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Water for Food: Innovative Water Management Technologies for Food Security and Poverty Alleviation

Report by UNCTAD, 2011

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The publication addresses the water-food-poverty nexus in agricultural development. Modern irrigation systems have allowed for increased food production, but population growth and climate change are generating concerns about the food and water security. The study presents water management technologies and dicusses how developing countries can have better access to these.


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This study was prepared by Melvyn Kay (consultant to UNCTAD) under the direction of Dong Wu. Juana Paola
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Comments were received from the following UNCTAD staff members: Ulrich Hoffmann, Oliver Johnson and
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UNCTAD also wishes to acknowledge comments and suggestions provided by David Molden and Barbara
Van Koppen (International Water Management Institute), Rudolph Cleveringa (International Fund for Agricultural
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Commission on Science and Technology for Development.

Laurence Duchemin formatted the manuscript. Nadege Hadjemian designed the cover. Michael Gibson edited
the report.



AgWA Agricultural Water for Africa

AMCOW African Ministers’ Council on Water

AWM Agricultural Water Management

BRIC Brazil, Russia, India and China

CAADP Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme

CP-MUS Challenge Program-Multiple-Use Water Systems

FAO Food and Agriculture Organization

GHG Greenhouse gas

IDE International Development Enterprises

IFAD International Fund for Agricultural Development

IPCC Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

IWMI International Water Management Institute

LDC Least Developed Country

MDG Millennium Development Goals

NEPAD New Partnership for Africa’s Development

OECD Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development

PPP Public Private Partnership

SSA sub-Saharan Africa



Acknowledgements ................................................................................................................................ iii

1. AGRICULTURE AND WATER ........................................................................................................... 1

2. A ‘PERFECT STORM’? ........................................................................................................................ 1
2.1 Climate change – another dark cloud ................................................................................................. 2

2.2 Some ‘white’ clouds ............................................................................................................................ 3

2.3 Focusing on water technologies ......................................................................................................... 3

3. THERE IS ENOUGH WATER ............................................................................................................. 3

4. THE RAINFED-IRRIGATION NEXUS .............................................................................................. 4
4.1 What about drainage? ......................................................................................................................... 4

4.2 In Asia .................................................................................................................................................. 5

4.3 In Africa ............................................................................................................................................... 6

4.4 In Latin America and the Caribbean ................................................................................................... 7

5. WHAT IS TECHNOLOGY’S ROLE? ................................................................................................. 8
5.1 Water storage ...................................................................................................................................... 9

5.2 Re-thinking canal irrigation ................................................................................................................ 10

5.3 Mico-irrigation technologies .............................................................................................................. 11

5.4 Water lifting ........................................................................................................................................ 12

5.5 ICT in water management ................................................................................................................. 14

5.6 Common and unconventional water sources ................................................................................... 15

5.7 Improved rain-fed agriculture ............................................................................................................ 16

5.8 Conservation agriculture ................................................................................................................... 17

6. WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE? ........................................................................................................17
6.1 Focus more on women ..................................................................................................................... 17

6.2 Focus on existing technologies ........................................................................................................ 19

6.3 More research for development and better dissemination ............................................................... 20

6.4 Smarter water management.............................................................................................................. 20

6.5 Build new institutions......................................................................................................................... 20

6.6 Develop AWM capacity ..................................................................................................................... 21

6.7 Support Public-Private-Partnership ................................................................................................... 21

6.8 Encourage the private sector ............................................................................................................ 22

6.9 Focus more on youth ........................................................................................................................ 22

6.10 Increase water-food trade ............................................................................................................... 22

6.11 Strategy in Asia ............................................................................................................................... 22


6.12 Strategy in Africa ............................................................................................................................. 23

6.13 Strategy in Latin America and the Caribbean ................................................................................. 23

7. WHERE, FOR WHOM, AND HOW? .............................................................................................24

8. CONCLUSION ......................................................................................................................................25

9. REFERENCES ......................................................................................................................................27



Modern irrigation is one of the success stories of the
20th century. As the world’s population doubled, irrigated
farming expanded from 40 million hectares to almost
300 million hectares today – a seven-fold increase. This
revolution in water technology improved crop yields and
enabled farmers to grow additional crops each year. China,
India, Indonesia, and Pakistan together account for almost
half the world’s irrigated area and they rely on irrigation
for more than half their domestic food production.

But the world’s population continues to grow and so
do concerns about food security and particularly the
availability of water to grow crops. Global agricultural food
production already accounts for 70 percent of all water
withdrawn from rivers and aquifers. Climate change will
only make matters worse.

Can agricultural water management (AWM) technologies
provide innovative solutions that meet this challenge of
feeding a growing population by producing more food
but with fewer resources? This paper reviews the water-
food-poverty nexus and examines the role that AWM
technologies may play in achieving world food and water

1. Agriculture and water
Agriculture is central to food security and economic
growth in developing countries and provides the main
source of livelihood for three out of four of the world’s
poor (Wheeler and Kay, 2011). But food production
requires substantial amounts of water. Globally,
agriculture accounts for 70 percent of all water
withdrawn from rivers and aquifers. Several regions
are already facing acute physical water scarcity –
North Africa, South Asia, and the drier regions of sub-
Saharan Africa (SSA). Water scarcity is one of the most
pressing issues facing humanity today. More than 1.4
billion people live in water stressed river basins and
by 2025, this number is expected to reach 3.5 billion.
Moreover, over 20 percent of the world’s rivers run dry
before reaching the sea (World Resources Institute,

