Ethiopia's economy thriving under investments in irrigation

Ethiopia's economy thriving under investments in irrigation

Ethiopia has emerged as an engine of development in Africa after rapid economic growth averaging 10 percent annually between 2004 and 2014 and there are no signs that further growth ambitions are disappearing. The government's plan to achieve a middle-income status-or gross national income of at least US$ 1006 per capita by 2025 proves this. 

According to the World Bank, this would result in a rapid increase in per capita income in Ethiopia, which is currently US$ 783. Ethiopia’s growth has been propelled by at least two factors: Prioritizing agriculture as a key contributor to development and the rapid adoption of new technologies to boost the sector. 

A third of Ethiopia's GDP is produced by agriculture, and more than 12 million households depend on small-scale agriculture for their livelihoods. 

The expansion of irrigation has been one of the driving factors of growth in the agricultural sector. The country the fastest irrigation growth compared to any other African country. The irrigated area increased by nearly 52% between 2002 and 2014. 

This has been achieved by investing in the sector and using technology to expand irrigation to farmers who have traditionally relied on rainfall to water their crops. This increased productivity and income for farmers have helped them to extend the growing season and make their production more consistent. Meanwhile, only 6 percent of the arable land in Africa is currently irrigated.  This means there is an enormous potential for expanding irrigation and unlocking economic growth.

A new Malabo Montpellier Panel report highlights these factors. The panel brings together agricultural, ecological, nutritional and food security experts to guide African governments ' policy choices. The aim is to help the continent accelerate food security progress and improve nutrition. The latest report by the panel analyzes progress in irrigation in six countries and highlights best practices. Kenya, Mali, Morocco, Niger and South Africa are among those countries. Other African countries can learn from the insights of the report. 

In countries where significant progress has been made in expanding irrigation, including key policy and institutional innovations, the report identified a number of common factors. One of the main reasons for its success in the case of Ethiopia is that agriculture and irrigation have been on Ethiopia's policy agenda since 1991. Specialized institutions have also been established with clear commitments to maximize the benefits of water control and irrigation systems.

The investment is expected to yield a number of profits. These include more efficient use of fertilizers, reducing seasonal productivity variability and improving yields from irrigated crops.

Another important area of development was data collection. This is an invaluable asset that allows resources such as water to be carefully monitored and managed, especially in drought times. In 2013, Ethiopia's Agricultural Transformation Agency began mapping more than 32,400 square kilometers in order to identify water resources, especially low groundwater, with the potential for irrigation. In 89 districts, the final results of this mapping revealed almost 3 billion cubic meters of water at a depth of fewer than 30 meters. This could allow irrigation to bring about 100,000 hectares of land to 376,000 families. 

Ethiopia has finally exploited the value of a wide range of irrigation technologies. These ranged from small-scale to large infrastructure interventions. For example, a joint project between the Ethiopian Agriculture Bureau, local extension officers and a non-governmental organization called Farm Africa helped women and young people adopt small-scale irrigation. This was part of an initiative to increase income and improve nutrition. Overall, almost 6,400 women and landless people reached the project. 700 farming families also benefited from the irrigation project.

Ethiopia's experience and other irrigation countries can help other African governments develop country-specific strategies to effectively scale up irrigation. The expansion of irrigated agriculture, coupled with reliable agricultural inputs and stable markets for the expected growth of agricultural products, has the potential to bring Ethiopia to the forefront of African countries, which have embraced agriculture as the driving force of economic growth.