Water Harvesting - Guidelines to Good Practice

Water harvesting has been practiced successfully for millennia
in parts of the world – and some recent interventions
have also had significant local impact. Yet water harvesting’s
potential remains largely unknown, unacknowledged and

It is time to scale-up the ‘good practices’ of water harvesting
that have survived or emerged from new experience,
after decades of almost exclusive focus on mastering fresh
water flows in rivers and lakes through investments in irrigation
infrastructure. Water harvesting offers under-exploited
opportunities for the predominantly rainfed farming systems
of the drylands in the developing world. It works best
in precisely those areas where rural poverty is worst. When
practiced well, its impact is to simultaneously reduce hunger
and alleviate poverty, as well as to improve the resilience of
the environment.

The principle is simple: capture potentially damaging rainfall
runoff and translate this into plant growth or water supply.
This makes clear sense where rainfall is limited, uneven or
unreliable with pronounced dry spells. Yet despite these
rainfall limitations, runoff occurs due to high intensity showers
and the low water holding capacity of fields, pastures,
and forests. And with the impacts of climate change already
with us, here is an approach to better use a local resource
for livelihood sustenance. These practical guidelines offer
a menu of technologies that can form part of an overall
adaptation strategy for rural people: farmers and nomads,
women and men. Rainwater harvesting technologies presented
in these guidelines are flexible and if needed can be
adjusted to the local context while being embedded into
institutional frameworks.

The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD)
and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation
(SDC) have come together to present water harvesting in
a way that makes good practice both understandable and
accessible. These guidelines are intended to inform decisionmakers
and donors, but are mainly geared to be of direct
use to practitioners in the field, all the way up to watershed
and river basin planners. A wide span of technologies are
covered: these range from large-scale floodwater spreading
that make alluvial plains cultivable, to systems that boost
crop, fodder and tree production in small farms, as well as
practices that collect and store water from household compounds.
There is a hidden wealth of knowledge about these water
harvesting technologies, and the settings in which they
tend to perform best. This is the first time this knowledge
has been uncovered, collated and made available in such
an organized, illustrated and informative way – linking
technologies to the knowledge networks that will serve the
intended users of these practical guidelines to better understand
and implement their choices.

Rima Mekdaschi Studer and Hanspeter Liniger
Centre for Development and Environment (CDE) and Institute of Geography, University of Bern; Rainwater Harvesting, Implementation Network (RAIN), Amsterdam; MetaMeta, Wageningen; The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), Rome
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