Irrigation and water use efficiency in Sub-Saharan Africa


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Greater use of Sub-Saharan Africa’s ample water resources would
substantially boost the production of food and export crops.
As climate change threatens the livelihoods of farmers dependent
on rain-fed agriculture, efficient irrigation is needed more than
ever. Yet past schemes have failed due to poor planning, patchy
consultation and insufficient maintenance. This briefing critically
examines irrigation efforts since the 1960s and identifies factors
which can determine success or failure.

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Irrigation and water use efficiency in Sub-Saharan Africa

  1. 1. Briefing Paper Number 4 | 2012 GDN Agriculture Policy Series Irrigation and water Reuben M J Kadigi Girmay Tesfay use efficiency in Alfred Bizoza Sub-Saharan Africa Genet Zinabou Greater use of Sub-Saharan Africa’s ample water resources would Senegal, Orkadiere. Moussa Dianor substantially boost the production of food and export crops. works in his father’s rice field. An irrigation project permits the As climate change threatens the livelihoods of farmers dependent cultivation of rice in this region on rain-fed agriculture, efficient irrigation is needed more than of the Sahel. ever. Yet past schemes have failed due to poor planning, patchy j b russell | panos pictures consultation and insufficient maintenance. This briefing critically examines irrigation efforts since the 1960s and identifies factors which can determine success or failure. This briefing paper is one of the Key messages 10-part Global Development Network (GDN) Agriculture Policy Sub-Saharan Africa has vast untapped p Irrigation cannot be treated in isolation p Series for its project, ‘Supporting water resources. Expansion of the and must be considered alongside other Policy Research to Inform elements of agricultural development, Agricultural Policy in Sub-Saharan irrigated area has the potential to make Africa and South Asia’. It is based a substantial contribution to agricultural including improved markets (proximity, on a longer synthesis paper, development and address the problem information), institutional and legal Irrigation and water use efficiency transparency, clarity of land rights, in Sub-Saharan Africa, which of food insecurity. draws on extensive published and efficient use of inputs (seeds, fertilizer, unpublished research. The full Many irrigation schemes in the past p pesticides), extension services for paper can be downloaded at: failed due to a combination of factors, farmers, research and development including high investment costs, poor will be of value to policymakers, It and environmental management. planning and a lack of maintenance. experts and civil society working It is recommended that new irrigation Simple, participatory approaches have p to improve agriculture in proved powerful tools to enable farmers Sub-Saharan Africa. schemes are initiated in response to improve water management practices. This project is supported by the to demand from farmers, increasing Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. the chances of local management and Successful schemes have created a sense maintenance of the schemes. of ownership among farmers. Examples in this briefing include role-playing games and farmer field schools. Suggestions for increasing effective p irrigation in Sub-Saharan Africa include the rehabilitation of existing, failed schemes, combined with more secure land tenure for farmers, supplementary inputs and farmers’ involvement in decision making. Briefing Paper Number 4 Irrigation and water use efficiency in Sub-Saharan Africa 1
  2. 2. Overview Irrigation: key to food security Sub-Saharan Africa is water-abundant but uses less than 2 per cent of its total renewable water resources. Food production in the region is almost entirely rain-fed with irrigation currently playing a minor role. Only 4 per cent (6 million ha) of the region’s total cultivated area is irrigated compared to 37 per cent in Asia and 14 per cent in Latin America (You et al, 2010). It is far from achieving its irrigation potential, which is estimated at 42.5 million ha. Greater use of the region’s ample water‘Instead of resources would substantially boost giving food aid, the production of staple foods and donors should high-value export crops. Irrigation is also manage the an important tool in helping farmers insure against droughts, and plays an integral problems at the role in transitions from subsistence to roots by investing commercial farming. in irrigation.’ Yet there are many challenges still David Muginya confronting water use in agriculture. Burkina Faso, Kouni. Mahamadi Ganemtore, These include the allocation of water 24, is able to irrigate the fields of his small Sociologist, farm with water pumped from a nearby dam Rufiji Water Basin Office, across competing users (and uses), reservoir. He grows a wide variety of vegetables Dar es Salaam, Tanzania the appropriate pricing of water resources including tomatoes, onions, cabbage and and the efficient harvesting of water. cucumber. Previously he used to water the fields with a bucket, which prevented him from expanding the farm. Thanks to the pump he has been able to enlarge his farm. Methods aubrey wade | panos pictures This briefing paper is based on a systematic review of published and The success of irrigation projects has unpublished literature on Sub-Saharan African and South Asian irrigation been mixed, however, even for those schemes. It also draws from field case studies, as well as semi-structured countries which have reformed their interviews with policymakers and other stakeholders, primarily in irrigation programs. As a result, much Tanzania and Ethiopia. of the current irrigation infrastructure These include the IWMI (International Water Management Institute), is degraded due to a lack of investment the World Bank, FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) and IFPRI and maintenance. (International Food and Policy Research Institute); publications from A challenge facing policymakers is national governments such as water policies, irrigation sector strategies to expand the area under irrigation while and five-year plans, and academic journal articles; as well as conference improving the efficiency and productivity proceedings, PhD theses, presentations given by experts in the field of existing and future irrigation practices. and other relevant unpublished material. To further irrigation development, The aim was to document the major challenges to irrigation projects governments must carry out institutional encountered, and highlight both successes and failures. Its insights reform consisting of transparent can help to inform strategies for sustainable future management and policies and guidelines, more flexibility water use in Sub-Saharan Africa’s agricultural sector by: in implementing irrigation schemes Identifying where irrigation is profitable. p and greater support for small-scale Exploring the role of farmers in design, management and maintenance. p farmers, particularly by providing extension services and encouraging Investigating the potential of groundwater irrigation. p greater farmer participation. Exploring the current state of water markets. p The overarching aim is to ask which priority actions Sub-Saharan African governments should take to ensure that irrigation contributes its maximum potential to a vibrant agricultural sector in Africa. 2 Briefing Paper Number 4 Irrigation and water use efficiency in Sub-Saharan Africa
  3. 3. Reforming irrigation planning Ngezi Mamina Scheme in Zimbabwe The review identifies five main factors which led to the failure of past schemes. The Ngezi Mamina irrigation scheme in Zimbabwe was built Irrigation schemes were more p as part of an aid project in 1994. Since its inception, the expensive than they needed to be. scheme has failed to perform well, largely because farmers were not effectively consulted about the initiative. Farmers Poor initial planning led to p have been reluctant to take over the responsibility of running poor operations. and maintaining the scheme, complaining that the design Farmers did not see the benefits p was substandard. There have also been regular disputes of investing in irrigation. between the farmers and government institutions responsible Expectations of yield improvements p for collecting fees for water use. were overly optimistic. Key lessons from the case of Ngezi Mamina. Infrastructure was not maintained p It is essential for farmers to truly participate throughout p and fell into disrepair. the project planning, implementation and evaluation In spite of great disappointment and phases and be treated as owners and not just beneficiaries excessive spending on previous large-scale of projects. irrigation schemes in the past, Sub-Saharan Only projects that are technically sound should be handed p African governments are reviewing their over to farmers. approach to water management and are Governments need to produce a clear, transparent and p instituting a new wave of reforms. Among systematic strategy for handing over government-managed them are a reduction in government schemes to farmers. involvement, encouragement of greater farmer participation, cost recovery of The issue of land tenure should be decided in the planning p irrigation development and a shift from and management of smallholder irrigation schemes. large-scale to small-scale schemes. ource: Kay M (2001) S Smallholder irrigation technology: Prospects for Sub-Saharan Africa, International Program for Technology and Research in Irrigation and Drainage, IPTRID, FAO ‘If the government is serious about treating agriculture as the mainstay of Tanzania’s economy, irrigation is the way out and funds must be allocated accordingly.’ Mbeya Zonal Irrigation Office Dar es Salaam, Tanzania Irrigation schemes frequently fail because infrastructure falls into disrepair. Pictured, a water project in Nkhulambe in Malawi’s Blantyre district. alfredo caliz | panos pictures Briefing Paper Number 4 Irrigation and water use efficiency in Sub-Saharan Africa 3
  4. 4. The challenges in more detail Eritrea, Massawa. Irrigation channel at Seawater Farms Eritrea, the world’s first commercial-scale integrated seawater farm. stefan boness | panos pictures Return on investment Water is a highly complex resource to manage. In the majority of Sub-Saharan Returns on investments in irrigation countries, water is considered ‘as good in the region between the 1960s and the as free’ and there are no formal markets 1980s were lower than those in South for trading the resource. Some countries, Asia. The main factors responsible were for example Tanzania, have a system of poor planning, high investment costs, water rights or permits in place, and a few and weak management of infrastructure. others, including South Africa, have already Since the mid-1990s, returns on established a form of water markets in investment appear to have improved. parts of the country, but such initiatives The best available evidence estimates are still in their infancy. Even so they that irrigated agriculture in the rarely attempt to recover capital costs region is between 1.5 and 3 times from users. Nevertheless most countries in as productive as rain-fed agriculture. the region recognize the need to introduce Perhaps most importantly, studies water pricing, partially to recover costs of the socio-economic benefits as well as to protect the environment and of irrigation at the community level have conserve water. Trends in the documented significant contributions Governments would benefit from Economic Internal Rate to poverty reduction. of Return (EIRR) formulating clear water and irrigation of irrigation projects policies, a clarification of roles and responsibilities of public offices in irrigation, 35 and making investments in physical infrastructure to enable better monitoring 30 and control of water flows. 25 20 15 10 Sub-Saharan Africa 5 Non Sub-Saharan Africa 0 1970–74 1975–79 1980–84 1985–89 1990–94 1995–99 Data source: Inocencio (2005) 4 Briefing Paper Number 4 Irrigation and water use efficiency in Sub-Saharan Africa
  5. 5. Measures to improve irrigation efficiency ‘I have been able In Sub-Saharan Africa the available to send all my three groundwater resources are 100 times children to school those of renewable surface water. But farmers often hold back from investing as irrigation enabled in groundwater irrigation because of me to produce onions the high drilling costs of tube wells and and increase my harvests lack of information about groundwater from one to two or availability. Furthermore the evidence suggests that the region has significant three times a year.’ groundwater resources but that in most Hailu Meshesha cases the hydrology is suited for low- Small-scale farmer, yielding boreholes that can only be beneficiary of Gum Selasa operated by hand-pumps. micro dam, Ethiopia Newer technologies such as drip and sprinkle systems have the potential to increase productivity but are really only accessible to those farmers who can afford to buy them and who are growing cash crops such as vegetables, fruits and flowers. Shallow groundwater irrigation has contributed significantly to reducing poverty and food insecurity in the region. It may hold significant potential to support small-scale agriculture in Sub-Saharan Africa and should be accordingly supported with hydrological studies, information dissemination and offers of low-cost drilling and lifting technology. Niger, Aguie (Sahel region). Farmers on an IFAD-supported irrigation project pump water ‘Seeing is believing, from a borehole well in order to irrigate their land. The International the major constraint to Fund for Agricultural Development irrigation development (IFAD), a specialized UN agency established to finance agricultural is knowledge and projects in developing countries, runs several irrigation programs in understanding on the the dry Sub-Saharan Sahel region. farmer’s side.’ sven torfinn | panos pictures Alene Aregay Mr Relief Society of Tigray Water Resources Division, Mekelle, Tanzania Briefing Paper Number 4 Irrigation and water use efficiency in Sub-Saharan Africa 5
