Two Reasons why Water Resources and Traditional Rain-fed Farming in West Africa have Declined
Declining water resources are one of the causes of the efforts to raise the productivity of the traditional rain-fed farming in West Africa and have affected the growing season and water conservation. With the shortage of water comes the potential for conflict between several African countries.
Water resources are declining in West Africa. The annual renewable water resources in West Africa reported by the World Bank in 1994 was about 350 billion cubic meters (1 cubic meter = 35.3 cubic feet). This averages out to 1,400 cu m per person per year, which is less than 20 percent of the world median water consumption per person (Rogers, 1997, 1). Water availability per capita is predicted to drop to less than one-half the present inadequate levels by 2025 (Ayub, 1994,1).
North African countries are also entering a critical dilemma regarding declining water resources. At the rates of their water consumption, all available water resources will be used up within 15 years. In both the northern and western regions, water demand is continuing to rise because of growing populations and expanding economies. For instance, in Burkina Faso, the women must walk 20 miles just to get a jar of water for their families (Ayub, 1994, 1).
Traditional rain-fed farming in West Africa has always been difficult. Seven of the West African countries are among the poorest in the world,1 so they have to continue the traditional method. Despite the extremely harsh environment, agriculture plays the most important factor in the economy. Farming supports 75 - 90 percent of the population while only four percent of the land can be classified as arable. The dryland farming method is used for 99 percent of the cultivation in the region (Day, 1989, 2).
The poor quality of the soil makes traditional farming more severe. With the combination of hardening soil and violent storms comes low infiltration. The amount of water that the soil can hold in these regions is extremely low compared to the rest of the world. The soil also lacks organic matter and is deficient in nitrogen, phosphorus, sulfur, and other trace elements. Fertilizer cannot be beneficial if inadequate soil moisture exists. The productivity of crops even under good conditions is always low. Farm prices are low compared to the production costs. The farmers’ primary objective is to produce enough food for their household; rarely will there be a surplus of goods (Day, 1989, 2).
Nearly 85 percent of the land cultivated involves food grains such as sorghum, millet, rice, and maize. The productions of these grains dropped an average of two percent annually from 1966 -1983. At the same time, population growth in West Africa is soaring. The average increase per year since 1967 has been between two and three percent annually. By the year 2,000 the population of the Sahel region will be nearly 54 million people. This...