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.


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

10-21 December 2018, Arusha Tanzania

Organisers:     WISE – Futures, and The University of Manchester

Course description:

Across the African continent, increasing climatic variability and the uneven distribution and availability of both surface and subsurface water resources calls for further investment in water management in order to increase agricultural production.  Recognising this, the African Union’s Comprehensive African Agriculture Development Programme has promoted a review of irrigation policy by national governments which in turn gave rise to ambitious new national policies for irrigation investment. Currently, these national policies are being implemented across the continent, yet many challenges remain in reaching the stated objectives. Looking beyond public irrigation investments to include private initiatives, this course gives professionals the tools and insights to engage productively with different types of irrigation development in Africa, ranging from agribusinesses, public irrigation schemes and farmers’ irrigation initiatives.

Through linked field visits, lectures and exercises, course participants explore the challenges and possible solutions for different types of irrigation. Seeing irrigation as part of a broader agricultural system, the 11-day course does not exclusively cover irrigation design topics, but also provides the opportunity to discuss issues concerning irrigation mapping, the gendered aspects of irrigation development, value chains in irrigated agriculture, irrigation system management, water governance, and monitoring and evaluation. By applying the general lessons and insights from the lectures directly through in Tanzanian cases of irrigation development during group work, the course strengthen the capacity of participants to integrate contemporary issues into irrigation planning and management. At the end of the course, each participant will receive a course certificate.

Who should attend:

  • Practitioners in irrigation and agriculture departments in relevant ministries and agencies in various African countries
  • Early career and/or female professionals are especially encouraged to apply


The course organisers will pay for participants’ accommodation and the costs of the training, including field trips, transport to and from the training venue at the African Centre of Excellence WISE-FUTURES, Arusha, Tanzania, and a daily lunch. All other costs are expected to be covered by the participant or his/her organisation.

To apply:

Those interested in participating in the course should send an e-mail to before November 21 2018, mentioning “short course irrigation development” in the subject heading. Please include a short motivational statement, a CV, and a statement of your employer agreeing to support your participation.


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’


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