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Largest irrigation projects in Africa

Irrigation has the potential to boost agricultural productivity by at least 50 per cent in Africa as food production on the continent is almost entirely rain-fed. The area equipped for irrigation, currently slightly more than 13 million hectares, makes up just six per cent of the total cultivated area. Here are some of large irrigation projects that dot the continent in a bid to improve food security challenges, according to research by Moguldom

1. Gezira (Sudan)

Prior to the foreign occupation of Sudan, the term “ Jezira “ (Arabic for island or peninsula) meant to rural Sudanese, all the land between the White and Blue Niles. Subsequently, and for practical reasons, the term was confined to the 2.1 million hectares described by a triangle: its apex at the confluence of the two rivers and base at the Sennar-Kosti railway line.

In the hot dry summer the parched surface develops wide deep cracks which seal in the wet months and retain pools of water from the tropical storms of July to September. The Gezira Scheme covers 0.88 million hectares.

2. Office du Niger (Mali)

The Office du Niger is a semi-autonomous government agency in Mali that administers a large irrigation scheme in the Ségou Region of the country. Water from the Niger River is diverted into a system of canals at the Markala dam 35 kilometres downstream of Ségou.

The water is used to irrigate nearly 100,000 hectares of the flat alluvial plains to the north and northeast of Markala that form part of the Delta mort. Around 320,000 tonnes are grown each year representing 40 per cent of the total Malian production. Large quantities of sugar cane are also grown in joint ventures between a Chinese company and the Malian state.

3. Vaalharts (South Africa)

It is in the Northern Cape Province, South Africa. It was started in 1934 and hosts 1,040 farmers. The irrigation scheme got its name from the Harts and Vaal Rivers and covers 369.50 square kilometres in the Northern Cape Province of South Africa. Water from a diversion weir in the Vaal River, near Warrenton, flows through a 1,176km long network of canals. This system provides irrigation water to a total of 39,820 hectares.

4. Chokwe (Mozambique)

This scheme is located in Limpopo Valley, Chokwe District, and draws water from the Massingir Dam. It covers an area of 33, 000 hectares with the main crop grown there being rice. In early 2000, the scheme was hit by floods from the Limpopo Valley. It has struggled to recover since then. Insufficient supply of irrigation water and costly labour hinder the scheme from achieving its fullest potential.

5. Mwea Scheme (Kenya)

It is found in Kirinyaga County, Kenya. It was started in 1956, as a holding ground for former Mau Mau detainees who fought against the British colonialists. It covers 7,952 hectares and gets water from the Nyamindi and Thiba Rivers. The main crop grown there is rice which accounts for more than 60 per cent of Kenya’s output.

The scheme is currently run under the participatory irrigation management approach with National Irrigation Board being responsible for the primary and secondary infrastructure while the farmers are responsible for the tertiary infrastructure.

6. Etunda (Namibia)

It is located in Omusati region, Namibia. It is the biggest irrigation scheme in the country, covering 1,064 hectares. It was started in 1993 with maize being the main crop grown. Other crops grown here are wheat, cabbages, melons and onions.

The farm is about 600 hectares, which is split in half for both commercial and small-scale farming. Maize is the main crop on the commercial plot (300hectares), whereas wheat, potatoes, cabbage, onion, melons and bananas are cultivated seasonally throughout the year by small scale farmers. The scheme has about 82 small-scale farmers.

7. Middle Orange Irrigation Area (South Africa)

The Middle Orange Irrigation Area comprises riparian irrigators from Hopetown to Boegoeberg Dam. The area irrigated from Marksdrift to Boegoeberg Weir is about 15,434 hectares. Irrigators abstract water directly from the Orange River individually and are supported with releases from Vanderkloof Dam.

Orange River water is diverted from the Great Fish River by a weir at Elandsdrift into an aqueduct which winds about 65 km along steep slopes and cuts through the Bosberg chain between Cookhouse and Somerset East. The main feature of this aqueduct is the 13,1 km Cookhouse Tunnel through the Bosberg, which was completed in 1978.

8. Toshka Project (Egypt)

It consists of an enormous pump station and canals that convey approximately 5.5 billion cubic metres water from lake Nasser deeper into the desert in order to open a half million hectares for agricultural purposes. This project will dramatically change Egypt’s geographical and economic map and will result in creating many job opportunities and industrial development for the Egyptians.

9. Kano (Nigeria)

Kano River Project is a large-scale agricultural project with focus on irrigation. This major irrigation scheme is planned to cover 66,000 hectares. The project is dependent on Tiga Dam, Bagauda Dam, and Challawa Dam and the floodplains around them.

This project has changed the economic conditions of many local people who are actively engaged in irrigation activities. Various cash crops are produced under the scheme iincluding tomato, pepper, rice, wheat, corn and okro.

10. Koga (Ethiopia)

The irrigation potential of Ethiopia has been assessed through master plan studies, and is estimated to be 3.5 million hectares. The Amhara Region has potential for small, medium and large-scale irrigation.

These are estimated at 250,000 hectares for small-scale irrigation, and 450,000 hectares for medium and large-scale irrigation. Koga river generates 72 per cent of the water during the main rainy season of July-September, leaving very little dry season flow to support irrigation.

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