Physics and Chemistry of the Earth 28 (2003) 869–877 www.elsevier.


Resilience building and water demand management for drought mitigation
Johan Rockstr€m o
Unesco-IHE/Waternet, University of Zimbabwe, P.O. Box MP 600, Mount Pleasant, Harare, Zimbabwe

Abstract Doughts resulting in complete crop failure are common in Eastern and Southern Africa. We are at present experiencing a regional crisis, where crop failures related to drought are threatening the lives of millions of people in several countries in Southern Africa. A major challenge is to seek ways of mitigating and coping with droughts in small-holder farming systems, particularly in semi-arid regions which are most hardly hit by the effects of drought. An entry-point for drought mitigation is to build water resilience of present rainfed farming systems. The water balance is a good starting point to assess the options. As has been argued for decades, the term drought is very debated, and the boundaries between droughts being politically and biophysically defined is not sharp. Often crop failures and social suffering are blamed on drought, while in reality the causes are more complex than only a decline in rainfall. A challenge is to find management strategies to deal with the unreliable and extremely variable rainfall in savannah environments. In this paper examples of small-scale management practices to mitigate drought in semi-arid rainfed farming are presented. Focus is on water harvesting systems for supplemental irrigation. It is shown that with relatively simple and cheap means it is possible to build resilience to deal with water scarcity in semi-arid farming systems. If such measures are combined with efforts of maximising plant water availability and plant water uptake capacity, there are good chances of mitigating certain droughts. Conservation tillage systems have proven to maximise rainfall infiltration and storage of water in the soil, enabling even crops lacking supplemental irrigation to bridge severe dry spells. Interestingly, building resilience in rainfed farming systems is also a means of water demand management. More crop is produced per drop of water in resilient farming systems, which reduces the amount of water needed to produce food. Despite the opportunities to build resilience to mitigate droughts, it is impossible to escape from the severe drought years. This is where coping mechanisms are required, which involve social, economic and institutional preparedness to cope with the social effects of climatic droughts. Ó 2003 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Water demand management; Drought mitigation; Food security; Ecological resilience; Social resilience

1. Introduction Food insecurity is an enormous challenge at a global scale, with strong implications both for environmental management and socio-economic development. It is estimated that 800 million people at present suffer from under-nourishment. These people mainly live in developing countries of which the vast majority are hosted in tropical environments characterised by unreliable and highly fluctuating rainfall. Almost every fifth inhabitant in developing countries live under the threat of food insecurity, every day. Food insecurity is closely linked with poverty. The majority of poor make their living


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from small-holder farming under rainfed conditions in tropical savannah environments. Therefore, the challenge of solving the problem of food insecurity is to large extent a question of addressing rainwater management in rural savannah landscapes. At the same time we experience three parallel and interacting developments which influences the way in which the food challenge is addressed. Firstly, the extreme impoverishment in rural areas. It is estimated that three quarters of the world’s 1.2 billion extremely poor people (earning less than 1 USD per day) live and work in rural areas. Severe rural poverty pushes rural inhabitants out of the rural areas. This rural exodus explains why it is estimated that over 50% of the worlds population is expected to live in coastal cities by 2025 (it should be remembered that 95% of the population growth occurs in developing countries) (Falkenmark

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J. Rockstr€m / Physics and Chemistry of the Earth 28 (2003) 869–877 o

