There is no question that irrigation has a very high potential to alleviate poverty, as hundreds of millions of Asian farmers have already demonstrated. But it is also widely known that successful adoption of irrigation by small-scale farmers in Africa is a rather difficult task. As irrigation is traditionally not widely anchored in Africa, the farmers who intend to irrigate have to first change their production system from rain-fed to irrigated agriculture (see Technologies).
Background - or why irrigation is a difficult task for small-scale farmers
This changeover is usually more challenging than expected. The reasons are:
- The establishment and maintenance of irrigation infrastructure is costly, and small-scale farmers usually do not have the required means. Hence, small-scale farmers need access to credit, which first requires a detailed business plan outlining exactly how they want to invest the money and repay it.
- The management of irrigated fields requires special knowledge and a high degree of organization, because water users must coordinate the water withdrawals and management of operations. Hence, by engaging in irrigation, such institutions must be established, and their capacity needs developed or trained (see watershed management).
In addition to these financial and organizational prerequisites, it must be taken into consideration that irrigation is much more labor intensive than rain-fed agriculture, as the water management itself needs labor and a higher demand for weeding, as well as for fertilizer and crop protection measures. Irrigation is an additional work burden (mostly on women), and this additional labor capacity must be available. The higher demand for inputs, such as fertilizer and pesticides, in irrigated agriculture has two main reasons:
- The increased and stabilized water endowment of irrigated fields leads to higher weed and insect infestations.
- The crops cultivated under irrigation, especially vegetables, are usually more sensitive to diseases, insects and weeds and thus need a higher level of crop management than typical crops under rain-fed agriculture.
Therefore, it is in general mostly not profitable to irrigate subsistence crops. Instead, the cultivation of higher value crops is necessary, such as vegetables or fruit trees, in order to make it profitable for farmers. As a consequence, good marketing opportunities are also crucial to avoid failure.
The need of irrigation for small-scale farmers
When it is so difficult to successfully achieve irrigation for small-scale farmers in Africa, should it then really be promoted? There are still several reasons for doing so:
- Already, the climate conditions at many sites in Africa limit the opportunities for rain-fed agriculture. Against the background of population growth and increasing food demand and agricultural prices, irrigation should be used as an income opportunity, not only for commercial and emergent farmers but also for small-scale farmers, to enable their escape from poverty.
- In the last decades, rain-fed agriculture was extended into dryer regions and/or crops which need a certain and sometimes long vegetation periods, such as maize. Since climate change tends to shorten the vegetation period and delay the onset of rainy seasons, the production risks in rain-fed systems are constantly increasing. This makes irrigated systems economically more attractive. Hence, shifts towards irrigation should not only benefit commercial farmers, but also serve small-scale farmers as an opportunity to lower their production risks.
- In most areas, vegetables and many other crops can only be cultivated under irrigation. In order to diversify diets and to improve nutrition (hidden hunger), it is of high importance that rural populations diversify their diets and buy, as well as eat, healthy and varied food.
- There is also some evidence for other indirect advantages of irrigation for small-scale farmers, e.g. in the health sector. Higher incomes can give the households the capacity to take preventive and curative measures to address actual and potential health problems, including those initially caused by water provision. For instance, Giordano/Hussain (2004) found that the provision of irrigation services decreased the incidence of malaria, because the income effects from irrigation (e.g. housing improvement) outweighed the environmental effects which promoted the vector (e.g. more water for mosquito breeding).
Adverse effects of irrigation on water and soil quality and the environment
On the other hand, irrigated agriculture and the higher input application linked with it can easily increase water and soil pollution, as well as lead to increased water scarcity and thus increased competition over water resources. This is contra-productive for the peaceful cohabitation of farmers and other water users, such as nomads. Other negative aspects of irrigation can include land degradation brought about by salinization; destruction of lagoon prawn fisheries; and reduction in environmental assets as reflected in a decrease in aquatic bird life. As Giordano / Hussain (2004) stress, it appears that most of those who receive some harm from the provision of agricultural water are not those sharing in the benefits. In other words, there is a tendency that the negative impacts of irrigation are felt off-site, an outcome with clear equity implications.
Thus, before supporting small-scale farmers’ irrigation, it is not only crucial to assure that water user associations are established and a legal framework is set, but also that associations exist whose interest is the maintenance of the entire water resource (e.g. river water associations). In order to compensate for drier periods and to prevent the drying up of the water resource at the downstream site, water withdrawals should be measured and licensed and on-farm water storage capacities should be installed. In addition, specialized water committees are helpful to regulate conflicts among users, and among users and non-users, as outlined by Neubert et al. (2007).
The more water is withdrawn by water users, the more monitoring of the water levels and tables is needed. Aside quantitative aspects, the quality of the return-flows has to be observed, as well as the pollution of soils, and the possible residues in the produce have to be monitored. It is also crucial to avoid cultivation close to the river shore, since this increases erosion, sedimentation and consequently increases the risks for flooding. Therefore, alongside a suitable and enforced legal framework, an intensive capacity development of farmers who wish to engage in irrigation is needed.
