EWB-UK UK National Research & Education Conference 2011 ‘Our Global Future’ 4th March 2011

The use of rainwater harvesting as a poverty reduction strategy for small-scale small farmers in developing countries: The need to consider context Lisa Bunclark
Department for International Development, University of East Anglia

Abstract Using Botswana as a case study, this paper examines the factors that determine the suitability of rainwater harvesting (RWH) in small-scale scale agriculture in developing countries and proposes a decision decision-making making matrix that may be used in developing regions to assess the suitability of the technology for increasing crop production and reducing poverty. Current potential for increases in crop production through RWH in Botswana and other developing countries is uncertain, primary due to impacts of climate change and alterations to rural livelihood strategies as a result of economic development and national governance approach. The suitability o of f RWH for increasing crop production and reducing poverty in developing countries depends on factors related to climate and ecology, farming practice, availability of assets, livelihood strategy, governance and institutions.

g, appropriate technology, water resources management, small-scale small farming, Botswana. Keywords: Rainwater harvesting,



We need to offer the poor real technology choice over affordable, appropriate and accessible options. It is not hi-tech hi or ‘We low-tech but right tech.’ (Coventry 2003:1) It is claimed that rainwater harvesting (RWH) could potentially double current crop yields of small-scale small agriculture in developing countries, (NWP, 2007) and break inter inter-generational generational cycles of poverty (Barron, 2009; Vohland and Barry, 2009). Some RWH systems have been successfully used by small small-holder holder farmers in parts of the developing world for thousands of years (Critchley and Sieigert, 1991; Mamdouh, 1999), but the technology may not prove equally effective in all areas. RWH systems have traditionally raditionally been used in Botswana for many years for domestic purposes (Pacey and Cullis, 1991), but views regarding the suitability of the technology for agricultural production vary (c.f. FAO, 2003; Mati et al., 2006). Despite the implementation of several ral government government-led led schemes involving RWH and attempts to assist small-scale small farmers through extension services, traditional farms in Botswana continue to perform poorly (Acquah, 2003; GoB, 2006a), achieving only 30 per cent of potential yields .(Rockström et al., 2010). Little examination of these government initiatives has been conducted and one of the objectives of this research is to determine the range of factors that has led to such low levels of adoption of RWH systems by small small-scale farmers in what appears ppears to be an enabling environment. The suitability of any agricultural technique depends on a wide range of factors (AfDB 2007). A technology must be accessible, affordable and appropriate for the target community (Coupe, 2001; Coventry, 2003) if it is to be successfully adopted and sustainably used. Existing research largely ignores the complex environment within which RWH systems must fit (Cullis and Pacey, 1992; Scoones et al., 2007; Vohland and Barry, 2009) and implementation frameworks focus primarily ly on technical aspects (see Hatibu and Mahoo, 1999; AfDB, 2007; Young et al., 2002). Steps need to be taken to incorporate non-technical technical factors into these frameworks to ensure that the technology is only implemented where suitable. This research proposes a decision-making making matrix that may be used by those considering the implementation of RWH schemes in developing regions. This paper outlines the methodological approach used to produce this matrix, discusses and analyses the results from the primary and se secondary condary data collection, presents the matrix devised and draws tentative conclusions regarding the suitability of RWH for use in small small-scale scale agriculture in developing countries.



Preliminary collection and analysis of existing RWH literature and o other ther relevant secondary data was used to guide the collection of primary data and generate topics to discuss during interviews with various individuals in Botswana. The findings from these interviews highlighted areas for further research and secondary dat data a was collected where necessary until all themes had been fully explored or saturated. Since the identification of those with knowledge or experience of RWH in small small-scale scale farming in Botswana was problematic, research participants were identified through a process of snowball sampling (see Bryman, 2004). An initial list of potential participants was compiled and then these participants were used to establish contacts with other relevant organisations and individuals with knowledge of RWH. Panel Presentation: Water & Sanitation Authors: Lisa Bunclark Institutions: University of East Anglia


EWB-UK UK National Research & Education Conference 2011 ‘Our Global Future’ 4th March 2011

Twelve individuals ls were interviewed, representing ministries, non non-governmental governmental organisations (NGOs) and institutions in Botswana, the traditional Batswana farming community and academic institutions in South Africa. Participant confidentially and anonymity has been mainta maintained ined in order to prevent any potentially adverse effects that may occur due to their involvement in the project. Although every effort has been made to ensure the validity of this research, it is acknowledged that the relatively small number of individuals interviewed may limit the transferability of conclusions drawn.


