Special Issue of Water Alternatives

“Farmer-led irrigation development in Sub-Saharan Africa: Investment, policy engagements and agrarian transformation.”
Guest Editors: Gert Jan Veldwisch, Jean-Philippe Venot and Hans Komakech. February 2019

The open access papers may be read here

Policy Brief

“Farmer-led irrigation development and investment strategies for food security, growth and employment in Africa.” April 2018.


This Policy Brief examines the characteristics of farmer-led irrigation development in Africa, and focuses on the interventions that can be made by government and development agencies to support and expand, and / or regulate farmers’ irrigation initiatives.  The brief explores the benefits and risks of interventions, and concludes with a framing of policy responses.

Read the Policy Brief document

Download the pdf here

This Policy Brief is the output of a convening held by the SAFI Project team and partners at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Center in February 2018.


Article in The Journal of Peasant Studies

African farmer-led irrigation development: re-framing agricultural policy and investment?
Philip Woodhouse, Gert Jan Veldwisch, Jean-Philippe Venot, Dan Brockington, Hans Komakech & Ângela Manjichi. Published online: 09 Nov 2016.


The past decade has witnessed an intensifying focus on the development of irrigation in sub-Saharan Africa. It follows a 20-year hiatus in the wake of disappointing irrigation performance during the 1970s and 1980s. Persistent low productivity in African agriculture and vulnerability of African food supplies to increasing instability in international commodity markets are driving pan-African agricultural investment initiatives, such as the Comprehensive Africa Agricultural Development Programme (CAADP), that identify as a priority the improvement in reliability of water control for agriculture. The paper argues that, for such initiatives to be effective, 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.

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