and Rockstr€m, 1993). Therefore addressing rainwater o management in rural areas is closely linked to urban migration. Secondly, poverty and food production is closely linked to environmental degradation. Agriculture is by far the world’s dominating land use. Over 80% of the agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa, for example, is under rainfed agriculture, of which the bulk is under smallholder farming. Land degradation, to large extent water erosion in savannahs, affect approximately 60% of the rainfed cropland in sub-Saharan Africa (Dregne and Chou, 1992). The degradation process is moreover relatively recent, often occurring within the last century, and is caused largely by interacting pressures from population growth, poor land management practices and weak land policies acting on a vulnerable natural resource base. Land degradation reduces the capacity of the agricultural ecosystems to absorb environmental shocks, such as floods and droughts. Furthermore, erosion from agricultural lands seriously affects the biodiversity and environmental health of aquatic ecosystems, thereby reducing the capacity also of natural ecosystems to buffer environmental shocks. The consequence thus, is that management of agricultural land directly affects the ecological resilience of agricultural and natural ecosystems, i.e., the capacity of an ecosystem to absorb shocks while maintaining structure and function. This is dramatic, as it suggests that in a situation where more food than ever before in human history is required to feed an increasing and hungry population, the natural resource base available to generate the necessary food is more vulnerable than ever before. Thirdly, it is now well established that human activities, especially those linked to fossil fuel burning, are having a major effect on the global environment (IPCC, 2001; ICSU, 2002). Projections indicate that climate change will result in a large increase in climatic shocks, such as floods and droughts, and lead to a progressive decline in overall rainfall especially in already drought prone environments. Mitigating droughts will therefore be even more important in the future. In the past, drought management has been strongly blurred and often politicised, as a result of confusions related to how droughts are defined and to the analysis of causes and effects of droughts. This is very unfortunate, as efforts of mitigating droughts requires a clear understanding of (1) when droughts actually occur and (2) a distinction between manageable droughts––where improved land management can assist in mitigation and unmanageable droughts––when coping mechanisms outside the managed landscape are required. This paper addresses these links between food, resilience and drought mitigation among resource poor small-holder farmers living at the mercy of the rainfall in savannah agro-ecosystems.

2. Social and ecological resilience A useful tool when trying to analyse the inter-linkages between agricultural land use, food production and environmental security, is the recently evolving concept of social and ecological resilience. The starting point is the understanding that humans are completely intertwined with ecosystems, to the extend that (1) very few natural ecosystems remain on Earth as a result of the fact that (2) we today live in a largely human dominated planet. There is an increasing understanding that the well-being of humanity is intimately dependent upon the ecological life-support systems now undergoing rapid changes (Vitousek et al., 1986; Lubchenco, 1998). In the early days of the popular evolvement of the notion of sustainable development (in the 1980s), the perception among decision makers was to see nature as a static entity. The endeavour of sustainable development was then seen as the search of a Human Nirvana, an optimum point where human extraction of ecosystem services at present would be balanced with the capacity of the natural resource base to deliver services in the future. This optimality approach to sustainable development is based on the seductive affinity to the existence of averages in nature. We are now increasingly, and often in dramatic ways, aware of the fact that this is an illusion. Nature is full of surprises, sudden shocks, which hit at random, resulting in complete reorganisation of the playing field on which all biological life forms depend. Nature is thus not a balanced system filled with nice biogeochemical cycles, circulating in a predictable pattern, but instead consist of complex and adaptive systems, where extreme events, such as floods and droughts, form a natural part of the reality. In order to cope with randomness, shocks and extreme events, nature has an inbuilt capacity to absorb shocks while maintaining function. This is defined as the ecological resilience of a system (Holling, 1986). When change occurs, resilience provides the components needed for renewal and reorganisation (Gunderson and Holling, 2002). The Resilience Alliance ( defines resilience in a comprehensive way that includes the factors required to absorb shocks and reorganise after a shock. Resilience, according to their definition, applies to integrated systems of people and nature as (a) the amount of disturbance a system can absorb and still remain within the same state or domain of attraction, (b) the degree to which the system is capable of self-organisation and (c) the degree to which the system can build and increase the capacity for learning and adaptation (Carpenter et al., 2001). The flip side of resilience is vulnerability. When a social system––such as a society or an ecological system––such as a wetland, loses resilience, it becomes vulnerable to change that previously could be absorbed (Kaspersson and Kaspersson, 2001). A resilient system

J. Rockstr€m / Physics and Chemistry of the Earth 28 (2003) 869–877 o Table 1 Strategies of resilience building Building resilience Social resilience Manageable Institutional development Land reform Land tenure Diversification Marketing Human capacity building Biodiversity Farming system development Diversification Water resource management Integrated soil and water management Soil fertility management Unmanageable ‘‘resilience parachutes’’ Relief food Cereal Banks Social networks Virtual water imports