This situation is set to deteriorate. Global food de-
mand is expected to increase by as much as 70
percent by 2050 (FAO, 2006a) as the world’s popu-
lation rises from over 6.8 billon to 9 billion and diets
change as a result of socio-economic improvements,
particularly in OECD and BRIC (Brazil, Russia, In-
dia and China) countries. About 1.4 billion people
live in extreme poverty (defined by the World Bank
as living on less than US$1.25 a day). Most are living
in LDCs (Least Developed Country) in Asia and Africa
and to a lesser extent in Latin America and the Carib-
bean (Figure 1). Even though there is a shift towards
urbanisation, poverty is still largely a rural problem
(approximately 1 billion people) and this is likely to re-
main so for the foreseeable future (IFAD, 2011). Not
only is poverty highly regionalized and rural, it is also
disproportionately female (Rauch, 2009), especially as
men are drawn to the cities to seek alternative incomes.
In developing countries, women provide around 43
percent of the labour force. In SSA, 62 percent of the
region’s economically active women are engaged in
the agricultural sector (FAO, 2011).

Food demand in LDCs is expected to double as the
population in the developing world reaches 7.5 billion
by 2050 – including 2.2 billion in south Asia and 5 billion
in SSA. Most LDC Governments look to their rural
communities to produce more agricultural products
but those same communities are impoverished, have
low productivity, and use resources inefficiently.

The burden of the poor is made worse by the changing
nature of rural life – the new ‘rurality’ (Rauch, 2009).
Globalisation is transforming the marketplace, new
patterns of poverty are emerging as livelihoods adjust,
and reforms in governance and rural service systems
are changing the nature of institutions. All these
issues create uncertainty and risk and are likely to
have a disproportionate impact on the rural poor and
their ability to access and make good use of limited
water resources.

2. A ‘perfect storm’?
Water resources are already under stress in many parts
of the world yet the demand for water will substantially
increase in order to meet the additional requirements
for food and energy crops. Competition for water will
inevitably intensify among the different water using
sectors – municipalities, industry, agriculture and
the environment. There are increasing pressures
to divert land away from food production towards


energy crops. There are concerns that available water
resources will decrease in some critical regions as a
result of climatic changes and the available land area
for agriculture will continue to decline because of land
degradation and urbanisation.

The range of issues has created a ‘perfect storm’ with
‘dark clouds’ converging towards 2030 and beyond
to produce problems far greater than the sum of the
parts. As most of the population increase will be among
those already disadvantaged in the developing world,
there may be increased competition for food, water,
and energy; rises in food prices; and increases in the
number of people going hungry (Beddington, 2009).

2.1 Climate change – another ‘dark cloud’

Climate change is yet another ‘dark cloud’ on the
horizon that will impact water resources which in turn
will impact agriculture and hence food production
(Bates et al, 2008). Globally, agriculture contributes
about 18 percent of greenhouse gas (GHG)
emissions, largely through livestock production,
land use changes, paddy rice production, and the
manufacture and use of agro-chemicals (Smith et al,
2007; UNCTAD, 2010).

Rising global temperatures will result in drier dry
seasons and wetter rainy seasons, greater uncertainty,

and increased risk of more extreme and frequent
floods and droughts. The Intergovernmental Panel
on Climate Change (IPCC) projected an increase in
annual mean rainfall in high latitudes and Southeast
Asia and decreased rainfall in Central Asia, the
southern Mediterranean, and SSA. Such changes
will impact people’s livelihoods and ecosystems,
particularly in semi-arid and arid areas.

Decreasing rainfall, particularly in areas that are
already water-short, will impact both surface and
groundwater supplies. Melting glaciers will initially
increase but then strongly decrease dry-season water
supplies. This will affect the design of new water
infrastructures. Design is normally based on historical
weather patterns but this will no longer be helpful in
predicting what may happen in the future.

The poorest farmers are at greatest risk from the
impacts of climate change (Parry et al, 2005).
Increasing food, feed, and biofuel production will
in turn increase GHGs and this will significantly
impact both the availability of food and food security
(Schmidhuber and Tubiello, 2007). Climate change
will counter the drive for increased food production in
many LDCs and hinder progress towards meeting the
first of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs),
which aims to reduce by half the proportion of
people suffering from hunger by 2015. Additionally,

East Asia

South Asia ****

South East Asia ***

Sub-Saharan Africa **

Latin America and
the Caribbean *

Middle East and
North Africa







1988 1998 2008








f p



Figure 1. Rural people living in extreme poverty (IFAD, 2011).
(Millions of rural people living on less than US$1.25/day)

Source: IFAD, 2011


climate change will increase inequality because the
most vulnerable farmers live in places with marginal
crop production and limited access to agricultural
knowledge and technology.

2.2 Some ‘white’ clouds

The prognosis sounds rather gloomy and there
are skeptics who disagree with these predictions.
However, the arguments have more to do with the
timing of events rather than the nature of the serious
crisis the world faces towards the middle of the 21st
century. But there are some ‘white clouds’ as well as
dark ones. In the second half of the 20th century world
food production more than doubled. Agricultural
productivity rose steadily over the past 40 years and
irrigated agriculture is one of the success stories of
the 20th century. The large irrigation schemes in India,
China, Pakistan, and Indonesia have fed millions who
would have otherwise starved. The ‘green’ revolution,
in the 1960s and 1970s, essentially based on rice
irrigation, helped lift Asia out of an imminent food
crisis although the price was heavy in terms of water
and energy.

