Until very recently, the Katuma river in Tanzania was on the verge of drying-up. The main reasons for the reduced river flow were illegal abstractions by smallholder farmers and irregular and reduced rainfall due to climate change.

The Katuma catchment consists of the Mpanda, Msanginya and Katuma rivers and feeds into the Lake Rukwa Basin in southwestern Tanzania. The catchment is not only important for the basin and downstream communities, but also, and critically to the survival of Katavi National Park and its surrounding ecosystems. The park is approximately 4,500 km2, the third largest national park in Tanzania and very rich in biodiversity. The park encompasses the Katuma river and the seasonal Lake Chada floodplains. It is often said by locals that "without Katuma river, there will be no Katavi National park". 

In recent years, the flow of the Katuma river reduced so significantly that the river was re-classified in 2000 from perennial to seasonal. Paddy-field farming is common in the region and often practiced using informal irrigation schemes that are inefficient and poorly managed resulting in significant water losses. These irrigation schemes are often characterized by hand-dug and unlined canals and controlled by village entrepreneurs. Due to the absence of formal irrigation infrastructures, these ad-hoc schemes use sand bags at various points upstream to block and redirect water from the Katuma into the irrigation canals. 

As part of IUCN SUSTAIN-Africa Initiative, a rapid water assessment was undertaken by SNV in collaboration with Local Government Authorities (LGAs) and the Lake Rukwa Water Basin (LRWB) to assess the situation. It was concluded from the results that a multi-faceted approach of stakeholder engagement was needed, in combination with awareness raising and the implementation of sustainable farming practices as critical to restoring the river's flow. Through the multi-stakeholder platform which was established, results from the rapid water assessment were shared, including the implications for all stakeholders. Next, a joint task force comprised of the LGAs, the LRWB and community representatives took down the illegal water channels in the catchment. The task force made a commitment to the affected communities to work with the SUSTAIN-Africa team to provide alternative irrigation facilities for farmers.

As farming is the main economic activity in the Katavi region, the task force worked with SUSTAIN team members in developing a Katuma Catchment Water Resource Strategy and an Action Plan in order to address the concerns of the farmers. The solution was to construct efficient but low-cost irrigation structures with a self-financing strategy to provide water to smallholder farmers in the affected areas. A Regional Irrigation Commission designed a low cost irrigation scheme to be constructed. To secure finance for construction of the scheme, a Build-Operate-Transfer (BoT) strategy was adopted, meaning the investor recoups his investment with some profit, and then transfers ownership of the system to the Water User Association (WUA). An entrepreneur, who hitherto had run an illegal scheme servicing over 5000 smallholder farmers, agreed to invest in an improved irrigation scheme in Mnyagala village at a cost of about US$90,000. The LRWB supported the Katuma WUA to enter into a BoT agreement with the entrepreneur. The contract stipulated key responsibilities, including re-payment of construction costs. The WUA also entered into an MoU with the LRWB in order to extract water from the river for irrigation purposes.

Today construction of the new irrigation scheme is completed. Farmers pay for irrigation water but at a much lower cost than before. The new scheme and arrangement is expected to significantly improve water use efficiency and cater to a higher number of farmers. More importantly, the flow of the Katuma river has seen significant improvements benefitting livelihoods, ecosystems, and Katavi National Park.  In order to further improve water use efficiency, SUSTAIN-Africa has introduced the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) to smallholder rice producers. This system, which has been tested in the Kilombero valley, will improve farmers’ yields and significantly reduce water use in the process. 

For more information, please contact michael.nkonu[@]iucn.org