Ecological resilience

Protection––Natural parks, reserves Ramsar agreements Protected habitats (e.g., Zoo)

Matrix distinguishing between manageable and unmanageable social and ecological resilience.

is not only equipped to absorb shocks, but it also has the potential to take benefit from change, as it has the potential of creating opportunity for development, novelty and innovation. On the other hand, in a vulnerable system, even small changes may be devastating. In summary therefore, managing for resilience enhances the likelihood of sustainable generation of ecosystem services benefiting humans in changing environments where the future is unpredictable and surprise is likely (Levin et al., 1998; Holling, 2001). Nowhere is the reality of changing, unpredictable environments full of surprises so apparent––in terms of water resource management for food security in vulnerable environments––as in the tropical semi-arid and dry sub-humid savannah agro-ecosystems of the world. Here we find the largest concentration of resource poor, rural communities, depending on vulnerable ecosystems with eroding resilience, hosted in landscapes full of environmental uncertainty and surprises. Here, water scarcity and especially the frequent occurrence of droughts and dry spells, form a fundamental precondition for human livelihoods. Building social and ecological resilience to mitigate droughts and dry spells thus forms a basic element of livelihood security in these landscapes. 2.1. Resilience parachutes From the perspective of resilience building for drought management it is useful to distinguish between manageable and unmanageable coping mechanisms. For example, droughts can only be mitigated through improved soil and water management to a certain extent. Past a certain limit of water scarcity, nothing can be done to produce more food––the only solution is to rely on social coping mechanisms such as food relief, cereal banks, social networks, etc. This I define as resilience parachutes––social coping mechanisms that are used to cope with extreme unmanageable shocks. Manageable coping mechanisms, on the other hand, include a broad variety of strategies to build social and ecological resil-

ience in rural communities, ranging from improved land management to building of human capacities and local institutions. Table 1 shows a general distinction between these different forms of resilience building with some examples from the context of water for food in drought prone savannahs. 2.2. Drought and dry spells Ever since the devastating famines caused by persistent meteorological droughts in the Sahel in the early 1970s and in the Sahelian and Sudanian zone in 1982– 85, there has been an increased international and regional attention given to the vulnerability of societies hosted in drought prone tropical environments in subSaharan Africa. However, there remains a strong confusion among both professionals and politicians on both (1) what actually defines a drought and (2) the links between droughts and famines. As pointed out by Davies (2000) droughts causing production failures in agriculture do not automatically result in famines unless they coincide with other socio-economic factors. In resilience terms––a drought leads to social disaster only if social resilience is eroded to the extent that the society is left with no capacity to absorb the environmental shock––in this case a drought. According to Glantz (1994) droughts are highly politicised, and often droughts are used as an excuse when food shortages hit a country, while in reality the major causes for famines are to be found elsewhere. However, the confusion starts already at the very notion of a drought. To begin with it is essential to distinguish between meteorological and agricultural droughts. A meteorological drought occurs when the amount of overall rainfall is below the minimum required to generate fundamental ecosystem services from nature (above all food). This means that there is simply not enough rainfall to generate an edible harvest of food crops. This rainfall depth is generally below 300 mm of seasonal rainfall in hot tropical savannahs, and is


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often defined as a departure from the long-term seasonal mean with approximately 2 standard deviations (Rockstr€m, 2000). A meteorological drought is genero ally unmanageable. There is simply not enough water to produce food––which generally applies for both rainfed and irrigated systems depending on surface storage in dams. The dilemma is that when the term ‘‘drought’’ is used, the general belief is that one is referring to a meteorological drought. However, this is not always the case, and more likely, it is rarely the case. The reason is that agricultural droughts are overwhelmingly more common than meteorological droughts. An agricultural drought occurs when there is not enough plant available soil moisture in the root zone. Crop water deficit, generating an agricultural drought, can occur as a result of two major processes: (a) poor plant water availability related to low rainfall infiltration and poor soil moisture holding capacity of the soil, (b) poor plant water uptake capacity related to weak soil physical and chemical conditions and poor crop management (soil fertility, timing of operations, crop varieties, etc.). As was shown by Rockstr€m (1997) less than 10% of the o rainfall in a Sahelian rainfed cropping system with pearl millet was used productively to generate a crop (i.e., water flowing as productive green water, or crop transpiration). On average, less than 30% of rainfall in rainfed savannah cropping systems contribute to crop growth, while at least 70% is ‘‘lost’’ to the crop as evaporation, interception, drainage and surface runoff (Rockstr€m, 2000). Furthermore, as shown by Barron o et al. (2003), short, 2–4 week long, dry spells, are almost
Table 2 Type of water scarcity and underlying causes Dry-spell Meteorological Occurrence Impact Cause Resilience options Agricultural Occurrence Impact Cause