Principle approaches for pro-poor irrigation
In principle, there are three main pro-poor irrigation approaches:
- Individual irrigation by small scale farmers using small motorized and/or treadle pumps (TP), which in Africa are sometimes called “money makers”. The individual approach, widely adopted in Asia, is suitable for sites with shallow groundwater. Hence, individual irrigation is restricted to such areas and to fields located right beside the water resource. However, individual pumping can easily cause water depletion, since withdrawals are difficult to control. Thus these withdrawals should not be of high relevance or effectively regulated.
- In common irrigation schemes, when surface water is abstracted from rivers or lakes. This approach needs the establishment of water user groups to coordinate the water withdrawals within and among the schemes, in order to avoid resource overuse and to ensure just or equitable availability along the river.
- As job opportunity for paid laborers or contract farmers on larger commercial or governmental schemes (e.g. wheat or export crops, like flowers), mostly existent in peri-urban areas close to markets and airports. In addition to environmental regulations, this approach requires fair labor conditions and/or agreements in order to alleviate poverty in a comprehensive manner.
Source: Adapted and modified from IDE International Foundation,
Prism Brochure.pdf http://www.value-chains.org/dyn/bds/docs/213/IDE Prism Brochure.pdf
Historical background of irrigation in Africa
While historically irrigation was not common among individual African farmers, large scale irrigation schemes were introduced during colonial times. Initially slaves, and later on unpaid laborers, worked on the fields of these schemes without having any say in management or marketing. This total lack of participation was extended until the 1970s, becoming less pronounced in the 80s and 90s, when farmers eventually got a little payment for their work but still had almost no power or decision-making competences concerning what and how they produced. In addition to this problematic background of irrigation in Africa, most of the large governmental schemes couldn’t meet the aligned economic expectations, i.e. they were neither productive, nor financially or environmentally sustainable. As a consequence of these failures, most of these large scale irrigation schemes were closed down during the 90s, or in some cases taken over by farmers. Several of the schemes were then mismanaged and then destroyed by the untrained farmers. Others, however, were re-organized, with farmers enabled to participate in decision making over crop production and marketing of the crops, as demonstrated in some schemes in Kenya (see Neubert et al. 2007).
Most donors, including the World Bank and the German Development Cooperation, had withdrawn from large irrigation projects by the 90s, engaging only occasionally in the rehabilitation of schemes (if profitable management seemed possible) or in some scattered smallholder irrigation projects. But in the last decade, irrigation as a whole has undergone a significant change, and is aligned with national sector reforms in most of the African countries. Policies are oriented more and more towards the support and the facilitation of smallholder irrigation schemes, and public authorities created, sometimes with the support of international development cooperation, new legal frameworks, in which farmers’ participation, financial, environmental and social issues are framed or regulated. These reforms sometimes include basic approaches, i.e. first steps for measuring water withdrawals which eventually will enable for charging water withdrawals, as one of the most important steps towards achieving efficient water uses.
Small-scale irrigation policies in practice
The emerging water policy initiatives must take note that an integrated view according to the concept of IWRM/ Integrated Water Resource Management needs to be taken into account for planning irrigation systems, as well as managing them. While the benefits of small-scale irrigation may have accrued largely to the land owning class, irrigation provision also increases labor requirements and wage rates, thereby also providing benefits for the landless and land-poor.
In order to reach the poor, it is necessary to target both specific regions where poor population groups can benefit, and sites which are economically and environmentally suitable for irrigation. This might be a difficult task, because very often high potential areas with access to surface water are already populated by better-off farmers who may already be engaged in irrigation. In such cases, it might be more reasonable to shape the systems already in place and advise these farmers how to improve their systems, including the value chain, rather than focusing on very poor farmers in marginalized areas, where irrigation is less promising (see Neubert et al. 2007).
But in other cases, it also make senses to support the establishment of new irrigation systems for disadvantaged populations, e.g. for nomads or other underprivileged groups. This may especially timely as increasing climate variability can make the survival of transhumance cultures extremely difficult. In such cases, supported engagement in irrigation can relieve people from hunger and, in particular empower women to make their own living by engaging in irrigation and business during the times when their husbands are absent with their cattle in search for water. The World Bank has undertaken such an approach with regard to the Massai population (see Neubert, et al. 2007).
Since many poor farmers cannot afford motorized pumps (such pumps may also deplete water resources quickly), treadle pumps (TP) can be promoted, as is done by Enterprise Works Worldwide (EWW). Adeoti et al (2007: 1) state that in Ghana almost 30 per cent of the farmers could increase their incomes significantly by using treadle pumps. However, other farmers have stopped using the treadle pumps, either because the pumps broke down or they were only useful over small pieces of land. The authors recommend that a variety of improvements in design, dissemination and capacity may still be necessary to improve the impact of TP technology. Increased collaboration with local institutions, such as extension services, could make the TP more appealing to farmers. Design improvements should be undertaken to ease pedaling, which would encourage the uptake of the TP by women and enhance their chance of benefiting directly. The introduction of after-sales service and training of farmers on minor repairs would also improve the continuous use and sustainability of the TP (ditto).
