Climate Smart Agriculture: Using Greywater for Improved Irrigation and Food Security
Nutrition at the Center (N@C) is a five-year integrated nutrition project aimed to improve nutrition outcomes for women of reproductive age and children below the age of two years. The project aims to reduce anemia among women and children and to reduce stunting among children below the age of two years. N@C integrates targeted behavior change strategies around the issues of food security, gender and women’s empowerment, water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH), and Maternal, Infant and Young Child Nutrition (MIYCN).
Adverse impacts on food security
Household food security is required as a baseline for implementing effective and lasting health and nutrition initiatives. Without the establishment and maintenance of food security at the household level, health and nutrition behavior change programs would be unsustainable. N@C places strategic emphasis on the essential role that food security plays in the promotion of nutrition for women and children, who are often the most vulnerable within a population.
The N@C project supports 10,842 women in homestead food production among other interventions aimed at improving overall health and wellbeing in Zambia. However, climate change has had an adverse impact on food security over the past two years of program implementation, in turn directly threatening the strides made to achieve improved nutrition outcomes among affected households. Inconsistent rainfall patterns in Zambia project areas due to climate change negatively impact household access to natural water points. These water points are no longer able to hold reserves of water making off-season vegetable production nearly impossible. Problems in accessing water for gardening affects almost all project participants and makes it difficult to promote off season vegetable production. This directly compromises food security and the health and nutrition status of vulnerable populations in these areas.
The issue of climate change and unreliable access to water has the potential to significantly and adversely impact household food security. The program therefore was forced to find strategic solutions to address these underlying issues of climate change and food insecurity in project areas in order to ensure sustainable improvements in nutrition outcomes for women and children.
Innovation to enhance food security
In response to the pressing issue of climate change-driven food insecurity in project areas, N@C promotes the use of greywater, or runoff water that is non-potable but safe to re-use for irrigation, as a solution to the challenges posed by the adverse effects of climate change on water accessibility and homestead food production in Zambia. The approach was started by one nutrition support group from the Mwase Mphangwe rural health facility of the Mukula Ngombe village decided to use runoff water from boreholes as a solution to address the lack of access to water for off-season gardening in their village with a goal of increasing access to nutritious vegetables for over 30 households. With the support of a community health volunteer, the group members approached their village headman and asked him for permission to establish a garden near the village borehole to divert and utilize runoff greywater that would normally be discarded and instead use it to irrigate their vegetable garden.
“The money that comes from the sale of vegetables [from the greywater garden] helps us to buy… nutritious foods such as meat and fish that we were previously lacking at home during dry spells. I would recommend that other areas facing water problems can make use of the runoff water from the boreholes to support food production.” – Tisaine Phiri, Mukula Ngombe Village
After approval of the action plan by the village headman, the nutrition support group members established their community vegetable garden with support from an agricultural extension officer. The garden was designed specifically to utilize greywater irrigation and to increase food security for all vulnerable households in the village. Each household detains ownership over their own plot in the communal garden where they each plant nutritious vegetables such as amaranth, beans, pumpkin leaves, rapeseed, tomatoes, and carrots. In order to irrigate the garden in a sustainable manner, the community built a soak-away that channels greywater from the borehole to the garden. The innovation involves capturing water that spills off when women routinely draw water from the borehole and repurposes this greywater towards irrigating the community vegetable garden. To do this, villagers dug connected channels from the borehole and furrows in the garden to redistribute runoff water equally among the garden beds.
Additionally, an agricultural extension officer supports the nutrition support group members with the provision of monthly technical information sessions on topics such as pest management and vegetable preservation.
This innovation is a sustainable solution to address challenges created by climate change and provides an alternative method of increasing water accessibility and food security during off-seasons. Instead, water that would otherwise go to waste is instead diverted to cultivate vegetables and improve livelihoods for numerous households.
The primary target beneficiaries of this greywater irrigation innovation under the N@C project are vulnerable pregnant and lactating women or women with children below the age of two years in the Mukula Ngombe village of the Mwase Mphangwe community of Lundazi District, Eastern Zambia. A total of 30 women have benefitted from the greywater-irrigated community garden. Spouses of these primary beneficiaries are also actively engaged in supporting their wives in managing the garden. N@C also strategically partnered with both the Zambian Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Health to further support women to maintain and expand greywater-irrigated garden activities.
Through this intervention, 30 households have strengthened their household food security amidst severe environmental challenges related to availability and accessibility of water supplies needed for homestead food production. Each household produces on average 15 kilograms (valued at 20 USD per yield) of vegetables per week which provides enough produce for both household consumption and sale to surrounding villages. The greywater garden innovation has not only greatly aided these households directly, but has also rendered locally grown nutritious vegetables available for purchase on local markets and increased access for many additional households in surrounding villages.
One nutrition support group member, Tisaine Phiri, described how the use of greywater from the borehole has significantly contributed to improved household food security and incomes in her community, and noted that she is able to grow enough food in her plot to consume some in her own household and use the rest to generate an income from vegetable sales. “The money that comes from the sale of vegetables helps us to buy farming inputs during the rainy season and also other nutritious foods such as meat and fish that we were previously lacking at home during dry spell.”
The greywater garden innovation has also reduced time and labor burdens for women participants by removing the need for them to constantly water their gardens by hand, especially during periods of water shortage. These women have shared that there has been more dialogue within their households on how income from the sale of vegetables is spent, which is a promising indicator of increased women’s empowerment and gender equity. In order to ensure sustainability of this initiative, each household routinely contributes 15ZMW (1.50 USD) towards borehole maintenance, and the community regularly holds meetings to ensure that the equipment is well maintained.
All in all, this community-led initiative is a promising climate-smart agriculture solution and has potential to be scaled up to other communities.