seasonal occurrences in semi-arid tropical farming systems in East Africa. If a dry spell hits during the water stress sensitive flowering phase, it may result in complete crop failure. This may be interpreted as a ‘‘drought’’, while in reality the cumulative rainfall may have been adequate to produce a full crop, but due to poor distribution of rainfall, a dry spell caused complete crop failure. An example of such a situation is the long-rains 2000 (March–June) in Kenya, which was proclaimed by the Government as a major drought resulting in a humanitarian crisis requiring international food aid. In semi-arid Machakos district, the long rains started exactly on time with a large rainfall even (of around 80 mm). As most farms were late in planting, and had not finished land preparation, the bulk of that rainfall event was lost to storm runoff, evaporation and drainage. Following this excellent onset, the rainy season was then characterised by a long dry spell, with scattered showers. As most farmers were delayed with planting, the crop eventually wilted as an effect of the prolonged dry spell. An on-farm water harvesting experiment, on the other hand, where the crop (maize) was dry planted on well prepared land, and where the initial rainfall event was used to fill a small farm-pond, enabled the farmer to harvest a bumper harvest of approximately 2.5 t grain/ ha (average yield in the district is approximately 1 t/ha). This indicates the risk of explaining an effect––crop failure––with a cause-drought––that has not been properly defined. The measures to cope with a meteorological drought––through resilience parachutes––are completely different from coping measures to proactively deal with agricultural droughts––which involve building resilience in small-holder farming systems. The matrix below (Table 2) gives a simple but useful analytical framework in assessing causes behind crop

Drought One year out of 10 [1/10 years] Complete crop failure Seasonal rainfall below minimum seasonal plant water requirement Resilience parachutes • Relief food, virtual water imports, cereal banks >One out of 10 years [>1/10 years] Complete crop failure Poor rainfall partitioning leads to seasonal soil moisture deficit to produce harvest Build ecological and social resilience Resilience parachutes • water harvesting • soil and crop management

Two out of three years [2/3 years] Yield reduction Rainfall deficit of 2–5 week periods during crop growth Build ecological and social resilience • water harvesting >Two out of three years [>2/3 years] Yield reduction/complete crop failure Poor rainfall partitioning leads to low plant water availability Poor plant water uptake capacity Build ecological and social resilience • soil and water conservation • crop management

Resilience options

Distinction between meteorological and human induced droughts and dry-spells, indicating impact and causes as well as key resilience coping mechanisms.

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failure caused by crop water deficits. Meteorological droughts can only be bridged with resilience parachutes. Societies have no choice but to use social resilience to absorb such shocks that leave no room for land and water management. Agricultural droughts on the other hand, while consisting of serious water deficits, are primarily caused by one or a combination of (i) poor distribution of rainfall and (ii) poor rainfall partitioning resulting in low plant water availability and uptake capacity. Agricultural droughts can thus be avoided through resilience building. In large parts of semi-arid sub-Saharan Africa the strategies include farm management, timing of operations, tillage practices (in favour of conservation farming), soil fertility management, water management incorporating elements of supplemental irrigation, integrated pest management, crop rotations, post-harvest management and diversification (market orientation). Together such measures assist in building ecological and social resilience, making agro-ecosystems more resilient to drought-like conditions. Dry spells, like droughts, can occur due to meteorological conditions (poor distribution of rainfall) and agricultural conditions (poor rainfall infiltration, low water holding capacity, weak crop development). Basically all dry spells are manageable, where meteorological dry spells require various types of supplemental irrigation systems, while agricultural dry spells often can be managed by adopting various systems of improved soil and water conservation in order to enhance rainfall infiltration and soil water holding capacity.

