Amid growing concerns over the debilitating effects of climate variability, can rainwater harvesting offer smallholder farmers an escape route?

Mr Sihlahla (in the picture above), a smallholder farmer in Shurugwi, rural Zimbabwe has found an escape route from the negative effects of rainfall variability by harvesting rainwater. He uses what he calls a bicycle pump to pump water he harvests, from a small dam into his fields. By pressing the pedals of the bicycle pump up and down with his feet, water is sucked from the small dam into pipes that carry it to his fields. Through this creative method, Mr Sihlahla’s resolve to boost his food security has been realised. The grain he harvests has increased. He uses proceeds from the sale of his maize to buy other food and livestock.

Mr Sihlahla’s water harvesting skills bring to the fore the role rainwater harvesting can play in alleviating food shortages among the most vulnerable in the wake of a changing climatic environment. Seemingly rainwater harvesting has not been fully embraced; yet it can make a difference between starvation and having food on the table. Smallholders can be assured of harvesting grain if they embrace this practice. Through innovative approaches such as rainwater harvesting, perhaps is the time to begin counting our chickens before they hatch. Some might say, “Not so fast” but there is no harm to anticipate the number of our chickens that are likely to hatch. After all, water harvesters (such as Mr Sihlahla) regularly count their chickens before they hatch with almost clock-like precision.

By Chris Mabeza