Promoting rainwater harvesting eastern and southern Africa: the RELMA experience uri icon


  • Early explorers to Africa reported finding serene countryside where people, their livestock and wildlife co-existed in an almost untamed environment (Thomson, 1887; Krapf, 1860). However, with colonization of nearly all the countries in eastern and southern Africa, except Ethiopia, in th e early 1900s, pressure on land resources started to be experienced as indigenous populations were relocated to generally poorer, more fragile farmlands and grazi ng areas, and ecosystem degradation was reported (Tate, 1904; Hardinge, 1899; Herren 1987). In contrast, the land alienated for European settlements was usually had the highest potential. For instance, in Swaziland and Zi mbabwe, more than half of the land was alienated. In Angola, Malawi, Tanzania a nd Zambia, the proportion alienated was not so large, but it still tended to be on the c ool, high-potential plat eau where productivity and population density were highest (Hunter, 1992). As a result of compulsory acquisition of high-potential land, population densities on poor quality or marginal lands throughout th e region increased over a relatively short time and traditional land management strategies became unviable. By the 1930s, soil erosion and land degradation was being documented and raising concern (Maher, 1937; 1938). During this period (1930s-1960s), the colonial administration and its extension system enforced compulsory conser vation â?? what has been referred to as the â??Colonial Error in Soil Conservationâ?? (Admassie, 1992). From the 1960s, many African countries were getting independent from colonial rule and there were high expectations by poor smallholder farmers. In some cases, land was reallocated and large farms were sub-divided, creating new smallholder settlements, some of which spread from the wetter highlands to the drier rangelands originally used for ranching (Huber and Opondo, 1995). The incoming African settlers brought with them subsis tence agriculture even on fragile marginal lands. As the farm sizes were small, the farms were subjected to intensive cultivation and overgrazing (Koh ler 1987). The post-independence euphoria (1960s-1970s), also brought with it a laissez faire attitude among the smallholder land users, who felt â??freeâ?� from co lonial rules such as those on soil and water conservation, resulting in a period of rejection, the so -called â??lost yearsâ?? (Admassie, 1992)

publication date

  • 2006