In the 1990s the importance of water for ecosystems
and their resilience became well recognised as did
the need to strike a balance among water for food,
people, industry, and for the environment. The idea of
a ‘green-green’ revolution (Conway, 1997) emerged,
which was founded on the principles of environmental
sustainability. A third ‘green dimension’ (Falkenmark,
2006) was later introduced, focusing on upgrading
rainfed agriculture. Indeed, many developing
countries still have a large, untapped endowment
of rainfall that can be harnessed using conservation
farming practices and supplementary irrigation.

2.3 Focusing on water technologies

What does this mean for global food security? The UK
House of Commons report (HOC, 2010) put it thus:
“the world must produce 50 percent more food – ‘safe
food’1, on less land, with less freshwater, using less
energy, fertilizers, and pesticides – by 2030 whilst at
the same time bringing down sharply the level of GHG
emissions emitted globally”. It is a daunting challenge
but one that can and must be met.

This paper focuses on agricultural uses of water and
the role that innovation and technologies can play
in meeting this challenge whilst recognizing that
agricultural water technologies are only one piece,

but a crucial one, in the complex jigsaw of global food

3. There is enough water
Crops consume large amounts of water, so is there
enough to meet future demand? The simplistic
answer is yes – but only if we make better use of what
is available (CA, 2007).

Of the 110,000 km3 of rain that falls annually on
the earth’s surface, 36 percent ends up in the
sea; around 57 percent contributes to supporting
forestry, grazing lands, fisheries, and biodiversity;
towns, cities, and industry use just 0.1 percent
(110 km3); and agriculture consumes around
7 percent (7,130 km3). Some 22 percent of agri-
culture’s water consumption (1,570 km3) is ‘blue
water’ – water withdrawn from rivers, streams,
and groundwater for irrigation purposes. Most of
agriculture’s water consumption (5,560 km3) is ‘green
water’ – water available to crops from rainfall stored in
the soil root zone (CA, 2007).

Predicting future water demand is fraught with
difficulties. Forecasts made less than 10 years ago
have proven to be inaccurate because no one could
have accurately predicted the rise in energy prices
nor the world recession and the impact these factors
would have on food prices. The impacts of climate
change are now only beginning to unfold as are the
stresses of population growth and water scarcity.
We have enough water only if we act now to improve
how water is used, particularly in agriculture which
is the main consumer (CA, 2007). What is certain is
that the future of food security and water security are
inextricably connected.

If water usage continues at the present rate, global
water consumption will almost double by 2050.
However, a more optimistic assessment suggests
it may rise from 7,130 km3 to 8,515 km3/yr by 2050
(CA, 2007). This is not only based on predictions of
population increase but also on improving socio-
economic conditions and nutrition, both of which
demand more water. The greatest change over the
past 30 years has been the shift away from starch-
based diets to meat, eggs, and dairy products to
a point were livestock products account for about
45 percent of the global water embedded in food
products. Growth has been most rapid in East and
Southeast Asia, particularly China. In 2009, China
was the top meat producer making up 27 percent



of the overall meat production while India produced
15 percent of the world’s milk and milk products
(FAO, 2010d). Predictions are based on anticipated
changes in cropping and diets, likely improvements
in water productivity in rainfed and irrigated
agriculture, increases in cropped area, the expansion
of agricultural trade from water-rich to water-poor
countries, and technology transfer through the efforts
of national and international research centres2.

4. The rainfed-irrigation nexus
Agriculture is a mix of rainfed and irrigation farming.
Globally, rainfed farming is the world’s most common
farming system practised on 80 percent of cultivated
land and accounting for 60 percent of the world’s
food production. In areas of high and reliable rainfall
such as in northern Europe, crop yields are good and
production is reliable. But in areas of low, erratic, and
unreliable rainfall, such as the drier regions of Africa
where many of the disadvantaged live, crop yields
are low and uncertain – grain yields average only 1
ton/hectare and water consumption is high because
of the high evapotranspiration rates between 2,000-
3,000 m3/ton of crop. This is roughly twice the global
average of 1,000-1,500 m3/ton of crop. The ability
of most smallholder farmers to make better use of
rainwater is limited. The fraction of rainfall used for crop
transpiration is only 15-30 percent (Wallace, 2000)
and sometimes it is as low as 5 percent (Rockstrom
and Falkenmark, 2000). The remaining portion is lost
through surface runoff, drainage, and unproductive
evaporation (IWMI, 2009).

Globally, irrigation is only practised on about 300
million hectares (in 2010), or 20 percent of the
cultivated land area (FAO, 2010a). But irrigation’s
contribution is substantial with more than 40 percent
of the world’s food production. About 84 percent of the
irrigated area is in Africa, Asia, South America (IWMI,
2004). There is still room for expansion, particularly in
sub-Saharan Africa in places where there is sufficient
water available.

Irrigated agriculture offers great potential for econom-
ic growth and poverty reduction. In the right circum-
stances, irrigation can reduce the risks associated
with the unpredictable nature of rainfed agriculture in
dry regions and increase cropping intensities in hu-
mid and tropical zones by ‘extending’ the wet season
and introducing effective means of water control. It
can provide a defence against droughts, which are

predicted to occur more frequently. Irrigation can in-
crease crop diversity, produce higher yields, enhance
employment and lower food prices (IFAD, 2008). Indi-
rectly it can stimulate input and output markets, sta-
bilize output and economic activities thus providing
substantial benefits across economic sectors.

