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Managing water in rainfed agriculture - the need for a paradigm shift
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Rainfed agriculture is an integral component in food production and livelihood sustainability, especially as the world population continues to grow. The world’s semi-arid and dry sub-humid savannah and steppe regions most notably experience water-related limitations to food production, increasing food demand, and high prevalence of poverty and malnourishment. The researchers argue that crop yield gaps are large in these areas due to inefficient management of soils, water, and crops. Major water investments are argued to be integral to successful agricultural systems in the identified regions. An examination of management options reveals that pertinent knowledge exists regarding management systems, planning methods, and technologies. The article identifies an important strategy to be the minimization of risk for dry-spell induced crop losses, which would require the development of water harvesting systems for supplemental irrigation. A paradigm shift of Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM) is necessary for large-scale integration of water harvesting systems. In IWRM, rainfall is considered the first point for governance of freshwater, consequently encompassing blue water resources (local runoff) and green water resources (sustaining terrestrial ecosystems and rainfed agriculture). A new investment, management and governance paradigm that considers all the water options in agricultural systems should be favored as communities/regions approach the divide between irrigated and rainfed agriculture. The current focus of IWRM on agricultural improvements on the farmers’ field and on the basin level should be shifted to a new focus on the meso-catchment scale. The article argues that the catchment scale would be the best approach to the trade-offs between water for food and other ecosystems services and functions and would provide the best opportunities for water investment to enhance the resiliency of small-scale agricultural systems.