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Irrigated Crop Production  

While agriculture in the Kunene River basin is mainly rainfed, there are modest irrigation operations in both the Namibian and the Angolan parts of the basin. The potential for expanding irrigated agriculture on the Angolan side is considerable, and there are wide-ranging plans for the rehabilitation and new construction of irrigation infrastructure. Increased surface and groundwater water provision for irrigated crop cultivation and livestock farming will further enhance the contribution of agriculture to the livelihood mix of the basin people.

Small scale irrigation.
Source: Tump 2005
( click to enlarge )


Irrigation in the Angolan part of the Kunene basin and its contribution to rural livelihoods must be seen within the context of the broader evolving picture of irrigated agriculture in Angola.

Recent detailed data regarding irrigation in Angola is relatively scarce. According to estimates from 2005, the total potential irrigable area is around 3.7 million ha (FAO 2005). Before independence the total area under irrigation has been estimated at around 400 000 ha (11% of the potential area). The rehabilitation and extension of irrigated areas has been made a priority activity in rebuilding the country and to ensure food security. 

To start exploiting this potential, an ambitious national irrigation systems development programme is being implemented by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development MINADER (GOA 2005). Nationwide this programme aims at:

  • The rehabilitation of simple water conservation systems with the potential to irrigate around 850 000 ha of land;
  • The rehabilitation of small and medium to large scale systems with the potential to irrigate 162 000 ha of land; and
  • The implementation of new small and medium to large scale systems with the potential to irrigate around 52 000 ha of land.

These systems are intended to promote both crop production and livestock farming among individual family and smallholder farmers, and commercial farmers, thus sustaining more diversified agricultural livelihoods. Of the envisaged medium to large systems, 17 schemes in nine provinces have been prioritised for rehabilitation or new construction, some of them in the Kunene River basin (see below).


In Namibia, no more than 500, mostly relatively small farms practice irrigated agriculture. These are found along the perennial border rivers (Orange, Okavango, Zambezi and Kunene), below dams (Hardap and Naute), above underground aquifers (Stampriet, Hochfeld, Tsumeb-Otavi-Grootfontein ‘Maize Triangle’), and along ephemeral rivers (Swakop, Hoanib, and Omaruru).

Two thirds of the area used for intensive, irrigated agriculture (some 26 000 ha in total) is planted with white maize, but a range of other mostly high-value crops are also grown. These include wheat, table grapes, olives, dates, vegetables and fruit. This irrigated crop production is for sale to export markets and Namibian consumers and provides farmers with a livelihood base, primarily through the cash incomes generated from commercial sales of crop and animal products.

Pedal pump for small scale irrigation, Angola.
Source: Tump 2007
( click to enlarge )
Small scale irrigation in the Middle Kunene basin.
Source: Tump 2007
( click to enlarge )

Kunene River Basin

Irrigation Schemes in the Angolan Part of the Basin

Current plans for the expansion of irrigation using water from the Kunene River basin foresee a total irrigated area of over 600 000 ha by 2025. This expansion is planned mainly for the Middle Kunene, where around 595 000 ha await development.

There are several medium to large irrigation schemes currently operating in the Angolan part of the Kunene River basin: Matala, and Humpata-Neves (near Lubango) in Huíla Province and Manquete in Kunene Province, all in the middle section of the basin. These 3 schemes as well as 2 other currently idle schemes in Middle Kunene (Chibia-Gandjelas in Huíla Province and Calueque in Kunene Province) have been prioritised for (further) rehabilitation and expansion under the national irrigation systems development programme (see above).

In addition to the rehabilitation of irrigation schemes, the programme also envisaged the construction of new irrigation schemes. In the Kunene River basin this includes: Quipungo-Malipe (200 ha), Sendi (1 500 ha) and Chicungu (300 ha) in Huíla Province and Calueque (16 000 ha) in Kunene Province. In all of these new schemes, water provision for livestock plays a central role (GOA 2005).

For more information, see Rehabilitation and Expansion of Irrigated Areas.

Watering Livestock

In the face of limited and variable surface water resources in the drier parts of the Kunene basin, farmers have long relied on groundwater for watering livestock and irrigating crops, thus ensuring household food security and sustaining family livelihoods. The national irrigation systems development programme includes a project (Huila–Namibe–Kunene hydro–pastoral system) which envisages the construction of ponds (chimpacas) and perforation of boreholes for purposes of agri–livestock development intended for individual small- and medium-scale farmers, as well as water supply to rural populations (GOA 2005).

Irrigation Schemes in the Namibian Part of the Basin

The Kunene basin also includes provides water for irrigation in northern Namibia. Water is pumped from the Kunene at the Calueque weir in Angola and flows via an open canal built in the late 1960s, to feed water into the North Central Region of Namibia. A water abstraction system was installed on this canal in 1998 enabling up to 2.1 m³/s to be abstracted from the canal, shortly after it crosses the border, to supply the Etunda irrigation scheme located in the Omusati Region near Ruacana, just outside the Kunene basin. This scheme is currently 50 % developed, with 300 ha allocated for commercial farming (employing 126 workers) and the other 300 ha for small-scale farming (about 82 farmers most of whom cultivate 3 ha each). Maize is the main commercial crop while various crops (maize, sweet potatoes, cabbage, tomatoes, onions, butternuts, groundnuts, and melons) are cultivated seasonally throughout the year by small-scale farmers. The sale of commercially grown maize provides cash income for the farmers, while small-scale crop production provides for mixed livelihoods combining food security through subsistence and cash incomes through sale of crops (Agribank website 2010).

The only significant stretch of irrigable land that is available directly along the river on the Namibian side of the Lower Kunene is at Marienfluss, some 250 km downstream from the Ruacana Falls. Possible development of this remote and isolated area, however, depends on hydro power being developed in the Lower Kunene (MET 2010). This will become a reality if and when approval is given by the governments of Angola and Namibia for building a hydro power plant at Baynes, currently being investigated as the best option of a site for such a purpose.

To know more about irrigated crop production in the basin, please click on Irrigation Infrastructure and Irrigation in the Basin.




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