But, like rainfed farming, there are concerns about
water wastage. In many irrigation schemes in semi-
arid areas, particularly among LDCs, less than 20
percent of the water delivered is actually transpired
by crops (Wallace, 2000). This ‘inefficiency’ is an
overriding concern among those in irrigation.

Although rainfed and irrigation farming are often
considered to be separate and distinct ways of
growing crops, in practice they overlap – natural
rainfall contributes to irrigation farming and irrigation
is used to supplement inadequate rainfall. Agriculture
exploits both blue water (rivers, wetlands, lakes and
ground water) and green water (rain water and soil
moisture), often at the same time to meet crop water
requirements. This approach to thinking about water
is breaking down the traditional divisions between
blue and green water and is shifting water resources
planning from dealing with runoff (blue water) to a
process that values both blue and green water. This
is the essence of ‘agricultural water management’
(AWM) (Falkenmark, 2006).

4.1 What about drainage?

Irrigation and rainfall are usually the main issues in
AWM and so they attract most attention. But in many
situations drainage, the reverse of applying water to
crops, also plays a key part. Excess water is drained
from the land in order to provide the right moisture
conditions for crops to grow.

Drainage technologies are well known and established
across the world but drainage is one of the neglected
areas of AWM that deserves more recognition.

In arid and semi-arid areas, where irrigation is
indispensable for agriculture, drainage can prevent
water logging and the build up of salts in the soil
profile which comes from poor quality irrigation water.
In 2002, salinization affected about 20-30 million
hectares of the world’s 300 million hectares (7-10
percent) of irrigated land (FAO, 2002). In 2008, this
increased to 40-60 million hectares (FAO, 2008).
About 10-20 percent of irrigated land is already
equipped with drainage, but 40-60 percent is in need


of drainage but there are no facilities installed. The
problem is most acute in South and Central Asia and
the Near East where arid climate prevails and irrigation
is widely practiced (FAO, 2002).

Drainage is also important in the humid and sub-humid
tropics, such as East and Southeast Asia and parts of
West and Central Africa, where the main objective is to
remove excess water from high or intense rainfall. Lack
of drainage and inadequate protection from flooding
are major obstacles to agricultural development and
constrain farmers from intensifying and diversifying
their cropping.

In temperate zones, in Europe and North America for
example, drainage also helps to maximize production
by improving soil moisture and the timeliness of farm
mechanisation operations.

4.2 In Asia

Asia3 is one of the main areas where water scarcity
and AWM development are directly linked to extreme
poverty and hunger (Figure 1). About 700 million
people subsist in extreme poverty. Irrigation farming
in Asia accounts for 70 percent of the world’s irrigated
area and almost one third of the region’s cropland
(Mukherji et al, 2009). Many large irrigation schemes
were built in the 1960s and 1970s to supply water to
smallholder farms and this provided the engine to
drive Asia’s green revolution. This enabled the region
to become food self-sufficient by providing timely and
reliable water supplies, which in turn led to greater
cropping intensities, high yielding rice varieties, and
the use of fertilizers that pushed up productivity.

However, inappropriate fertilizer and pesticide
usage has caused ecological damage and water
pollution from fertilizer runoff. A general lack of water
management in Asia has also led to salinization
and waterlogging. Salinization alone affects over 40
percent of Asia’s irrigated land in dry areas (IFAD,
2009c). In countries such as China and India, the
increased use of surface water for irrigation has
raised the water table causing water logging; on the
other hand, increased use of groundwater irrigation
over the past decades has caused water tables to
drop on average by ≤ 1 metre per annum. In both
cases stream flows have decreased (Scanlon et al,
2006). Additionally, water quality has also become a
serious issue in China where 7 percent of the irrigated
land (equivalent to 4 million hectares) are supplied

with polluted water. According to China’s Ministry of
Environmental Protection, in 2008, 46 percent of the
26 lakes and reservoirs monitored for its environ-
mental state were experiencing eutrophication, or
oxygen depletion (quoted in AWP, 2010).

Water pollution and overuse exacerbates poverty,
which is particularly a problem in South Asia. By
2050 there will be an additional 1.5 billion people in
Asia, half of whom will still live in rural areas in spite
of the tendency towards urbanization. Diets too are
changing rapidly among the wealthier population as
they turn to meat and dairy foods which require much
more water than vegetables. In East and Southeast
Asia, meat consumption has risen by almost 30
percent in the past 10 years (FAO, 2009).

Land and water resources across the region are
limited and, although there is rainfed farming, irrigation
farming is expected to deliver most of the additional
food, mainly from existing irrigation systems through
raising yields and the productivity of land and water
resources. Some food supplies are expected to come
from international trade. But the existing schemes that
once dominated agricultural production are now in
decline because of poor maintenance, salinity, and
water logging. Further investment in irrigation was
discouraged because of lower food prices and poor
rates of return. The result is that many of the large
scale, centrally managed irrigation systems are in
need of modernization to cope with modern farming
practices and the changes in food demands. Efforts
to rehabilitate them are mixed.

