Much of Sub-Saharan Africa is burdened with water scarcity and poverty. Continentally, less than four percent of Africa's renewable water resources are withdrawn for agriculture and other uses. Investments in agricultural water management can contribute in several ways to achieving the Millennium Development Goals of eradicating extreme poverty and hunger and ensuring environmental sustainability. Increased yield and cropping area and shifts to higher valued crops could help boost the income of rural households, generate more employment, and lower consumer food prices. These investments can also stabilize output, income and employment, and have favourable impacts on education, nutrition and health, and social equity. Investments in agricultural water management can cut poverty by uplifting the entitlements and transforming the opportunity structure for the poor. The overall role of investments in agricultural water management in eradicating hunger and poverty is analyzed. This paper contributes to the present debate and efforts to identify strategies and interventions that can effectively contribute to poverty reduction in Africa. It provides an overview of population growth, malnutrition, income distribution and poverty for countries in three case study river basins — Limpopo, Nile, and Volta. With discussions on the contribution of agriculture to national income and employment generation, the paper explores the linkages among water resources investments, agricultural growth, employment, and poverty alleviation. It examines the potential for expansion in irrigation for vertical and horizontal growth in agricultural productivity, via gains in yield and cropping area to boost the agricultural output. Factors constraining such potential, in terms of scarcity and degradation of land and water resources, and poor governance and weak institutions, are also outlined. The paper argues that increased investments in land and water resources and related rural infrastructure are a key pathway to enhance agricultural productivity and to catalyze agricultural and economic growth for effective poverty alleviation.
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