etation further from the villages, less timber was available for home construction and fuel and wild resources became less available. The effect was that villagers narrowed their food sources by relying more and more on domestic fields and herds. The villagers presumably invented ways to adapt to the narrowed options of the developing agricultural system, thereby mentally masking the land degradation and vulnerability. It is likely that a slight change in climate led to a series of dry years that were too much for the agricultural villages to absorb. This finally lead to a high-order social effect complete rural exodus and final abandonment of the land (Redman, 1999). 3.2. Agrarian development in the Sahel zone It seems we are witnessing similar developments at present, predominantly in arid and semi-arid regions, where human settlements appear to have lost ecological and social resilience to cope with years of meteorological drought, resulting in an agrarian crisis (Rockstr€m and o Tilander, 1998). The capacity of the land to support human societies has been reduced. In the tree and bush savannah belts in Africa, there have been significant land-use changes over the last centuries. Where there originally was shifting cultivation and livestock movements with a high degree of natural vegetation, permanent settlements have become dominant and the vegetation cover has been reduced (Hudak, 1999; Niamir-Fuller, 1999). Shifting cultivation systems, based on long fallows as a strategy to replenish soil fertility and restore soil structure has progressively been abandoned in favour of continuous cultivation. In the Sahel this evolution constitutes a real agrarian drama, especially as (i) the abandoning of one reasonably sustainable strategy for soil and water management (long fallows and mixed farming) was abandoned without the introduction of a viable alternative and (ii) the resilience decline is recent, starting from the 1930s and probably culminating in the 1970s (Rockstr€m and Ada, 1993). At o present small-holder Sahelian farmers are among the poorest in the world, generating yield levels of staple foods of sorghum and millet of often <500 kg/ha. The on-farm water balance is a good indicator not only of the low present productivity of the farming systems, but also of the large yield gap between actual and achievable yields. As shown by Rockstr€m (1997) as little as 5% of o the rainfall is used by the crops as productive transpiration. The remaining rain evaporates, drains and runs off from the soil surface. The vulnerability to droughts and dry spells is very high. Even gentle droughts may result in complete crop failure as soil crusting (caused by combustion of organic matter) prevents infiltration of the rainfall that actually falls. This dramatic decline in resilience seems to start with a decline of ecological resilience related to the

3. Agrarian drama The first question that has to be posed when assessing cause and effects in relation to drought related food shortages is whether the drought is caused by erosion of resilience causing agricultural droughts or whether the drought is caused by a cumulative deficit in rainfall? The answer to this question is essential in efforts of drought management. Lessons can be learnt from recent development in different parts of arid and semi-arid regions of the world. 3.1. Ancient evidence of social disaster due to eroded resilience As shown by Redman (1999) ancient villages in southern Jordan may have been abandoned as they became more vulnerable due to a human induced loss of resilience of their productive natural resource base. A high and increasing demand for fuel wood and excessive grazing of goats put growing pressure on grassy and bush vegetation over a wider and wider area. As the fuel and grazing needs pushed the boundary of native veg-


