Local communities co-creating locally-led water management systems for integrated farming in Chikankata

By Kondwani Thindwa - Panos Institute, Zambia

Access to clean and reliable water sources is a constant challenge in many rural communities worldwide. Chikankata district, like many other regions in sub-Saharan Africa, faces the harsh realities of water scarcity, exacerbated by climate change and inconsistent rainfall patterns.

Access to a reliable water source is crucial for agricultural productivity, and with it, communities are protected from food insecurity and economic instability. However, some resilient communities have taken matters into their own hands, demonstrating inspiring initiatives to harvest water sustainably.


A community-led water harvesting structure from a natural spring is used to engage in various domestic and farming activities. Photo credit: Kondwani Thindwa.



Leading in such locally led water harvesting initiatives, the local communities of Musaya, in Chikakanta district, working with Climate Smart Agriculture Alliance (CSAAZ), a local partner under the Voices for Just Climate Action programme in Zambia, are spearheading nature-based initiatives to address the adverse impacts of droughts through the co-creation of an improvised water harvesting structure from a natural spring to engage in integrated farming as a means of sustainable livelihood.



Collaborating with CSAAZ, the local community members of Musaya have come together to reconstruct water harvesting structures with contour trenches from a natural spring, diverting water for their domestic, gardening and farming activities. These structures capture and store rainwater during the wet season, replenishing groundwater and providing a reliable water source during drier periods. This initiative addresses water scarcity, prevents soil erosion, and improves land productivity.


A woman draws water from the water harvesting structure for her domestic use. Photo credit: Kondwani Thindwa.



The design process focused on creating a system that maximises water yield while minimising environmental impact. The community of Musaya recognised the importance of preserving the natural ecosystem around the spring, ensuring that the water harvesting process would be sustainable in the long run.


“As you can see, the vegetation around this natural spring is greener and conserved as compared to the surrounding areas…After having learned about the importance of trees around the natural spring, the next thing we did was to share with other communities to conserve trees as they help improve the water levels around here.” – Mweetwa


The local communities have created channels from the spring to the various gardens and fishponds using locally sourced stones and available blocks. These channels were carefully designed to direct water flow without causing erosion or disturbance to the surrounding landscape.


Local farmer of Musaya in Chikankata district showcasing how they have sourced stones and blocks locally to create contour trenches leading to water to their gardens and fishponds. Photo credit: Kondwani Thindwa.



The locally-led water management systems are seamlessly integrated with farming practices. Through their learning and interactions with CSAAZ, the local farmers are adopting agroecological principles that maximise water efficiency, such as mulching, intercropping, and crop rotation. These practices are not only conserving water but are also enhancing soil fertility, reducing the dependence on external inputs like chemical fertilisers.


“Now that we have learned how to harvest and conserve the water from this natural spring, we are now diverting this same water to do our gardening and fish farming activities.”Arthur Muleya



The integrated farming systems supported by these water management initiatives enable economic diversification. The local farmers are now growing a variety of crops and engaging in fish farming, creating a more resilient and diverse livelihood strategy.


Mrs Tezelele feeds her fingerings during a site visit to Musaya in Chikankata district. Photo credit: Kondwani Thindwa.



While the locally-led water management systems in Chikankata have shown considerable success, challenges remain. Climate variability and the need for ongoing maintenance of water structures require continuous community engagement and support. Additionally, scaling up these initiatives to cover larger areas and involving more communities is crucial for sustained impact.

Local farmer explains how the local water management systems are seamlessly integrated with farming practices. Photo credit: Kondwani Thindwa.

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