  6. 6. Supporting farmers to Many of the donor-financed projects manage irrigation that have been evaluated as successful on completion in recent years have been If small-scale farmers are to take characterized by both decentralized a more active role in the management and participatory approaches. of irrigation schemes, governments will need to invest in market infrastructure Major drawbacks which hinder farmers and agricultural extension services as from taking part in the management of well as the capacity building of farmers. schemes include insecure land tenure and It is generally not worthwhile for farmers a lack of knowledge of water management to invest in irrigation and produce more and irrigation mechanisms. Irrigation was output if they cannot sell it. not a traditional practice among many communities and is bound to be met with A review of the literature suggests there suspicion. In addition, insecure and unclear is potential for the expansion of irrigation land rights have deterred farmers from schemes where the government acts as investing in irrigation management. These facilitator but they are funded by private disadvantages, coupled with the high costs investment and managed by farmers of fertilizer, seeds and pesticides, poor themselves. This model has not been links to markets to sell their goods and employed widely in Sub-Saharan Africa a lack of post-harvest storage, have proved but examples from elsewhere outside the considerable constraints. region (for example in Morocco and Egypt) indicate the potential of this approach. Irrigation management transfer efforts, in which small-scale farmers take an active role in the maintenance, operation and management of schemes, continue to be hampered by a lack of understanding by farm institutions such as water user associations, as well as a lack of time, funds for machinery or marketing opportunities. Governments must recognize that the transfer of a scheme to participants can only take place when the scheme is running effectively and when extension services are in place for training. Transaction costs must be low for participants and a variety of complementary investments must be in place (inputs and outputs, improved access to credit and secure land rights). Sub-Saharan African countries suffer from a shortage of extension workers, at about one per 200 farmers. Extension workers Burkina Faso, Kouni. Fatimata are crucial in combating the significant Rabdo Rabdo, carrying her baby shortcomings in farmers’ knowledge about Aziz Rabdo on her back, waters her small vegetable garden with water optimal irrigation practices. Therefore, for collected in buckets from a nearby irrigation management transfer to work, dam reservoir. She says: ‘I would like extension services need to be in place to have a manual water pump one day so that watering my garden for training. By lowering transaction costs would be easier. For now I have to and providing investments in areas such fetch water from the lake with my as inputs and outputs, governments can bucket and it is hard work.’ aubrey wade | panos pictures tackle some of these obstacles. 6 Briefing Paper Number 4 Irrigation and water use efficiency in Sub-Saharan Africa
  7. 7. Recommendations The key policy lessons drawn from If governments see irrigation as part p this review of irrigation development in of a wider agricultural strategy and Sub-Saharan Africa are: invest in complementary policies such Irrigation has the potential to enhance p as land reform, farmer education and food security and economic growth. To empowerment, and market infrastructure achieve this, investment must be profitable development, it will raise the returns for the farmer. to irrigation and drive up private sector willingness to invest in it. Water use policies should be p developed within a broader framework It will remain important for governments p that promotes agricultural growth to invest in irrigation schemes, which through profitable investment and cannot attract private financing, and market-oriented production. where there is a clear need to lift farmers out of poverty. Efforts should be made to identify p the investments in irrigation development Farmers need incentives to adopt p that give the best return. new technologies and move