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abandonment of shifting cultivation practices. Then progressively the ecological resilience decline, which manifests itself as increased drought proneness and food deficits, spills over into a decline in social resilience. Fewer children go to school (not possible to afford school fees), cattle––which form a critical component of the social resilience base––are sold off (walking bank accounts or life insurance). Marriages cannot take place, as there is no food nor cattle to pay dowries. Formerly yields from good years were always saved for poor years; since the 1960s this is not possible anymore in, e.g., Zarmaganda region in northern Niger. Manure contracts with Touareg nomads (contracts which enabled Zarmaganda sedentary farmers to transfer nutrients form grazing lands to crop land during the dry season) are vanishing, as farmers cannot pay the nomads their deal of the contracts––manure against food. Rural migration during dry season was a way of coping with the situation––a form of social resilience mechanism. But increasingly, young men (it is primarily men leaving) do not come back from the large urban migration magnets such as Abidjan and Lagos. In summary, a decline in ecological resilience triggers a loss of social resilience, which finally, as a result, e.g. of a climatic shock (as the drought years 1982–1985) leads to a social disaster of huge proportions. This is the effect of a drought hitting on a vulnerable social and natural resource base. Importantly, the scale of the social disaster is not proportional to the severity of the drought (as is generally believed), but instead proportional to the degree of resilience decline. Furthermore, resilience development as the one described for the Sahel above, evolves with close scale interactions. Erosion of ecological resilience through land use changes affects the local hydrology, resulting in reduction of evaporation fluxes during the rainy season. This in turn reduces the feedback of moisture to the atmosphere, which reduces the recycling of moisture, and hence reduces the rainfall further inland, until it reaches a threshold below which there is no longer any significant rainfall (De Groen and Savenije, 1996). This means that erosion of local ecological resilience may result in erosion of regional resilience, which then hits back on the local resilience, e.g., in the form of increased drought frequency. 3.3. Recent evidence in Southern Africa Several countries in Southern Africa are at present (2001/2002) facing serious food deficits, with a high risk of a looming famine, particularly in Zimbabwe, Malawi, Zambia and Mocambique, Swaziland and Lesotho. It has been estimated by the UN that 14.4 million people face starvation over the coming months (UN/WFP estimates in September 2002). Zimbabwe is faced with an unprecedented food shortage of 75%, with a predicted

production of around 500,000 tones of grains compared to annual need of 2,000,000 t. Similarly in Malawi, with an equally large annual need of 2,000,000 t of grain, the shortfall in 2001 was around 300,000 t and the predicted shortfall for 2002 is 400,000 t. (according to the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation in Malawi). In Malawi, according to a recent assessment of the food shortage situation by the International Federation of the Red Cross (Fox et al., 2002), maize is the only crop that has been seriously hit by yield reductions (while cassava, sorghum, potatoes, sweet potatoes, rice and tomatoes seem to have produced reasonably well). One reason for this is the chronic food deficit prevailing in the country, which forced many farmers to consume non-mature green maize, which reduced the final harvest. Furthermore, yield reduction on maize with 50– 100% are primarily observed on non-fertilised maize. This suggests that the shortfall in grain may not primarily be caused by a meteorological drought, but rather due to an agricultural drought caused by poor water uptake capacity by the crop (caused in turn by soil nutrient deficits). Furthermore, yield assessments indicate a very wide variation of water impacts on yields; certain parts of the country was hit by a severe dry spell during growth stages sensitive to water stress, other regions received too much rain causing water logging (according to FAO, April 2002; In Zimbabwe, the dramatic shortfall of food seems to be caused by a combination of a severe decline in social and ecological resilience triggered by erratic rains resulting in floods and dry spells. The potential disaster, with 6 million people or almost half of the country’s population facing starvation, has been building up progressively over the last couple of years. In the short term, over the last couple of years, one can observe a dramatic erosion of social resilience, related to land insecurity as a result of the ongoing land resettlement programme, economic decline, reduction of food availability due to the near collapse of the commercial farming sector, poor access to agricultural inputs and a deficit of human capacities. This erosion of social resilience is combined with the slower process of eroding ecological resilience, which is a development over the last decades. Poor land management practices, based on continuous grain cultivation and conventional tillage with hoe, mouldboard plough or disc ploughs, combined with a notorious mining of soil nutrients and soil organic matter, has resulted in a communal farming sector performing far below achievable yield levels (Oldreive, 1993). Often, yields are below 1 t grain/ha, in areas which could produce 2–3 times as much. It is the interaction of declining social and ecological resilience that finally places a society in a structurally vulnerable position. Progressively a society that earlier could absorb social and environmental shocks, becomes extremely vulnerable to even small climatic or social

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Presently at a High

Environmental Shocks Erosion of Ecological Resilience

Erosion of Social Resilience

Social Shocks

Presently at a High

Fig. 1. Conceptual diagram of the interactions between ecological and social resilience and the role of social and environmental shocks as triggers acting on societies with absorption capabilities determined by the resilience base. Presently, both environmental and social shocks are at a high in several countries of Southern Africa.