Millions of smallholder farmers in South and South-
east Asia are now taking matters into their own hands
and investing in locally adapted technologies such as
small storage ponds, PVC (polyvinyl chloride) piping,
and pumping equipment in order to access ground-
water and gain greater control over their water sup-
plies (Mukherji et al, 2009). This gives farmers more
control over the reliability, timeliness, and adequacy
of irrigation. This new ‘water-scavenging’ economy,
as it is known, is now highly visible in South Asia and
the North China Plains. Groundwater abstraction is
encouraged by a booming low-cost Chinese pump
industry. China has pared down the weight and cost
of small pumps and currently exports some 4 million
pumps annually. In India more than 60 percent of the
nation’s irrigation now comprises smallholder farmers
pumping groundwater, known as ‘atomistic irrigation’.
But the success of this ‘smallholder’ approach to ir-
rigation is now beginning to create large scale prob-


lems as the many thousands of mostly unregulated
withdrawals are over-exploiting groundwater and wa-
ter tables are falling in some places by as much as
3m/year (Mukherji, 2009). This calls into question the
long-term sustainability of this informal irrigation econ-
omy unless steps are taken to increase groundwater
recharge. As Postel (2010) states “we are meeting
some of today’s food needs with tomorrow’s water”.
Groundwater across northern India is estimated to de-
plete annually by 54 cubic kilometres. The high energy
consumption of lift-based irrigation when compared
to gravity systems also makes long-term sustainability
an issue.

4.3 In Africa

Africa is another region where water and poverty are
linked together (Figure 1). For instance, SSA alone,
over 330 million people, some 45 percent of the popu-
lation, live in extreme poverty. Agricultural productivity
in the region is among the lowest in the world and
output has not kept up with population growth. Since
1980, over 80 percent of output growth has come from
expanding the cropped area (AfDB et al, 2007). This
is in stark contrast to other regions where increases
in cropped area have been less than 20 percent with
changes in technology and innovation driving addi-
tional productivity. This is clearly not the case in SSA
(Svendsen, 2009). Furthermore, SSA has little formal
irrigation schemes and agriculture is dominated by
rainfed farming which is largely subsistence based
and concentrated on low-value food crops (AfDB et
al, 2007).

Although rainfed farming predominates, rainfall
in many of the drier regions of Africa is erratic and
unreliable, rainy seasons are short and there are often
long gaps between rainfall events. ‘Just one more
good storm’ is a constant lament among African
farmers who must make a living in some of the driest
regions of the world (NRSP, 2001). But floods as well
as droughts are hazardous. Over the past century,
floods have caused more than 40 percent of all
declared disasters in the United Republic of Tanzania
while droughts have caused only 30 percent - often
in the same place and in the same season (NRSP,
2002a). Climate change predictions suggest that this
may worsen as the extremes of droughts and floods
increase. The fragile nature of agricultural production
in SSA and its dependency on rainfall is illustrated in
Box 1.

Rainfed farming is where the greatest potential exists
for improving output and productivity. Even modest
low-cost technological improvements and modest
increases in yield could have significant impacts on
production and poverty reduction.

Irrigation in North Africa is concentrated in the north
along the Mediterranean and, except for Egypt and
the Sudan which rely on the Nile River, irrigation is
mainly from groundwater. But renewable groundwater
resources are severely over-exploited and fossil
water reserves are also being mined. This is driven
by governments providing substantial subsidies for
irrigation equipment, pumps, and energy in order to
achieve self-sufficiency in staple foods. However, this
situation is just not sustainable (World Bank, 2007).

In SSA the irrigation picture is quite different. The
share of the cultivated area equipped for irrigation is
only a third of the world average and just one-sixth
of the value for Asia. Past experiences of investment
in irrigation are not good. International donors have
shown little interest over the past 30 years following
disappointing investments in irrigation in the 1960s
and 1970s. National governments too have struggled
to keep water for food on the national water agenda
in spite of the fact that in most African countries food
production is the largest consumer of water.

The reasons for this are numerous and complex. They
range from relatively low population densities to the
lack of market access and incentives for agricultural
intensification, low quality soils, unfavourable topo-
graphy, and inadequate policy environments that
fail to recognize the predominance of women in
agriculture. Together with development costs, which
are considerably higher than in Asia, these conditions
seriously limit the economic feasibility of irrigation
development projects (IFAD, 2008).

Yet renewable water resources per capita in Africa
are substantial and suggest there is a large untapped
endowment of water that could be used for irrigated
agriculture. In SSA only 7 million hectares (4 percent
of cultivated land) is equipped for irrigation. This area
almost doubles when North Africa is included – Egypt
accounts for 20 percent of all irrigation in Africa. Even
within this modest total it is estimated that about 20
percent of the irrigated area is not operational (Svend-
sen et al, 2009). These figures represent the more for-
mal irrigation schemes and do not include the many
thousands of hectares of informal private, smallholder
irrigation across the region in valley bottoms, along


flood plains, and in peri-urban areas using wastewa-
ter, which do not appear in official government statis-
tics. For instance, in Nigeria, several hundred thou-
sand hectares of the fadamas wetland valleys are
estimated to be informally irrigated (IWMI, 2007).

Nevertheless, Africa produces 38 percent of its crops
(by value) from only 7 percent of cultivated land on
which water is managed, suggesting that additional
investment in irrigation would pay dividends.
The disproportionate contribution to agricultural
production of Africa’s small irrigated area suggests
that returns on additional investment in irrigation
would be high, both in terms of greater food security
for the continent and greater production of export-
quality agricultural goods (Svendsen et al, 2009).