towards intensification of agricultural production. Subsidies or other government-provided p incentives might be needed to spur The respective role of public and private p technological innovation. Furthermore, investment must be clarified in order research should continue to be publicly to foster private investment in agricultural sponsored as the private sector is unlikely inputs and output markets. to undertake these activities. Case study 1 Case study 2 Iganjo Irrigation Scheme in Tanzania: Mkoji sub-catchment in Rufiji River Basin, Tanzania: a successful farmer-led, government- participatory games convince farmers to manage supported irrigation project irrigation water sustainably The Iganjo Irrigation Scheme was started in 1967 Downstream communities in the Mkoji sub-catchment as a private farmers’ initiative. It originally consisted area believed that over-extraction of water by users of an 800m-long earth canal and a weir made upstream was denying water to those downstream of stones and sand-filled gunny bags. during the dry season. In response the government introduced a practical dialogue and decision-support The Iganjo farmers succeeded in winning tool called the river basin game, over three different government funding in 2006 to replace two-day workshops. the stone and sand weir with cement and line 621m of the canal. As a result of the interactive games, participants learned that: Today they enjoy the benefits of an aqueduct, four culverts and will soon benefit from 2km The actions of water users at a local level have an impact p of lined secondary canals. The scheme supports on the entire water basin, including environmental 1,016 farmers, more than half of whom are degradation and reducing the volume of water available women. Output for potatoes, tomatoes, peas, to those living further downstream. beans and other crops has nearly tripled. Farmers Many solutions and strategies exist whereby crops can p continue to carry at least 20 per cent of new be grown using less water. investment costs in a combination of cash and A sub-catchment committee is required to oversee water p in-kind payments. Farmer morale is high and allocation and management. the Irrigation Cooperative meets monthly. Tracer and impact studies have shown that the river Factors in Iganjo’s success: basin games triggered discussions about equitable Farmer-led: the farmers had a history of practicing p water allocation, but also changed the way people irrigation and sought government support. regard and use water. Following the exercise, there has Market proximity: Iganjo is only 16km from the p been a resurgence of water recharges in sources which city of Mbeya enabling them to sell goods. were completely dry, and an increase in dry season water flows for the Great Ruaha River. Source: site visit and interviews with farmers and officials of the Zonal Irrigation Office in Mbeya, Tanzania Source: Rajabu (2007) Briefing Paper Number 4 Irrigation and water use efficiency in Sub-Saharan Africa 7
  8. 8. Key references The full paper Irrigation and water use efficiency G Diemer (2000) V Narain (2003) in Sub-Saharan Africa is available for download at ‘Management processes on two Institutions, Technology and Water small-holder sprinkler layouts: A case Control, New Delhi: Orient Longman It was written by: study from Zimbabwe’, Irrigation and T Peacock, C Ward, G Gambarelli Prof. Reuben M J Kadigi Drainage Systems, vol 14, no 3, pp183–98 et al (2007) Sokoine University of Agriculture, Tanzania H T Haile (2008) ‘ nvestment in Agricultural Water for I Dr. Girmay Tesfay ‘ mpact of Irrigation Development on I Poverty Reduction and Economic Mekelle University, Ethiopia Poverty Reduction in Northern Ethiopia’, Growth in Sub-Saharan Africa: Synthesis Dr. Alfred Bizoza Doctoral thesis submitted to the Report’, A collaborative program of National University of Rwanda, Rwanda department of Food Business and ADB, FAO, IFAD, IWMI and World Bank Development, National University Genet Zinabou C J Perry (2001) University of Oxford, UK of Ireland, Cork ‘ harging for irrigation water: C and reviewed by A Inocencio, M Kikuchi, D Merrey, The issues and options, with a case M Tonosaki, A Maruyama, I de Jong, study from Iran’, IWMI Research Prof. David Zilberman H Sally and F Penning de Vries (2005) Report 52, Colombo, Sri Lanka: IWMI University of California, Berkeley, USA ‘ essons from Irrigation Investment L P Pradhan (2002) P roject Steering Committee Experiences: Cost-reducing and ‘ ater users associations towards W Performance-enhancing Options for Senior Advisors diversified activities: experiences Sub-Saharan Africa; Investments in