Results and discussion

The findings from this research confirm current ideas that the availability of labour and finances pose a significant barrier to the adoption of RWH. In Botswana, even government-led led schemes that provide a high degree of assistance towards labour and finances have not helped to encourage the widespread adoption of RWH, in contradiction to findings by others (Baguma and Loiskandl, 2010; Tumbo et al, in press). This sugge suggests sts that other factors more influential than labour and finances may pose a greater barrier to the adoption of RWH and potential for increases in crop production. Primary data indicates that in the past RWH has traditionally played an important part in sma small-scale farming in Botswana, but the abandonment of traditional schemes in recent years, as reported by the participants, is an indication that the benefits originally gained from using the technology may no longer be felt; it is possible that rainfall has ha simply become too erratic to sustain rain-fed fed crop production. However, water is only one of the many barriers to crop production and findings indicate that benefits from the adoption of RWH in Botswana may be limited despite rainfall levels unless improvements vements in aspects such as farm management are also made. Furthermore, it is argued that adoption rates may remain low due to the conflict the use of the technology creates with other key sources of livelihood. Pastoral farming is an important part of liv livelihood elihood for the majority of rural Batswana and it is argued that increases in crop production may only be achieved if a RWH strategy integrating both pastoral and arable farming is considered. In addition to this, economic development and a rapid increase in formal sector employment in recent years have led to a reduction in importance of arable farming in rural livelihoods, in agreement with Ellis (2000). It is suggested that this has resulted in the insufficient allocation of resources (primarily labour) for RWH and if the importance of arable farming continues to decrease into the future, the potential for widespread adoption of RWH and an increase in crop production in Botswana may be low. As highlighted in previous research (Jodha, 1986; Boyd and Turto Turton, n, 2000), the implementation of extensive social security measures, along with involvement in RWH schemes and agriculture, by the Government appears to have reduced the effectiveness of traditional and informal arrangements in rural areas. In particular, i increased ncreased bureaucracy has reduced the adoption of traditional RWH methods, due to the need to apply for permission to excavate pans to collect runoff. Furthermore, a focus on the commercialisation of agriculture and an apparent lack of provision of access to t local markets may have discouraged farmers from increasing small small-scale scale productivity, in accordance with findings by Rockström et al (2010). It is suggested that a lack of appropriate institution building has minimised the impact of RWH schemes in Botswana Botswa and if RWH is to have the potential to increase small small-scale scale crop productivity on a widespread basis it is suggested that the capacity of existing institutions, such as the Ministry of Agriculture extension scheme, need to be improved and new institutions s need to be created at the community level to provide a platform for learning and knowledge exchange between farmers (Nijhof et al., 2010), along with more extensive training to equip them with the skills to adapt RWH systems to their particular needs (UNESCO ESCO-IHE & IWMI, 2009).

3.1 The suitability of rainwater harvesting - towards a matrix for assessment Dryland agricultural systems, such as those in Botswana, are inherently risky (Enfors and Gordon, 2007) and the suitability of RWH for increasing crop produ production ction and reducing poverty ultimately depends on the potential the technology holds for reducing the risk involved in arable farming, without restricting benefits gained from other important livelihood sources. Drawing on the findings from Botswana, key re requirements quirements needed to ensure the suitability of RWH in any particular context have been proposed and divided into those affecting initial adoption and those affecting longer-term longer sustainability of RWH. These requirements are outlined in the following sectio section n and summarised in a proposed decisiondecision making matrix in Table 3.1.

Panel Presentation: Water & Sanitation Authors: Lisa Bunclark Institutions: University of East Anglia


EWB-UK UK National Research & Education Conference 2011 ‘Our Global Future’ 4th March 2011

Table 3.1: Decision-making making matrix for the suitability of RWH systems in agriculture. Factor Climate and ecology Initial adoption Adequate data on rainfall, e evaporation and soil properties to allow for effective design of systems Potential rainfall and runoff volume and distribution compatible with crop water demand Soil with good water holding capacity (and sufficient structure if required for any construction in association with RWH system) Soil nutrient level capable of sustaining crop growth in at least the short short-term Longer-term term sustainability Sufficient availability of water to maintain wider ecosystems in region despite presence of RWH systems Equal benefits for both downstream and an upstream users in basin Minimal affects of climate change on ability of RWH to provide adequate water Rainfall patterns offer opportunity for enhancement via RWH with little excessive drought High predictability of rainfall, or provision of weather forecasts, casts, to allow for timely farming practice and efficient use of water harvested

Farming practice

Traditional use of RWH in crop production Growth of relatively high value cash crops Labour and equipment investment acceptable

