Assessing the growth potential of farmer-led irrigation development in sub-Saharan Africa

Lead Research Organisation: University of Manchester
Department Name: Environment, Education and Development


This research will contribute to answering the question "what institutions and policies lead to investment in irrigation by individual farmers, groups of farmers and large-scale enterprises?" under the first DEGRP theme "Agriculture and Growth". The project will assess whether current investment by farmers in small-scale irrigation might offer a model for broad-based economic growth in rural areas of Africa.

The research is timely because, after nearly two decades of stalled irrigation investment due to poor performance of irrigation projects in Africa in the 1970s, international commitment to funding African irrigation is growing rapidly as a response to rising food prices and the continuing stagnation of African agricultural productivity. However, funding commitments are yet to be informed by systematic analysis of how irrigation actually works in today's farming contexts in Africa, leading to uncertainty about choices of technology and forms of social organisation needed, and concerns that implementation of large-scale irrigation will repeat past problems and not achieve broad-based economic growth.

This study will respond to this gap by bringing together social science researchers from the UK and irrigation scientists from the Netherlands to work with African researchers in Mozambique and Tanzania on case studies of contemporary irrigation in Africa. The studies will focus on cases where there is evidence that small-scale farmers are investing in irrigation, including the construction of furrows to divert streams, the management of wetter lowlands to grow rice, and the adoption of new low-cost pump technologies and drip irrigation.

Each study will develop an analysis of these irrigation developments from a local and a national perspective. At a local level, a combination of interviews and questionnaire surveys will be used to identify why farmers do, or do not, invest in irrigation, the kinds of technical and financial support they can obtain, the changes in agricultural productivity they achieve, and the wider social and economic consequences, particularly for people (e.g. women, younger men, and those recently-settled in the area) whose rights to use land and water are typically subordinate to others in hierarchical systems of local governance.

Case study findings will be presented for discussion by communities participating in the study. At a national level, interviews and workshops with policy-makers in both international development agencies and government, and with non-government organisations and commercial suppliers of irrigation equipment, will be used to provide an analysis of these agencies' perceptions of 'farmer-led' irrigation development and the extent to which such development is supported by policy. The countries selected provide strongly contrasting policy environments, Tanzania having recognised and supported farmer-initiated irrigation in the past whereas Mozambique has not.

Project findings will be disseminated internationally through open access publication in peer-reviewed academic journals, and through engagement with an international advisory group including academic and 'end user' representatives. At a national level, the project will undertake workshops with officials and policy-makers on irrigation in both Tanzania and Mozambique both during inception and after completion of the local-level fieldwork on irrigation case studies. Research findings will also contribute to curriculum development by the African research partners.

Planned Impact

We will engage key stakeholders at four levels: national policy-makers, local users, African academics, and international academic/users.

National policy-makers. In each of the countries in which the research is to be undertaken we will convene a series of "strategic workshops" at inception, mid-term and 6 months before the end of the project. At each workshop the research team (Manchester/WUR and African research partners) as well as key policy makers and technical advisors on irrigation will be able to assess and discuss the project activities and findings. Workshop outcomes will inform research design and data collection activities (at inception, and mid-term) and data interpretation and research findings (in the final workshop).

Local users: At a local level, we will seek opportunities to engage with farmers' organisations in discussing the research findings, particularly in terms of comparing different irrigation approaches and their relevance for different groups (e.g. women and youth). These meetings will also involve staff from the local irrigation and agricultural administration so that to raise their awareness -and readiness to engage with- farmer-led irrigation innovation and development.

African academics. In each of the case study countries, the research will involve the Manchester and Wageningen researchers working with African co-investigators from higher education and research institutions: - ISPM in Mozambique, NM-AIST in Tanzania
This will offer opportunities for capacity building: through collaborative research design and data collection, and the possible use of data collected by junior researchers for a PhD in a local university (the PhD will be co-supervised by staff from Manchester/WUR). The research will also provide the basis for seminars and curriculum development in ISPM (Mozambique) and NM-AIST (Tanzania), particularly in reframing how irrigation is perceived by students (notably, in their awareness of local 'artisanal' adaptations of more formal irrigation technology) and in interdisciplinary methodologies for irrigation appraisal, particularly with respect to understanding broader social and economic effects.