The different agro-ecological zones across the
continent will require different approaches and there
is a need to move from a ‘top-down’ to a ‘bottom-
up’ livelihoods-based paradigm which recognises
the role that women play in agriculture. Should a
‘green revolution’ happen in SSA, it is likely to differ
considerably from that in Asia, given the significant

differences in resource endowments, demographics,
lack of appropriate technologies, public perspectives
regarding government support for intensive
agriculture, and the completely different economic
context at both local and international levels (IFAD,

4.4 In Latin America and the Caribbean

The third region in which poverty persists, though
not to the same extent as in Africa and Asia, is Latin
America and the Caribbean (Figure 1). The region’s
population has grown rapidly from 244 million in
1966 to 515 million in 2000 and is expected to reach
705 million by 2030. About 11 million live in extreme
poverty, but in contrast to Asia and Africa, most live in
urbanised areas (IFAD, 2011).

Most Latin-American countries have substantial en-
dowments of water. The region has over 30 percent of
the available global water supply and only 9 percent
of the world’s population. But there are large dispari-
ties between and within countries. More than half the
renewable water supply in the region is concentrated

Box 1: The link between GDP growth and rainfall

Such is the fragility of some developing countries that drought directly and severely impact economic growth. The figures
below illustrate the pattern of rainfall and GDP growth from 1989 to 1999 in the United Republic of Tanzania and from 1983
to 2000 in Ethiopia. In Ethiopia, 75 percent of the population depend on small scale and rainfed cropping. During the
famine in the early 1990s, rainfall was well below average and economic growth plunged hitting agriculture the hardest. A
similar situation is observed in the United Republic of Tanzania and is common to other sub-Saharan countries.






















1989 1983





































1990 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 1985 1990 1995 2000

Tanzania Ethiopia

GDP growthRainfall variability GDP growthRainfall variability


Source: World Bank, 2006a; 2006b cited in Van Aalst, M. et al., 2007



in one river – the Amazon. The Caribbean islands, in
particular, suffer from fresh water shortages. The dis-
tribution of people is also uneven; some 60 percent of
the population is concentrated on 20 percent of the
land area that has only 5 percent of the renewable
water resources.

Agriculture is the main consumer of fresh water even
though the irrigated area is modest in comparison
to Asia and SSA. Latin America relies extensively
on rainfed farming though there are approximately
13.5 million hectares of irrigated agriculture (in 2009)
– about 9 percent of the estimated world total.
Mexico has by far the largest irrigated area with over
6.5 million hectares; and Brazil is next with 3.2 million
hectares, followed by Chile, Argentina, and Bolivia.
About 0.5 million hectare in Brazil is in the semi-arid
North East region – an area with the lowest social
and economic indicators (Oliviera et al, 2009). Unlike
Asia and Africa, Latin America has a strong tradition
of private investment in irrigation with governments
acting as regulators and enablers of investment.
In recent years investment in water for agriculture
has been in decline. The costs of construction have
been increasing; government support for large scale
irrigation investments has been limited, and there are
concerns about the negative social and environmental
impacts of irrigation. Existing schemes are generally
not well managed.

Population growth and rapid urbanisation are putting
considerable pressure on water available for irrigation
(Ringler, 2000). As 70-80 percent of the population
lives in urban centres, there is pressure to transfer
water from agriculture to supply the growing urban

In many areas, water scarcity is made worse by severe
water quality problems resulting from poorly treated
domestic and industrial sewage and mining wastes.
Overall, in Latin America and the Caribbean, about 20
percent of all wastewater is treated while the existing
infrastructure can theoretically treat around 35 percent
of the wastewater (Mejia, 2010). Furthermore, in
Mexico, only 40 percent of wastewater collected in the
country’s 1,833 plants were treated in 2008 (National
Water Commission of Mexico, 2010). Continued
population growth and increasing urbanisation will
only make matters worse. Runoff from agricultural
land containing agricultural chemicals is also a
major pollution issue in some countries – including
Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador – where fertilizer
use has increased rapidly over the past 30 years to

levels similar to those in the OECD countries.

The lack of effective drainage affects large areas
of land and in many cases this is compounded by
salinization and water logging. In Argentina, Cuba,
Mexico, Peru and Brazil, salinization from irrigation is
becoming an increasingly pressing issue. Additionally,
water logged valleys cover around 1.2 million hectares
in Brazil. However, not all areas in the region are in
dire conditions. For instance, Mexico has the largest
drainage infrastructure in the region with 2.8 million
hectares of irrigated districts and 2.4 million hectares
of supplemental irrigation4 (Mejia, 2010).

Although the region would seem to have plentiful
supplies of water overall, the drier regions are a cause
for concern and so investment in irrigation to address
water logged areas and salinization must be an
important part of the region’s strategy for both water
and food security, and poverty reduction.

5. What is technology’s role?
What role have AWM technologies played in getting
us to where we are now and, equally important, what
options and opportunities does technology offer for
the future? The innovative use of technology is not
just a feature of water management; it is essential and
often provides the catalyst for the broader aspects of
agricultural development in LDCs. Decisions about
technology are among the first to be made in the
development process and it is important for all those
involved in AWM to make the right choices.

The large public irrigation schemes depend on
technology for major water storage, flow control and
measurement, water lifting, and for data collection
on which management decisions are based. Without
these technologies irrigation water managers cannot
begin to properly manage and distribute water. The
high costs of large schemes, concerns about their
social and environmental sustainability, and the lack
of benefits for the poorest farmers have slowed new
developments in recent years.