disturbances. Suddenly, every shock turns into a disaster. Climatic shocks, such as floods and droughts, are triggers that act upon a society. What we are experiencing at present in several countries in Southern Africa is a potentially very large social disaster manifested as a regional famine, caused, not by a very serious drought, but rather a small environmental shock, acting on extremely vulnerable societies, which have eroded large parts of its manageable resilience as well as its resilience parachutes (as in Malawi where most of the grain reserves were sold out prior to the acute food shortages). The interactions between social and ecological resilience and the trigger effect of environmental shocks is schematically shown in Fig. 1.

late Agarwal (2000) who brought forward evidence indicating that India should never have to suffer from drought induced famines, and that drought conditions in rural semi-arid areas primarily are due to poor land management (causing excessive storm surface runoff and evaporation losses at the expense of slow moving sub-surface runoff flow and productive transpiration). A key entry point in efforts of building ecological resilience in rainfed savannah agriculture is dry spell mitigation. Maximising rainfall infiltration and water holding capacities of soils, through various systems of soil and water conservation (Fanya Ju terracing, soil bunds, micro-catchments, etc.) combined with crop residue management, intercropping and cover cropping, may contribute to a certain extent to dry spell mitigation. Combining such efforts with technologies that enable farmers to control crop water supply through supplemental irrigation can give a high level of dry spell proofing. 4.2. Water harvesting for dry spell mitigation This can be done through various small-scale water harvesting systems, ranging from open farm ponds to sub-surface tanks. The common feature of these systems is that they collect excessive storm surface runoff during large rainstorms, for use during dry spells. As shown by Fox and Rockstrom (2003) and Barron et al. (1999) from research in Burkina Faso and Kenya, supplemental irrigation of 60–80 mm can double and even triple grain yield levels from traditional yields of 0.5–1 t/ha (sorghum and maize) to 1.5–2.5 t/ha. However, importantly, such large beneficial effects of supplemental irrigation were only experienced in combination with soil fertility management. 4.3. Conservation farming Conservation farming, a wide set of integrated farming practices which focus on abandoning the detrimental practice of conventional soil inversion through ploughing, has also proven to contribute to improved use of rainfall, contribute to dry spell mitigation and to increase farmers’ yield levels (Rockstr€m et al., 2001). It o has been shown that conventional ploughing with mouldboard and disc plough on tropical soils contribute to soil degradation and erosion of ecological resilience in agricultural soils (Benites et al., 1998). Improved tillage, where soil inversion is abandoned in favour of subsoiling, manual pitting, ripping and zero tillage systems, builds soil biology, improves soil fertility and contributes to immediate productivity benefits and long term resilience building. Strategies, such as water harvesting and conservation farming for resilience building, will not be successful in

4. Options of building resilience to mitigate droughts Seventy percent of the World’s 1.1 billion farmers are resource poor small-holder farmers. Eighty percent of the world’s agricultural land is rainfed. These proportions clearly show the need to focus on rainfed smallholder farmers in efforts of building resilience in drought prone areas. In Southern Africa the proportion of smallholder farmers depending in rainfed land use is even higher, generally with >95% of the land use being under rainfed farming. 4.1. Facing the yield gap There is ample evidence showing that the yield gap between what is presently produced on-farm (generally 0.5–1.5 t/ha) and what can be produced (generally 3–5 t/ ha), is not explained by biophysical conditions, but rather due to sub-optimal management. Even in semi-arid savannahs, where water constitutes a major limiting factor to crop growth, it has been shown that agricultural dry spells and droughts cause yield decline much more often than meteorological droughts (Barron et al., 2003). Certain authors go even further, e.g., the


