IWMI Southern Africa |

Southern Africa

In Southern Africa, high rainfall variability and the ever-present threat of drought remain the critical water resource constraints particularly in dryland areas. Most national economies in the region are dominated by agriculture.


Over 70% of the population depends on subsistence rain-fed farming for their livelihoods. In countries like South Africa, Swaziland and Zimbabwe, agriculture is the largest single user of water with more than 50% of freshwater used for irrigation. Strategic water management will be the key to future agricultural and economic growth in the region. To achieve this, there is an urgent need to improve Southern Africa’s agricultural water management interventions. Research carried out by the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) seeks to identify realistic, socially equitable and environmentally sustainable agricultural water investments options. These options need to be able to respond to regional needs and priorities, and contribute to increasing agricultural productivity and reducing poverty. IWMI’s projects in Southern Africa target poor farmers in rural areas in particular. A specific focus is placed on identifying and developing bio-physical and socio-economic and institutional innovations to address local constraints to achieving food security, improved human health and economic empowerment of smallholder farmers.


Collaborative research and partnerships

IWMI conducts multidisciplinary research covering a wide range of critical water management issues including:

  • hydrology
  • geohydrology
  • soil science
  • engineering
  • social sciences
  • environmental science
  • water economics

A guiding principle in all IWMI’s work is an emphasis on collaborative research and partnerships. At a regional level, IWMI’s Southern Africa research aims to support the Southern African Development Community’s (SADC) Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan (RISDP). Towards achieving this aim, the Southern Africa IWMI office is coordinating the Regional Strategic Analysis and Knowledge Support System for Southern Africa (ReSAKSS-SA). ReSAKSS-SA works to identify and assess strategic options for agricultural growth and development in Southern Africa (both at regional and national levels), particularly those options contributing most to the alleviation of poverty. Within this framework, IWMI’s research in Southern Africa is aligned with the aims of the SADC Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources (FANR) Directorate. Supporting national development objectives At a national level, IWMI collaborates with a wide array of government departments, national agricultural research organizations, development partners, civil society organizations, and private sector enterprises, to support national development priorities including the development and implementation of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) National Agriculture Investment Plans (NAIPs). The IWMI Southern Africa office, based in Pretoria, also hosts the Southern Africa office of the Global Water Partnership (GWP-SA), with which it shares interests and conducts collaborative research on integrated water resources management.