International academics/users. early publication of research results in high quality journal papers will challenge current thinking by re-framing debates about the potential options of investment in irrigation (the last 6 months of the project are specifically devoted to this activity). These papers will emphasise cross-disciplinary analysis and accessibility to non-specialist readers by targeting Open Access publication in key high-impact journals (World Development, Journal of Peasant Studies, Journal of Agrarian Change, Water Alternatives). Findings will be disseminated also by conference presentations and via shorter briefing notes to mailing lists and via web pages. The project will also use a high-level "advisory group" to guide the implementation of the project and offer opportunities for the project to inform international policy agendas.
Description Improving African agricultural productivity is a key factor in achieving food security, economic growth and rural employment. The question of irrigation development lies at the heart of strategies to raise agricultural productivity. Over the past decade this question has sharpened in the wake of the 2007-8 increase in prices in international food commodity markets, which prompted corporate and sovereign financial agencies to invest in agricultural land in sub-Saharan Africa, and African governments to set out ambitious new policies for irrigation investment.
This has re-opened policy debates about how best to develop irrigation in Africa, both in terms of assessing the 'potential' for irrigation development and the reasons why past investment was often perceived as unproductive . These debates are rapidly being overtaken by growing empirical evidence of an expansion of agricultural water management, mainly by small-scale producers using a variety of technologies. Although systematic data are scarce, the aggregate area of this 'farmer-led' irrigation development appears to exceed that of 'formal' irrigation schemes and suggests official statistics seriously underestimate the total amount of irrigation in sub-Saharan Africa ( ).
The significance of such 'farmer-led' irrigation development (FLId) is that it is a widely-observed empirical phenomenon. The importance of seeking a definition is in opening a discussion about how state and non-state agencies may intervene in a process where farmers influence the location, purpose and design of irrigation development. Emerging characteristics important for such a discussion are:
1. FLId is a process in which farmers drive the establishment, improvement and/or expansion of irrigated agriculture, often in interaction with external actors
2. This type of irrigation development cuts across existing irrigation typologies defined on basis of scale, technologies, crops, governance arrangements, etc.
3. This type of irrigation development is extensive and increasing.
4. Appropriate (governance) responses to these developments are situation-specific.
As a dynamic process of change FLId brings both benefits and risks. Both may provide reasons for state and non-state agencies to intervene to support and expand and/or to regulate and re-direct farmers' irrigation initiatives. A preliminary assessment suggests the following classification of benefits and risks associated with FLId:
A survey of 2700 households in sites of farmer-led irrigation in Eastern and Southern Africa show irrigators suffer fewer months of food insecurity and have better housing and higher indices of asset ownership than non-irrigators .
They also show almost 40% of irrigators adopting more intensive production using fertilizers, pesticides and improved seeds, compared to barely 10% of non-irrigators.
Farmer-led irrigation is strongly oriented towards producing crops for the market and an overwhelming majority (84%) of irrigators consider that irrigated crops deliver a half or more than half of their income.
These benefits of irrigation appear achievable at much lower (possibly a third to a fifth) public investment cost (USD2-4000/ha) than those associated with large-scale irrigation (USD10-20,000/ha). In addition, since farmers themselves are investing labour, capital and land in irrigation, the cost of FLId to African governments budget is virtually nil. In this way, FLId may offer a strategy by which governments may invest less but smarter to achieve their agricultural productivity and food security goals.
Increasing irrigation may increase competition for water, not just among irrigators but between irrigation and other sectors, such as hydropower and municipal water supply.
FLId presents challenges of accelerating social inequality across generations and gender. Irrigators tend to have more land and are more likely to hire labour than non-irrigators and FLId threatens to increase wealth differentials between irrigators and non-irrigators. This may have strongly gendered implications since female-headed households are under-represented among irrigators, compared to non-irrigators.
Increased pesticide use among irrigators raises downstream pollution risks, particularly where technical advice on pesticide use may be lacking.
Many FLId initiatives present new legislative and regulatory challenges to state agencies that also confront capacity limitations to effective intervention. In particular, the dynamic and informal nature of FLId poses particular challenges to avoid diminishing entrepreneurial initiative through over-regulation.
Exploitation Route A key goal of the project is to ensure existing small-scale irrigation initiatives by farmers are recognised by irrigation agencies and that a dialogue about appropriate legislative and regulatory approaches is established among state and non-state agencies in sub-Saharan Africa.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice

Description International commitment to funding African Irrigation is rising as a response to increased food prices and continuing low productivity of agricultural production in sub-Saharan Africa. This research project, funded by ESRC - DFID, brings together a team of social science researchers and irrigation scientists from the UK, Europe and Africa. The project seeks to understand if current investment by famers in small-scale irrigation can offer a model for broad-based economic growth in rural areas of Africa. A clear systematic analysis of existing initiatives will inform policies to generate growth in agricultural productivity, give a greater understanding of social and economic consequences, of changing land and water rights, and the choices of technical and financial support required. Fieldwork has started in Mozambique at Ruaca-Chirodzo, Vanduzi and Nhamatande. In Tanzania the research team is working in Moshi District, at Mandaka Mnono, Kahe and Mijongwene The project team have started a series of policy-maker interviews with Government and non-Government agencies to discuss perceptions of irrigation, irrigation statistics, future irrigation development, and policy priorities. Plans are underway for the SAFI Project's mid-term meetings in summer 2016 in Maputo, and Dar es Salaam.
First Year Of Impact 2015
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink
Impact Types Societal

Description New Directions for Irrigation Development in Tanzania, Dar-es-Salaam, 2 September 2016. 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact The workshop "New Directions for Irrigation Development in Tanzania" was proposed by the SAFI (Studying African Farmer-led Irrigation) research project, in partnership with two other projects also funded by the DFID-ESRC Growth Programme: "Assessing Models of Public Private Partnership for Irrigation Development in Africa" (led by IFPRI, Washington DC) and

Workshop Background
Irrigation is important in Tanzania to deal with the erratic rainfall, especially in the context of climate chang
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
Description Policy workshop at the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Conference Centre, Italy. 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact A five-day workshop was convened by the project to promote dialogue about 'farmer-led irrigation' in sub-Saharan Africa. The workshop, titled 'Irrigating Africa - Reframing Agricultural Investment.' was funded by the Rockefeller Foundation.
Its purpose was to bring together key researchers, academics and policy makers to discuss:
- Is farmer-led irrigation a significant development in African Agriculture? Do we think it is important?
- Does its existence demand new policies and approaches to irrigation policy?
- If so, what are the new policy directions and interventions?
Immediate outputs are a policy brief (March 2018) and a special issue of the journal 'Water Alternatives' (February 2019)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018