Combined use of RWH with soil s conservation methods and application of fertiliser Optimisation of farm management skills to decrease limitations on crop production caused by factors other than water availability (eg. seed sowing) Fits wider farming systems in location

Availability of assets

Availability of finances, materials and labour required for adoption through subsidies and assistance from appropriate institutions Adequate land availability and land tenure Knowledge and understanding of RWH Low input demand for adoption

Adequate quate availability of land suitable for longlong term crop production close to homestead Low input demand for maintenance Availability of finances, materials and labour required for maintenance through subsidies and assistance from appropriate institutions Possession session of skills to adapt RWH system to meet specific needs of farm/catchment

Livelihood strategies

Crop production high priority in livelihood strategy Significant reduction in risk of crop failure with implementation of scheme Rapid return on initial i investment Lack of conflict with other current livelihood strategies (eg. pastoral farming)

No detrimental impact on wider livelihood strategy (eg. diversification) Provides consistent boost to household income and nutrition Sustained high priority of agriculture agri in livelihood strategy Low competition for resources from other livelihood strategies (eg. formal employment)

Local and catchment institutions

Government with high capacity to implement relevant policies and schemes Presence of local level insti institutions to implement farmer centred research and extension Assistance of community/village leaders in adoption issues Presence of institutions to provide resources for initial investment (eg. micro credit organisations)

Catchment level institutional linkages linkag between upstream and downstream users to monitor and manage water supply and demand within both agriculture and other sectors Community level institutions to allow for farmer participation in planning, cost sharing, continual evaluation and improvement of systems

Panel Presentation: Water & Sanitation Authors: Lisa Bunclark Institutions: University of East Anglia


EWB-UK UK National Research & Education Conference 2011 ‘Our Global Future’ 4th March 2011

Factor Local and catchment institutions

Initial adoption Government with high capacity to implement relevant policies and schemes Presence of local level institutions to implement farmer centred research and extension Assistance of community/village leaders in adoption issues Presence of institutions to provide resources for initial investment (eg. micro credit organisations)

Longer-term term sustainability Catchment level institutional linkages between upstream and downstream users to monitor and manage water supply and demand within both agriculture re and other sectors Community level institutions to allow for farmer participation in planning, cost sharing, continual evaluation and improvement of systems

National governance

Incentivised policies and schemes, including grants and subsidies Provision of adequate institutions to provide training and assistance with adoption Policies encouraging independence of rural population from government Minimal government bureaucracy involved in adoption of RWH schemes

Complimentary policies encouraging the increased sed importance and growth of small scale agriculture and crop production. Legal framework defining rights and responsibilities of water users Provision of infrastructure to increase access to markets Provision of adequate institutions to provide training and assistance with maintenance and use (Source: Various)

Climate and ecology fed crop productivity is high rainfall variability and the ability to reduce the reliance on One of the greatest risks to rain-fed stochastic rainfall is the key to the suitability of any technology aimed at increasing productivity (Falkenmark ( and Rockström, 2008); in some semi-arid arid and arid areas the variability of the rain may be too great for certain types of RWH to provide sufficient benefits (Reij et al, 1988). Furthermore, RWH must enable crop water demand to be met both in the short- and longer-term term future, maintaining a lowered level of risk in arable farming even in the context of climate change. Climatic factors need to be considered closely with wider ecological issues, as these can have a marked influence on yields. For example, areas with unfavourable soil characteristics, such as low moisture holding capacity, or low fertility may not be suitable for RWH (Critchley and Siegert 1991). Data collection in Botswana reiterated reiterate the importance of combining RWH with soil conservation measures if crop production is to be most successful ( (AfDB, AfDB, 2007, Rockström et al., 2002).

Farming practice Findings highlight the need for effective farming practice and poor management, such as s sub-optimal optimal crop choice and seed-sowing sowing method, may restrict crop production despite increased water availability (Barron, 2009; Kronen, 1994; Yuan et al., 2003). Additionally, although data gathered from Botswana was unable to confirm that the presence of RWH in traditional farming increases the likelihood of the uptake of new RWH strategies, literature suggests that this has proved the case in other projects (AfDB, 2007). As a result it may be possible to conclude that RWH may be more suitable for use in crop rop production in areas where it has been used traditionally, as farmers are likely to be more familiar with the systems.

Availability of assets A lack of resources, including finances, labour and land, is a key constraint to the adoption of RWH by the poorest p farmers (Pachpute et al., 2009; UNESCO-IHE IHE & IWMI, 2009) and although government schemes in Botswana were unsuccessful, in general the provision of grants and assistance from governments or NGOs has been shown to reduce the barrier to the use of the technology (Baguma and Loiskandl, 2010; Tumbo et al., in press).

