Ethiopia has emerged as an engine of development in Africa, following its rapid economic growth averaging ten percent every year between 2004 and 2014.
The growth resonates well with government’s blueprint to achieve middle-income status or gross national income of at least US$1006 per capita by 2025.
According to the World Bank, the economic growth also has potential to fuel a rapid increase in per capita income for Ethiopia.
Statistics indicate that Ethiopia’s growth has been propelled by prioritisation of agriculture as a key contributor to development and the fast-paced adoption of new technologies to boost the sector.
The available data highlights that a third of Ethiopia’s GDP is generated through agriculture, and more than 12 million households rely on small-scale farming for their livelihoods. And one of the drivers of growth in the agricultural sector has been the expansion of irrigation.
The country has seen the fastest growth in irrigation, the area under irrigation increased by almost 52 percent between 2002 and 2014.
This was achieved by investing in the sector, and by harnessing technology to expand irrigation to farmers who traditionally relied on rainfall to water their crops.
The development has also boosted productivity and income for farmers by helping them extend the growing season and become more consistent in their production.
Ethiopia’s main reasons for agriculture and irrigation success have been featured on the country’s policy agenda since 1991.
In addition, specialised institutions have been set up with clear commitments to maximise the benefits of water control and irrigation systems.
The government has invested in the sector and has plans to continue doing so. It aims to allocate US$15 billion to irrigation development by 2020.
The investment is expected to deliver a number of returns which include more efficient use of fertilisers, a reduction in the seasonal variability in productivity and better yields from irrigated crops grown.
In 2013, Ethiopia’s Agricultural Transformation Agency began mapping more than 32,400 sq kms to identify water resources, particularly shallow groundwater, with the potential for irrigation development.
The final results of this mapping in 89 districts revealed nearly 3 billion cubic metres of water at a depth of less than 30 meters. This could allow approximately 100,000 hectares of land to be brought under irrigation, benefiting 376,000 families.
Finally, Ethiopia has harnessed the value of a full range of irrigation technologies. These have ranged small-scale interventions to large infrastructure.
A joint project between the Ethiopian Bureau of Agriculture, local extension officers, and an NGO called Farm Africa, for example, helped women and young people adopt small-scale irrigation. This was part of an initiative to increase their incomes and improve their nutrition.
Overall, the project reached nearly 6,400 women and landless people while the irrigation project also benefited 700 farming families.
Meanwhile, only six percent of arable land is currently irrigated across the whole of Africa, an indication that there’s huge potential to expand irrigation and unlock economic growth.