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isolation of all the other factors involved in farm management. They need to be linked with improved pest management, crop varieties, timing of operations, diversification of crops, post-harvest management, integration of crop and livestock systems, marketing and policy issues such as the critical securing of land tenure. 4.4. Resilience building and water demand Building ecological resilience for improved water management in small-holder rainfed agriculture has direct implications on water demand. When crop yields are increased from a low starting point (say from 1 to 2 t/ha) there is a very significant improvement of water productivity (in terms of green water, i.e., total evaporation). The reason is that while transpiration (productive green water flow) increases linearly with increased yields, evaporation losses will progressively decline. The effect is a progressive improvement in water productivity (a reduction in the relative amount of water required to produce a unit of harvest, often measured in mm/kg or m3 /t) with increased yield. This is illustrated in Fig. 2 from water balance research in Niger on pearl millet (adapted from Pandey et al., 2000 and Rockstr€m et al., 1998). As o seen from Fig. 2, there is a rapid decline in volumes of consumptive water use (evapotranspiration flow) when increasing yield levels, especially at the lower yield range (which is explained by the large portion of non-productive evaporation at low yield levels). Similar results are found for dry spell mitigation using supplemental irrigation and soil fertility management in Burkina Faso and Kenya. In the research from Burkina Faso, there was a reduction of rainfall volumes required to produce 1 t grain sorghum from 10,000 to 4,000 m3 /t when increasing yields from 0.5 to 2.5 t/ha (Rockstr€m et al., 2003). o Falkenmark (in prep.) made an effort of extrapolating water productivity implications of ecological resilience building in rainfed savannah agriculture on agricultural water demand at global scale. At present they estimated that 7000 km3 /year of freshwater is used to produce food

(rainfed and irrigated), of which irrigated agriculture appropriates approximately 2000 km3 /year. Feeding 2.9 billion more people in 2050 and eradicating mal-nutrition among 800 million people would require an additional 5500 km3 /year. However, water productivity improvements in rainfed agriculture, which focus on ecological resilience building that enables a shift of vapour flows from non-productive evaporation in favour of productive transpiration, could ‘‘save’’ (reduce water for food needs) approximately 1500 km3 /year. This is a very significant reduction in agricultural water demand, corresponding to almost the totality of present consumptive water use in irrigation in the world.

5. Conclusions and discussions This paper has briefly analysed the inter-linkages between drought, poverty, food and resilience building with specific focus on Southern Africa. As shown in the paper, there is no simple link between famines and drought. Instead food deficits resulting in high order social disasters such as famines are generally a result of complex interactions between eroded social and ecological resilience resulting in vulnerable societies which then are affected by an environmental trigger, such as a flood or drought. When the resilience of a society is at a low––as is the case for several countries in Southern Africa at present––even small environmental triggers (such as a partial drought or prolonged dry spell), which normally would result in a shock that is absorbed with only a limited social disturbance, will suddenly cause devastating social impact. Southern Africa is at present facing this dramatic combination of a climatic trigger (partial droughts and floods in 2001 and 2002) acting upon vulnerable societies where social and ecological resilience has been deeply eroded. The result is the risk of one of the worst famines in decades threatening the lives of 14 million people in Southern Africa. In lack of successful proactive resilience building, the only option at hand at present to avoid this looming disaster is to launch effective resilience parachutes in terms of food relief, rapid supply of farm inputs and farm training. The paper further argues that there are large opportunities to build ecological and social resilience also in semi-arid savannah landscapes where resource poor farming dominates. Mitigating droughts and dry spells is an entry point, which combined especially with soil fertility management can increase yield levels on the short term and build resilience on the term. Interestingly resilience building at farm level can have direct effect on water demand management. Improvement of ecological resilience can result in large crop per drop savings, which reduces the relative volumes required to produce more food in the future.

Fig. 2. Impact on water demand from resilience building in semi-arid rainfed agriculture (examples from Niger on pearl millet, adapted from Pandey et al. (2000) and Rockstr€m et al. (1998). o

J. Rockstr€m / Physics and Chemistry of the Earth 28 (2003) 869–877 o


The interactions between resilience building, water resource management and rural livelihoods are poorly understood, and there is need for further integrated research in order to improve the knowledge base on how social and ecological resilience can assist in absorbing climatic shocks in a future, projected to be characterised by an increased occurrence of floods and droughts.

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