility and the sustainability in use; cultural, socio-economic factors; technical skills, institutional capacities, irrigation backed by value chain activities, market accessibility and services; Capacities of countries to undertake heavy investments in the irrigation sector.
The paper examines the current situation and future developments of the irrigation sector in Africa and the trends according to agro-ecological typology and according to the main factors and issues: Increase of imbalance between food production and demand. Water supply scarcity and strategy: It categorizes water scarcity into three dimensions: scarcity of water quantity and quality, scarcity of water infrastructures and scarcity of services and capacities. Since transboundary water resources require agreements at different levels, water supply plans from inland water resources could be strengthened for irrigation development.
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Geographical water transfer temporal and spatial needs to be studied. Competition for water accessibility between economic sectors will increase in a context of water scarcity. It is obvious that because agriculture is still the main employer in Africa and the development of irrigation oriented to markets and services is a promising option to sustain employment and to stop rural-to-urban migration, the competition between irrigation and other water uses will take into account social and economic effects and require massive investments in the irrigation sector. Total water allocation for irrigation may continue to increase, but production needs will increase faster.
For irrigation, this means water allocation per unit per ha will decrease, so water use efficiency will have to increase. Small farm size will call for special strategies oriented to small farmers. Organization and capacity building of users will be required for efficient operation and maintenance. In terms of policy, a Master Plan for Irrigation is required at national and basin levels.
In Africa, more than 78 percent of irrigation land is irrigated from surface water, against almost 20 percent of water from groundwater. Developing ground water knowledge and its use in conjunction with surface water will be required to address droughts. Extension, capacity building of smallholders and their access to investment in farm-level irrigation despite land tenure constraints , and support for access to irrigation technological packages at farm level will be needed to address the low development and preparation of land for irrigation.