In many LDCs, attention has shifted away from
engineering large irrigation schemes to a focus on
smallholder farmers who depend on agriculture for
their livelihood. Smallholder farmers make up about
80 percent of Africa’s population. They manage
rainfall and irrigate small farms and home gardens,
often less than 1 hectare in size and are the backbone
of African agriculture. A similar situation exists in the
poorer regions of Asia. Smallholder farmers usually


have direct access to surface or groundwater and
make their own decisions about how they use water.
They practice a mix of commercial and subsistence
farming where the family provides the majority of the
labour and the farm is the principal source of income.
In such situations technology can greatly reduce the
drudgery of lifting water as well as help solve water
management problems by simplifying the process
of watering crops in an adequate and timely manner.
But the ‘right’ technology must be applied, enabling
users to innovate and adapt the technology to their
circumstances. Above all it must be simple to construct,
reliable to use, easy to maintain, and consider gender
specific needs. The focus on the small-scale has also
substantially reduced development costs but there is
the danger that low-cost technology can become a
euphemism for cheap and poor engineering. In SSA
there are examples of so-called low-cost irrigation
schemes in which canal embankments have not been
properly engineered resulting in leaks and requiring
substantial and costly maintenance.

Technology must also make effective and sustainable
use of ecosystem services. Whereas many services
to society come from man-made infrastructure, these
come from the ‘green infrastructure’ – healthy rivers
and watersheds that filter out pollution, mitigate floods
and droughts, recharge groundwater, and maintain
fisheries. Technologies which maintain and enhance
such services build resilience into our water delivery
systems and water use.

What technology should be adopted? This is a key
question but it is not the only aspect to consider. It
must be posed in the context of where it is being used
(location), by whom (people), and how it is introduced
and implemented.

Generally, technologies fall into two main categories:
those which make better use of available water, that is,
water saving options that help to increase water pro-
ductivity (the benefit derived from each litre of water);
and those which make more water available includ-
ing water storage to cope with seasonality, increas-
ingly variable and unpredictable rainfall, flooding, and
drought. This is often referred to as the ‘twin-track’
approach, the emphasis depending on local circum-
stances. In many of the drier regions of the world for
example, traditional blue water resources are already
over-exploited and the costs of making more water
available are becoming increasingly prohibitive. De-
cision-makers often respond to water needs by build-
ing larger versions of familiar technologies – larger

dams, deeper wells, bigger pumps, or water transfer
from one catchment to another. Extending existing
technologies alone, however, does not address un-
sustainable water use; rather appropriate technologi-
cal solutions must be combined with improved water
management and efficient water use. Furthermore, in
dry areas, water management can go hand in hand
with opportunities to capture more green water locally.

Although new water technologies are available, older
technologies have a higher potential for immediate
application. Some of the more promising technologies
are listed below. Whichever technology is used,
success will be determined more by the capacity of
smallholder farmers to take risks, innovate and adopt
them in situations where services are erratic, costs are
high, and markets are unpredictable.

5.1 Water storage

Water storage has perhaps the greatest potential
to deliver the improvements in water management.
Storage is a (very) old technology and is one that
has been exploited throughout history. Water stor-
age is often associated with dams and environmental
and social problems. Over 45,000 large dams have
been built for storage across the world and some
40 percent are used for irrigation purposes; but dams
are just one means of storage. The IWMI describes
storage as a continuum involving both surface and
subsurface storage. Surface storage includes natu-
ral wetlands and reservoirs and subsurface storage
consists of groundwater aquifers and soil water stor-
age that can be accessed by plant roots, tanks, and
ponds (Figure 2) (McCartney, 2010).

Storage makes more water available by capturing
water when it is plentiful and making it available for
use when there are shortages. Storage can also be
used to balance supply and demand over much
shorter periods such as storing water from river flows
during the night and making it available for farmers
to use during the day. This not only makes available
water that would have otherwise gone to waste, but
it also increases the flexibility of irrigation systems by
improving the reliability and timeliness of supplies so
that farmers can better schedule their irrigation and
reduce water losses. Groundwater storage offers
similar benefits and is one of the reasons why ‘water
scavenger’ irrigation using groundwater has been
widely applied in Asia. Water recharge is the link
between surface and groundwater storage. Canals



and reservoirs now provide opportunities to recharge
groundwater and to act as a buffer between water
supply and demand for irrigation (see Box 2).

Storage options have wide applications and water
is accessed and used in a variety of ways. In some
cases the storage is managed by small farmer groups
and in others by larger more formal institutions. Each
has its own niche in terms of technical feasibility,
socio-economic sustainability, and institutional
requirements (McCartney, 2010).

years and particularly so in the LDCs. For this reason,
technologies that seek to improve canal irrigation
should have a high priority.

