Viewpoint -€“ Water variability, soil nutrient heterogeneity and market volatility -€“ Why sub-Saharan Africa'€™s Green Revolution will be location-specific and knowledge-intensive

Pieter van der Zaag
UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education, Delft; and Water Resources Section, Delft University of Technology, Delft, the Netherlands; p.vanderzaag@unesco-ihe.org

ABSTRACT: In his interesting Viewpoint article in Water Alternatives, Bruce Lankford suggests that an African Green Revolution cannot come about without irrigation. But he does not convincingly explain why irrigated areas expand only very slowly. This viewpoint article argues that grain yields have remained stagnant in Africa because of high temporal rainfall variability, significant spatial soil nutrient heterogeneity, and weak and volatile markets. This combination calls for location-specific interventions that are aimed at enhancing farmers'€™ capacity to buffer water variations and address nutrient deficits. This finding is consistent with what Lankford dismisses as an "atomised" approach, but which would preferably be called a farmer-centred approach. Thus a massive investment in African agriculture is indeed required, primarily focused on the creation of knowledge that does justice to the local variation in water and nutrient availability. It should aim to empower farmers to experiment and be innovative, and remake agricultural extension and agricultural engineering exciting with cutting-edge disciplines. Irrigation may then emerge as the right thing to do.