Changing Planet

Drip Irrigation to Solve Famine in the Sahel?

Local vegetable markets in Niger, Benin, Burkina Faso, and Senegal, could be flush with produce, despite drought conditions, thanks to a new agricultural system that combines efficient irrigation with new varieties of plants, according to scientists speaking today at the African Green Revolution Forum in Accra, Ghana. (News via press release.)

Photograph of boys harvesting lettuce in the village of Yelou in Niger by Dov Pasternak.


Drought has plagued Africa’s Sahel region for decades, threatening nearly half of Niger’s population, estimated at seven million, with starvation this year. The majority of food grown in the Sahel is from subsistence farms that rely on rain.

Several agricultural nonprofits announced today they will work with locals to implement the new system, called the African Market Garden, on more than 7,000 small farms in 100 locations in the Sahel.

The effort comes after more than eight years of research and the successful management of African Market Gardens on 3,000 farms, according to scientists from the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), and the World Vegetable Center (AVRDC).

Dov Pasternak, with the Niger branch of ICRISAT explains that farmers and local markets aren’t able to keep pace with rapid population growth and urbanization, in part because of inefficient water use.

In traditional small-scale agriculture in the Sahel, irrigation can take up to eight hours a day as water is hauled from local sources, such as the Niger, Senegal, and Chari Rivers. The new system replaces manual irrigation with a solar-powered pump that delivers water to drip irrigation systems from the rivers.

Funding comes from various international NGOs and foundations, as well as through the development of farm cooperatives in the region.

Photograph of women harvesting leafy greens in Kalale-Benin by Dov Pasternak.



Tasha Eichenseher is the Environment Producer and Editor for National Geographic Digital Media. She has covered water issues for a wide range of media outlets, including E,The Environmental MagazineEnvironmental Science & Technology online newsGreenwireGreen Guide, and National Geographic News.

[This post has been reformatted for Water Currents.]

Tasha Eichenseher is the Environment Producer and Editor for National Geographic Digital Media. She has covered water issues for a wide range of media outlets, including E/The Environment Magazine, Environmental Science & Technology online news, Greenwire, Green Guide, and National Geographic News.
  • Ariana A. Losco

    a 5000 mile suez style canal across the sahel region from the atlantic to the red sea will insure the drought does not come.

  • dat boi

    Harambe lives on my bois

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