COP22: African agriculture gains momentum to produce more food with less water

Africa and agriculture are two topics stressed by the Morrocan government at the 22nd climate summit that is taking place in Marrakesh, Morocco.
Countries in the Northwestern Maghreb-region are very much aware their agriculture is facing more mega droughts. The existing, mostly traditional, agriculture has only a very limited drought tolerance, so adaptation to new methodes is envitable.

More resilient and more productivity

At the COP22 this was marked by the launch of the Adaptation of African Agriculture (AAA), highlighting a sustainable increase in productivity and agricultural incomes, as well as adaptation and the building of resilience to climate change. The new initiative aims to contribute to the roll-out of specific agricultural projects.

The launch shows that climate adaptation is gaining more momentum at the annual cimate summit that used to focus only on the transition to renewable energy.

Drastic reduction of agricultural water use

The Holland pavilion at the climate summit also adressed the drought risk for the African farmers by showing two Dutch supported initiatives that can drastically reduce the amount of water used in farming.

At the pavilion Nicolaas Visser, agricultural counsellor for Northern Africa at the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Morocco, points out the impact of both initiatives have a potential of up to 90% water reduction by efficiently delivering water directly to plants.

One of the initiatives is a greenhouse project near the Moroccan coastal city of Adagir. Together with the Morrocan ministry of agriculture the Dutch embassy created a centre of excellent in horticulture to pilot new innovative greenhouse technologies to increase the productivity per square meter.

Hydroponic cultivation

Together with the Wageningen University a green house has been designed that specifically meets the local climate conditions with extreme temperature and dropping water availability.

“Farmers are growing tomatoes in greenhouses that were originally designed for bananas”, says Visser. “By introducing hydroponic cultivation and a smart ventilation, we think we are to reduce the water from 40 liter water per kilogram tomatoes to only 4 liter”.

The construction of the first 1 ha greenhouse is expected to start early next year. “It will be a demonstration greenhouse so we can optimize the inside growing conditions to the local circumstances”, Visser adds.

The second initiative shown at the Holland pavilion at the COP22 is the El Oued sustainable water project for potato production in Algeria.

Underground fertigation

“Algeria is importing potatoes and is interested in smart methods to increase their own national prodution”, Visser explains. “Currently their potatoes are grown at tenthousands 1 ha cicular pivots that use groundwater from ancient underground aquifer. Nobody knows to what extend the water withdrawal inluences the acquifer.”

With support from the Dutch governement a project has started to replace the current potato cultivation with a totally new methode, combining fertilisation and irrigation in the undergroud. The underground irrigation delivers the water closely to the potato itself. This excludes the current water loss due to evaporation.

“In the Netherlands a machine has been developed that can create a ground wall, plant the potato in it and burries the drain. All in one go”, Visser continues.

Mid-2017 the first plot of 5 ha is expected to be constructed. Visser expects a water saving of 80 percent.

The Holland pavillion shows a real greenhouse with hydroponic cultivation. A group of Dutch suppliers is present as the Desert Growing collective for the turn key delivery of greenhouses.