How can irrigation contribute to agricultural growth in Africa?

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, has brought together a team of social science researchers and irrigation scientists from the UK, Europe and Africa. The project has sought to understand if current investment by farmers in small-scale irrigation can offer a model for broad-based economic growth in rural areas of Africa.


Characteristics of farmer-led irrigation development

Farmer-led irrigation development is a widely observed and multi-faceted phenomenon whereby farmers influence the location, purpose and design of irrigation development. Particularly:

1. Farmer-led irrigation development is a process in which small-scale farmers drive the establishment, improvement and/or expansion of irrigated agriculture, often in interaction with external actors.

2. Farmer-led irrigation development cuts across existing irrigation typologies defined on basis of scale, technologies, crops or governance arrangements.

3. Farmer-led irrigation development is extensive and increasing, yet still largely unreported in official statistics

4. Farmer-led irrigation development is strongly oriented towards producing crops for the market.

5. Public agencies’ responses to Farmer-led irrigation development vary from one context to another.


Latest updates

An introduction to farmer-led irrigation online course

We are delighted to launch a free, online introductory course which provides a summary of the many practical and policy questions which are raised by the phenomenon of farmer-led irrigation development in Africa.

The course is aimed at practitioners, researchers and students interested in finding out more about the issues around farmer-led irrigation. It can be completed at your own pace and has been optimised to work in locations with low bandwidth.

It features introductions to key concepts, interviews with farmers engaged in irrigation, practical advice and policy implications around farmer-led irrigation. Links to further reading and more information are included for those who wish to interrogate the topic more deeply.

Find out more

Short Course:
African irrigation development: planning for a productive future

4-15 March 2019, Arusha Tanzania

Organisers:  WISE – Futures, and The University of Manchester


The SAFI team and partner project ‘Assessing Models of Public Private Partnerships for Irrigation Development in Africa’ (AMPPPIDA) hosted a workshop in Dar es Salaam on 26th June 2018, titled “Policy and investment options for irrigation development in Tanzania”.


The SAFI Team hosted a conference at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Center in Italy, 6 – 10 February 2018. At this conference academics and researchers from Africa and Europe discussed the extent of farmer-led irrigation development in sub-Saharan Africa, and what new policy directions and interventions can be made to support it.

Download the Policy Brief from the Bellagio workshop here


The SAFI Project team have published an article in The Journal of Peasant Studies, “African farmer-led irrigation development: re-framing agricultural policy and investment?”

The paper argues that there needs to be a re-appraisal of current dynamics of irrigation development in sub-Saharan Africa, particularly with respect to the role of small-scale producers’ initiatives in expanding irrigation. The paper reviews the principal forms such initiatives take and argues that official narratives and statistics on African irrigation often underestimate the extent of such activities. The paper identifies five key characteristics which, it argues, contradict widely held assumptions that inform irrigation policy in Africa. The paper concludes by offering a definition of ‘farmer-led irrigation’ that embraces a range of interaction between producers and commercial, government and non-government agencies, and identifies priority areas for research on the growth potential and impact of such interactions and strategies for their future development.


The SAFI Project Team were also part of a joint project workshop with the National Irrigation Commission held in Dar es Salaam on 2nd September 2016. Discussions focused on ‘New Directions for Irrigation Development in Tanzania in the Context of Public Private Partnership’


SAFI twitter feed