Using Rainwater for Off-Season Small-Scale Irrigation in Arid and Semi-arid Areas of Sub-Saharan Africa: Key Working Principles and Best Practices



The performance and cost-efficiency of off-season small-scale irrigation in arid and semi-arid areas of sub-Saharan Africa can be optimised by means of off-season rainwater harvesting irrigation management (RWHI), which is a subset of rainwater harvesting technologies and practices that allows concentrating and storing rainwater to be used for off-season small-scale irrigation of high-value crops in arid and semi-arid areas. A RWHI system has three main components, i.e. rainwater/runoff collection catchment, rainwater/runoff storage facility, and a low-cost irrigation system that applies water to the crop area during dry periods. Best practices for RWHI management at household level are upgraded on-farm ponds and/or low-cost roof catchments connected to manual pumping systems and low-cost drip irrigation kits. Total costs for storage capacities of 50–100 m3 range from 1000 to 3000 USD and present cost-efficiencies of 26–50 USD/m3 of irrigated water. At community level, hillside earth dams, rock catchments, alluvial shallow groundwater, subsurface dams and sand storage dams can be connected to mechanised/manual pumping systems and low-cost drip irrigation kits. RWHI systems which use subsurface dams made of soil present the highest cost-efficiency (3 USD/m3 of irrigated water). Further, RWHI technologies are clearly site-specific. Therefore, replication and scaling-up needs to strictly consider multi-dimensional physical and hydrogeological suitability factors coupled with the cost-efficiency and specific technical considerations of the technologies and practices. In addition, the technical and financial capability of the beneficiaries coupled with the revenue potential of the RWHI systems plays a crucial role in the replication of RWHI technologies.


Off-season rainwater harvesting irrigation management Rainwater-smart agriculture Constraints Cost-efficiency Scaling-up 



This chapter compiles 3 years of practical experiences on the use of rainwater harvesting for off-season small-scale irrigation as a result of the implementation of the AFRHINET project. The AFRHINET project was financed by the ACP-EU Cooperation Programme in Science and Technology (ACP-S&T II), which was a programme implemented by the ACP Group of States, with the financial assistance of the European Union. The contents of this chapter are the sole responsibility of the authors of this report and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of the ACP Group of States or the European Union. In addition, some of the materials of this chapter have been used with the courtesy and permission of Kenya Rainwater Association (, SEARNET-ICRAF (, ASAL Consultants (, the Roads for Water Learning Alliance ( and Dabane Trust (


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Hamburg University of Applied SciencesHamburgGermany
  2. 2.Addis Ababa UniversityAddis AbabaEthiopia
  3. 3.Eduardo Mondlane UniversityMaputoMozambique
  4. 4.Southern and Eastern Africa Regional Network, World Agroforestry CentreNairobiKenya
  5. 5.Kenya Rainwater AssociationNairobiKenya
  6. 6.University of ZimbabweHarareZimbabwe
  7. 7.University of NairobiNairobiKenya

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