As can be seen from these examples, agricultural water and poverty are intricately linked, but the nature of that linkage is not straightforward. In general, the experience suggests that agricultural water is, on the whole, associated with poverty alleviation. However, it is also very often found that the provision of agricultural water has also some negative poverty-increasing aspects. Furthermore, the distribution of costs and benefits from irrigation services are often not uniform. Often the most disadvantaged members of society benefit the least, or are even hurt the most, by agricultural water’s negative side-effects. Hence, Hussain/ Giordano (2004) suggest that researchers, policy makers and project implementers, public and private, must have a deep understanding of the many, often hidden, linkages between water and poverty if potential poverty reducing impacts of agricultural water are to be realized, and the benefits of agricultural water equitably shared.
Approaches of the German Development Cooperation
Approaches of German Development Cooperation mainly have a more general focus on the national and sub-national level, aimed at improving the institutional frameworks and the governance of water in order to increase social and environmental sustainability and the profitability of irrigation.
German Development Cooperation advises national authorities on the introduction of sustainable forms of land and water resources management. It provides this advice as part of larger strategies for the management of water catchment areas. GIZ, as executing agency of the German Development Cooperation adapts existing concepts that have already been tested in practice, to bring them in line with regional and local conditions, and train executives and employees of the relevant organizations. German Development Cooperation is also advising state bodies on land and water law reforms.
GIZ helps to build institutions and also advises organisations involved in water use in agriculture, including water user and marketing associations. By doing so, they promote women in particular, who are still minor stakeholders in irrigated agriculture. GIZ also takes into account existing access and utilisation rights, and aims for an equitable distribution of water resources.
Adapting to climate change
German Development Cooperation raises awareness among relevant partner organisations of the expected impacts of climate change on water use in agriculture, and advises them on appropriate adaptation measures. They work to ensure that these measures are identified at an early stage and that they become an integral part of water and land management.
Water management in agriculture
GIZ passes on tried and tested cropping and irrigation techniques that are adapted to specific local knowledge and regulations. At the same time they provide expert advice on the use of agricultural inputs and marketing. GIZ fosters contacts with the private sector, so as to harness its contribution to making water management more effective and user oriented. Finally, GIZ also supports the ecologically sound and healthy use of water of marginal quality (brackish water and treated wastewater).
Project example: Mali
Programme Nationale d’Irrigation de Proximité (PNIP), Mali
National Programme of irrigation in proximity, Mali
Apart from decentralization, rural development was in the focus of the German Development Cooperation for several decades in Mali. High poverty levels, low and uncertain precipitation patterns and - as a result - a very low food security are the major problems.
Because there is a high potential of irrigated agriculture along the river Niger the National Program of irrigation has been created, aligned with the national framework. The overall objective of the program was a reduction of poverty and job creation. The cooperating partners were the Ministry of Agriculture, its regional agencies and the GIZ. The participation and engagement of farmers, communities, service providers and public authorities was regarded as a crucial component. The direct support consisted in financial means and credit provision, capacity development of government officers and farmers, and the strengthening of coordination capacity as well as support in the elaboration of management plans. However, during the ten years of its existence the PNIP helped to improve the management of about 120.000 ha agricultural lands from about 3 million people.
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 1.2 Hussain, Intizar; Giordano, Mark (Eds.) (2004): Water and poverty linkages: case studies from Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Project report 1. Colombo, Sri Lanka: International Water Management Institute (IWMI). v, 108p.
- ↑ 2.0 2.1 2.2 Neubert, Susanne; Valeska Hesse; Simone Iltgen et al. (2007): Poverty oriented Irrigation Policy in Kenya – Empirical results and Suggestions for Reform. Discussion Paper 12/2007, German Development Institute (DIE), Bonn
- ↑ Adeoti, Adetola; Boubacar Barry, Regassa Namara et al. (2007): Treadle Pump Irrigation and Poverty in Ghana. Research Report No. 117, International Water Management Institute (IWMI), Colombo.
- ↑ Ministère de l’Agriculture, Secrétariat Général, République du Mali Programme National D’Irrigation de Proximité (PNIP).
Adeoti, Adetola; Boubacar, Barry; Regassa, Namara; Kamara, Abdul; Titiati, Atsu (2007): Treadle pump irrigation and poverty in Ghana. Colombo, Sri Lanka: International Water Management Institute (IWMI), Research Report 117, 24p.
GIZ (2009): Case Study: Water Kiosks. How the combination of low-cost technology, pro-poor financing and regulation leads to the scaling up of water supply service provision to the poor. Version for the 5th World Water Forum, Istanbul. http://star-www.giz.de/dokumente/bib-2009/gtz2009-0193en-water-kiosks.pdf [2013-02-14]
GIZ (2012): Poverty-oriented Planning & Reporting for Development Partnerships. Increasing poverty orientation in development partnerships – a tool for partnership practitioners.
Ministère de l’Agriculture, Secrétariat Général, République du Mali Programme National D’Irrigation de Proximité (PNIP).
Hussain, Intizar; Hanjra, Munir (2004): Irrigation and poverty alleviation: review of the empirical evidence. Irrigation and Drainage, 53(1): 1-15.