Livelihood strategies Evidence suggests that in some areas insufficient resources are available for the adoption and sustained use of RWH as crop production is allocated with a relatively low priority level within the household livelihood strategy (Borhang, 1992; Boyd and Turton, 2000; Hatibu and Mahoo, 1999). The conflict between pastoral and arable farming poses perhaps the greatest barrier to the use of RWH in countries where livestock m make ake a large contribution to livelihoods and competition for land, water and vegetation may lead to the failure of RWH systems unless an appropriate system that allows the coco existence of cattle and crops can be implemented as recommended by Botha et al. (2 (2008) 008) and Pacey and Cullis (1991). Panel Presentation: Water & Sanitation Authors: Lisa Bunclark Institutions: University of East Anglia


EWB-UK UK National Research & Education Conference 2011 ‘Our Global Future’ 4th March 2011

Moreover, in nations with high levels of economic development and formal employment where the importance of crop production in rural livelihood strategies is reducing (Ellis, 2000), RWH may not be suitable for increasing crop c production as the investment in non-farm farm income is seen by farmers as having greater potential for reducing livelihood vulnerability than those in arable farming.

National governance The benefit of policies and schemes involving subsidies and grants s specifically pecifically for the purpose of RWH adoption has already been discussed, but if the use of RWH is to be sustainable on a large large-scale scale it is suggested that these incentives need to be accompanied by complimentary policies that encourage the growth of small small-scale ale agriculture. This may include policies comprising improvements to rural infrastructure to allow market access for farmers ( (Rockström Rockström et al., 2010) and an appropriate reduction in drought relief to provide incentives to increase the efficiency of crop production p (Jodha 1990).

Local and catchment institutions The suitability of RWH in small-scale scale agriculture will be greater if both informal and formal institutions exist at local and national level, as this will ensure the sustainable utilisation of RWH ( (Botha Botha et al., 2008; Kundhlande et al, 2004) where benefits are shared equally among all users and allow for the training of farmers and sharing of experiences in the field (Nijhof et al., 2010). This research has also highlighted the difficulties that may be experienced with the involvement of political institutions in agricultural RWH schemes and in accordance with Nigi (2009), has reiterated the need for community-led institutions.



There is a general belief that RWH has the potential break int inter-generational generational cycles of poverty through the improvements it can provide to agricultural productivity (Barron, 2009, NWP, 2007; Vohland and Barry, 2009). However, in many areas empirical evidence does not support this and improvements to livelihoods due t to o the use of RWH in agriculture have been low (Reij et al., 1988; Hatibu et al., 2006). The findings from this research indicate the factors that affect the adoption of RWH in developing countries are: hydrohydro ecological factors, availability of assets; rur rural al livelihood strategies, national governance and local and catchment institutional capacity; all of these aspects need to be analysed when considering the implementation on RWH in smallsmall scale agriculture. In Botswana these factors have been shown to occur within the context of a dynamic and interdependent environment where farm management skills are poor and the incentive to increase crop production is low. The current potential for increases in crop production through the use of RWH appear to be limited and potential for the future is uncertain; this is primarily due to impacts of climate change and alterations to rural livelihood strategies as a result of economic development. With appropriate adaptation of systems and the development of community level institutions to provide in-depth depth training to farmers potential may improve, but it is possible that the prevalence of pastoral farming may present too great a barrier to be overcome in some developing countries. It is recommended that the proposed matrix is applied to and tested in several additional case studies within a range of different contexts as this will allow for further analysis of the factors that determine the suitability of RWH for increasing increasin crop productivity and poverty reduction in developi developing ng countries. This process will lead to the refinement and expansion of the decision-making making framework proposed in this paper into a more comprehensive implementation framework for agricultural RWH schemes.

Panel Presentation: Water & Sanitation Authors: Lisa Bunclark Institutions: University of East Anglia


EWB-UK UK National Research & Education Conference 2011 ‘Our Global Future’ 4th March 2011

Acknowledgements I would like to thank, Dr Bruce e Lankford, for his close supervision and guidance throughout the duration of this research. Special thanks also to both the Jack Wright Memorial Trust and Engineers Without Borders UK, who provided much appreciated financial assistance that enabled the un undertaking dertaking of fieldwork as part of this research.

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EWB-UK UK National Research & Education Conference 2011 ‘Our Global Future’ 4th March 2011

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Panel Presentation: Water & Sanitation Authors: Lisa Bunclark Institutions: University of East Anglia


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