Farmer-led irrigation: the what, why, and how-to guide

Author: Gabriella Izzi March 22, 2021

The World Bank’s Famer-led Irrigation Development Guide – A what, why and how to for intervention design.

Farmer-led irrigation in sub-Saharan Africa: synthesis of current understandings

This report focuses on irrigation initiated by smallholders, ‘farmer-led irrigation’

Authors: Steve Wiggins, Bruce Lankford


This report focuses on irrigation initiated by smallholders, ‘farmer-led irrigation’ (FLI), and addresses the following questions:

  • What is known about the extent of FLI in sub-Saharan Africa in the 2010s? What has been developed, and how?
  • How successful has FLI been? What problems arise? How do such developments compare to irrigation that has been initiated by public authorities?
  • How has public policy either assisted or hindered FLI? What are the lessons for policy-makers?

This synthesis brings together findings from research conducted under the DFID-ESRC Growth Research Programme (DEGRP) with the wider literature on irrigation in sub-Saharan Africa.

Published by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

Summary case study reports

Messica case study

Farmer-led development of irrigation in Mozambique

This video presents interviews with small-scale farmers who have been developing irrigation in sites of SAFI research in central Mozambique.

SAFI-network launched

In March 2019 a network was launched to provide a platform for public officials, technicians, private sector actors, donors, NGO representatives and researchers to study and discuss the current dynamics and options in irrigation development in Africa, ranging from agribusinesses, public irrigation schemes and farmers’ irrigation initiatives.
To join the network, contact

Policy and investment options for irrigation development in Tanzania

26th June 2018 – Dar es Salaam

Opportunities for improved agricultural productivity through irrigation development continue to unfold in Tanzania (i.e. through Plans and Programmes). Irrigation potential is 29.4 million ha and the development target is to reach 1.0 million ha with improved irrigation infrastructure by 2025.

This workshop presented and discussed the results of the Studying African Farmer-led Irrigation (SAFI) and Assessing Models of Public Private Partnerships for Irrigation Development in Africa (AMPPPIDA) projects’ research on irrigated agriculture in Tanzania, and explored what this research tells us about the potential for irrigation investment by government and private sector, including smallholder producers, and public-private partnerships (PPPs).

Proceedings of the workshop on “Policy and investment options for irrigation development in Tanzania”.

Presentation from the AMPPPIDA project.

Presentation from the SAFI Project.


New Directions for Irrigation Development in Tanzania

2nd September 2016 – 08:30am – 06:00pm EAT

Irrigation is important in Tanzania to deal with the erratic rainfall, especially in the context of climate change. Irrigation can minimize frequent food shortages that are attributable to dependence on rainfall, and increase yields. However, to do this effectively requires a range of infrastructure that will provide for a wide range of crops and efficient water use. Recognizing this need, the government of Tanzania has made ambitious commitments to expand the area irrigated, and set up the National Irrigation Commission (NIC) to deliver on this potential. The NIC strategy currently being developed identifies Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) as important, but seeks advice on appropriate models of PPP. Research studies supported by DFID-ESRC Growth Research Programme have been examining different modes of irrigation development in Tanzania. This workshop provided an opportunity to bring research and policy together to advance irrigation development in Tanzania.

Agenda of the workshop on “New Directions for Irrigation Development in Tanzania: The Context of Public Private Partnership” (157 kb)

Proceedings of the workshop on “New Directions for Irrigation Development in Tanzania: The Context of Public Private Partnership” (7.3 mb)

Key Presentations

Overview of Irrigation Policy in Tanzania: Objectives and Key Questions – Dr. Joachim Makoi, National Irrigation Commission, Ministry of Water and Irrigation, United Republic of Tanzania.

“Assessing Models of Public Private Partnership: What have we learned?”. Dr. Ruth Meinzen-Dick, IFPRI; Dr. Faustin Maganga, University of Dar Es Salaam.

“Farmer-led Irrigation: re-framing agricultural investment?”. Dr. Hans Komakech, Nelson Mandela African Institution of Science and Techonology, Tanzania.

“Competing demands for irrigation water: challenges for PPPs”. Dr. Anna Mdee, Overseas Development Institute / University of Leeds.


V Conference of IESE, Maputo

19th – 21st September 2017

The SAFI and ARF project teams attended the V Conference at IESE in Maputo, Mozambique to present papers on smallholder irrigation development. The focus was on design and engineering approaches, and gave evidence from projects located in Mozambique, South Africa and Nepal.

“Taking–up and leaving behind knowledge; a history of irrigation design approaches for smallholder farmers in Southern Africa.” – Wouter Beekman, Alex Bolding, Charlotte de Fraiture.

““Irrigation is made complex [by engineers].” Recounting the travails of social sciences knowledge in water expert thinking in Mozambique.” – Janwillem Liebrand, Wouter Beekman.

Project outputs

SAFI Project – Farmer-led Irrigation Development. A presentation by Hans Komakech and Gert Jan Veldwisch, 2018

Irrigated agriculture using wells and pumps in Kahe ward, Kilimanjaro. A booklet by Chris de Bont, and Muthio Nzau. 2018:

English version

Swahili version


Invisible irrigators: how small-scale Tanzanian farmers are making a difference. Philip Woodhouse. January 2017.

What Tanzania needs to achieve 2020 irrigation target. Steve Wiggins. January 2017.

Spotlight on Phil Woodhouse. GDI blog August 2017.

Related resources

Water for wealth and food security: supporting farmer-driven investments in agricultural water management. Synthesis report of the AgWater Solutions Project. IWMI. Giordano, M., C. De Fraiture, E. Weight, and J. van der Bliek. 2012.

Irrigated Africa and Asia. New map is more detailed than ever. International Water Management Institute. IWMI, 2016.

DEGRP Agriculture and Growth projects

Farmer-led irrigated agricultural development (FIAD): Catalysing development in Mozambique. A report by our partner project ARF, via Wageningen University and Food Platform

Successful small-scale irrigation or environmental destruction? The political ecology of competing claims on water in the Uluguru Mountains,Tanzania. Elizabeth Harrison and Anna Mdee, 2017.

The Politics of Small-scale Irrigation in Tanzania: Making Sense of Failed Expectations. Working paper by Anna Mdee, with Elizabeth Harrison, Chris Mdee, Erast Mdee and Elias Bahati. September 2014.

The Right Irrigation? Policy Directions for Agricultural Water Management in Sub-Saharan Africa. Bruce Lankford. 2009.

Stronger Together: unlocking Africa’s food production potential. Jeremy Bird. July 2016.

Can groundwater irrigation be a “triple win” for smallholder African farmers? CGIAR blog. 2016.

Leave no woman behind. Marianne Gadeberg. August 2016.


Introduction to farmer led irrigation development – Miriam de Graaff. May 2017.
For the course “Research approaches in land and water management,” Wageningen University.


Project Inception Report – July 2015 (English version)

Project Inception Report – July 2015 (Portugese version)


Strategic Plan for Agricultural Development – PEDSA.  Republic of Mozambique Ministry of Agriculture. 2010-2019.

National Irrigation Act. The United Republic of Tanzania. 2013.

Contact us

Please contact the team with enquiries, requests for further information, or to receive regular project updates.