Prof. Per Pinstrup-Andersen of Nepal and other countries’, Indiana Agricultural Water Management in Cornell University, USA Workshop in Political Theory and Sub-Saharan Africa: Diagnosis of Trends Policy Analysis Prof. T. S. Jayne and Opportunities’, Colombo, Sri Lanka: Michigan State University, USA International Water Management K R M Rajabu (2007) Prof. William A. Masters Institute (IWMI) ‘ se and impacts of the river basin U Tufts University, USA game in implementing integrated R M J Kadigi, J J Kashaigili and N S Mdoe water resources management Prof. Alexandros Sarris (2004) in Mkoji sub-catchment in Tanzania’, University of Athens, Greece ‘ he economics of irrigated paddy T Agricultural Water Management, Prof. David Zilberman in Usangu Basin in Tanzania: water vol 94, no 1–3, pp63–72 [doi: 10.1016/ University of California, Berkeley, USA utilization, productivity, income j.agwat.2007.08.010] and livelihood implications’, Physics Project Management Team and Chemistry of the Earth, vol 29, M Rosegrant and N Perez (1997) Principal Advisor nos 15–18, pp1091–1100 ‘ ater Resources Development in Africa: W Prof. Douglas Gollin A Review and Synthesis of Issues, R M J Kadigi, N S Mdoe, G C Ashimogo Williams College, USA Potentials, and Strategies for the and S Morardet (2008) Future’, EPTD Discussion Paper No 28, Project Director ‘Water for irrigation or hydropower Environment and Production Dr. George Mavrotas generation?—Complex questions Technology Division, International Food Chief Economist, GDN regarding water allocation in Tanzania’, Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) Deputy Project Director Agricultural Water Management, vol 95, Tuhin Sen no 8, pp984–92 M Rosegrant, X Cai and S A Cline (2002) Lead Strategist, GDN World Water and Food to 2025: Dealing M Kay (2001) with Scarcity, Washington DC: IFPRI Smallholder irrigation technology: Project Consultant prospects for sub-Saharan Africa, S Svendsen, M Ewing and Nupur Suri International Programme for Technology S Msangi (2009) Policy Outreach Analyst and Research in Irrigation and Drainage ‘ easuring Irrigation Performance in M Vinaina Suri (IPTRID), Rome: Food and Agriculture Africa’, IFPRI Discussion Paper No 894, Organization of the United Nations International Food Policy Research you wish to reproduce or build upon this work, If Institute (IFPRI) please contact Global Development Network (GDN). M Masiyandima and M F Giordano (2007) ‘ ub-Saharan Africa: Opportunistic S S P Wani, J Rockström and © Global Development Network Exploitation’, in M Giordano and T Oweis (eds) (2009) Designed and produced for GDN by Panos London, K G Villholth, The Agricultural Rainfed Agriculture: Unlocking the Groundwater Revolution: Opportunities Potential, Wallingford, UK: CAB International All photographs © Panos Pictures, and Threats to Development, CAB International P Woodhouse and A S Ganho (2011) All rights reserved. D Merrey, J T Shah, B van Koppen, ‘ s Water the Hidden Agenda of I Further information M de Lange and M Samad (2001) Agricultural Land Acquisition in sub-Saharan Africa?’, paper presented more information on the ‘Supporting For ‘ an irrigation management transfer C at the International Conference on Policy Research to Inform Agricultural Policy in revitalise African agriculture? A review Global Land Grabbing, 6–8 April 2011, Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia’ project visit: of African and international experiences; organized by the Land Deals Politics Private Irrigation in Sub-Saharan Africa’, Regional Seminar on Private Sector Initiative (LDPI) in collaboration with Supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Participation and Irrigation Expansion in the Journal of Peasant Studies and Sub-Saharan Africa, IWMI, 22–26 October hosted by the Future Agricultures 2001, Accra, Ghana (eds Sally Hilmy and Consortium at the Institute of Charles L. Abernethy) Development Studies, University of Sussex, UK N Minot and M Ngigi (2003) ‘ re Horticultural Exports a Replicable A L You, C Ringler, G Nelson, Success Story? Evidence from Kenya and U Wood-Sichra, R Robertson, S Wood, Côte d’Ivoire’; paper presented at the Z Guo, T Zhu and Y Sun (2010) InWEnt, IFPRI, NEPAD, CTA conference ‘ hat Is the Irrigation Potential for W Successes in African Agriculture, 1–3 Africa? A Combined Biophysical December 2003, Pretoria, South Africa and Socioeconomic Approach’, IFPRI Discussion Paper 00993, Environment and Production Technology Division, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) ew Delhi | Cairo | Washington DC N 8 Briefing Paper Number 4 Irrigation and water use efficiency in Sub-Saharan Africa