In semi-arid and sub-humid sub-Saharan Africa, highly variable rainfall, frequent droughts and low water productivity consistently undermine food security. Rainwater harvesting technologies help use water more productively while raising yield levels.

This article argues that realizing the potential of these technologies for resilience-building and climate adaptation requires a better understanding of global and regional processes influencing their adoption, combined with pre-existing analysis at the household scale. On the basis of a systematic literature review, the authors identify processes of influence in the diffusion and uptake of these technologies; these relate to shifting ideology associated with food production systems; the scope of investments in agriculture science and technology; emergent actors shaping development assistance; and patterns of farmer mobility.

Drawing insights from theory on transformations for sustainability and development, the article adds to the understanding of connectedness between farm-level adoption of RWHTs, and regional to global-level actors, institutions and processes.

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