Canal irrigation, particularly in Asia is not working well.
Smallholder farmers, who used to depend on the large
canal systems for their water, are finding ways around
the problem by buying pumps and exploiting local
groundwater, often recharged from canal seepage,
rather than relying on the uncertainties of canal
water. The extensive canal networks cannot be easily
abandoned and replaced with small pump schemes.
The challenge is to find ways of using existing canal
systems by making it as responsive as groundwater

Canals are difficult to manage hydraulically, and in
many systems tail-enders suffer from a lack of water
because those at the head tend to take more than
their share to the detriment of those at the tail end
– this is the classic ‘top-ender, tail-ender’ problem.
Most major canal systems use ‘upstream control’
technology that not only exacerbates the ‘top-ender,
tail-ender’ problem but is also inflexible to changes
in water demand from farmers. This was acceptable
in past planned economies when engineers made
decisions about how much water was delivered to
farmers. But in today’s demand driven economies,
farmers want much more control over inputs. There
are canal control systems, such as ‘downstream
control’, that can improve flexibility and provide on-
demand irrigation but such systems would require
major re-engineering and would be costly. More local
and cheaper options are possible. In the Indian state
of Maharashtra a water user association installed
pipelines to replace canals in order to distribute water
from tertiary canals and to ensure a more equitable
share of water. In another scheme, farmers have
invested in a storage tank which distributes water
through specially designed equal discharge pipelines
(Bhamoriya et al, 2009). Indeed pipelines, although
initially more costly to build than canals, can offer
much better control over water supplies, making the
system more responsive to farmer demands (Van
Bentum, 1994). This is why most domestic water
supplies use pipe systems rather than canals – the
lack of control over canals would be quite intolerable
for most domestic consumers.

Improving canal irrigation is not just a technology fix,
but also requires institutional changes. China’s public
canal irrigation schemes are improving because
government irrigation agencies are given incentives

Figure 2. Different types of storage
(McCartney and Smatkhtin, 2010)

Source: McCartney and Smatkhtin, 2010

The impact of storage on poverty varies considerably.
In China and India, there are examples of successful
water storage used to improve the management of
canal irrigation by providing farmers with water as and
when they need it. The Sudan has a long tradition of
night storage canal irrigation. There are examples of
storage in reservoirs along canal systems in Nigeria.
In Ghana, the storage story is mixed. Some reservoirs
have led to more reliable water supplies and have
enabled farmers to diversify their crops and have
more stable income. But other reservoirs nearby,
under similar conditions, have failed to bring about
any significant change (McCartney, 2010). This raises
the importance of the context in which technology
interventions are made.

5.2 Re-thinking canal irrigation

Canal irrigation is synonymous with surface flooding
– basins, borders and furrows. On a world scale
this is the most dominant irrigation technology. 95
percent of irrigation still relies on surface flooding,
most of the remaining 5 percent is sprinkler irrigation
and a small percentage uses trickle methods. This
balance is unlikely to change in the next 50-100


to align their rewards (for example performance
bonuses) with those of the farmers (for example
increased crop output) (Johnson III et al, 1998).

There are also options for multi-use canal systems
which provide water not just for agriculture but also
for domestic, industrial and environmental purposes.
Such developments would require significant
institutional cooperation across government ministries
of water resources, agriculture and the environment.

5.3 Mico-irrigation technologies

‘Modern’ irrigation technologies, such as sprinklers
and micro-irrigation are often seen as one of the keys
to increasing food production on smallholder farms
which make up a large proportion of the land farmed in
LDCs. Sprinklers and micro-irrigation are not suited to
the major rice growing areas in South and Southeast
Asia, nor are they suited to growing staple grains. But
modern methods do offer considerable potential for
making best use of available water in Africa which
includes 13 out of the 18 nations in the world having
less than 1,000 m3/capita/day. Micro-irrigation can be
targeted at selected environments where water costs
are high; soil, topography and water quality make
surface irrigation impracticable; high value cash crops
can be grown and marketed; and where the farmer
desires to increase his/her income (Cornish, 1998).

Micro-irrigation technologies are commonly used
in water scarce areas in developed countries and
are an intervention that has potential to use water
with minimal wastage. They generally fall into two
categories: low-cost technologies which are used for

small plots and gardens (see below); and the state-
of-the-art micro-irrigation systems which are used
by large commercial agri-businesses mainly for high
value fruit and vegetable crops. These technologies
can improve productivity, raise income through
improved crop yields and outputs, and enhance
household food security. However, they are not
suitable for growing staple cereals.

Although micro-systems provide the potential for
water saving by reducing the water wastage that often
occurs with other methods such as surface flooding,
these benefits are not always realized in practice.
Indeed the amount of water used by the crop is the
same whether the water is supplied from a micro-
system, sprinkler, or a surface flooding method. Much
depends on how the systems are managed rather
than the systems per se.

Micro-systems have been extensively marketed in
India among smallholder farmers and commercial
farmers for over 30 years in line with government policy
but with mixed results. The systems were heavily
subsidized, at times up to 90 percent of the cost,
but the farmers responded moderately. Although the
government provided subsidies, other factors were
lacking including: groundwater access, crop-specific
micro-irrigation technologies, know-how, and access
to financing. Additionally micro-systems did not
effectively reach the smallholder farmer target group.
Rather, the technology was mainly adopted by wealthy
commercial ‘gentlemen farmers’. Thus greater efforts
are needed to promote the technologies to small
holder farmers (IWMI, 2006).

Nevertheless, there are some areas in India where

Box 2: Conjunctive use of a small reservoir and an aquifer

With improved tubewell technology now available and within reach of small farmers, many storage reservoirs, which
were previously used as irrigation tanks in the arid and semiarid tracts of India, have now been converted to recharge
ponds and tubewells in place of irrigation canals. In Tamil Nadu, India, a small storage reservoir and 60 shallow tubewells
enabled 53 farmers to grow one crop each year. In 1986, the farmers decided to permanently close the reservoir sluices
and to use the stored water for recharging the aquifer. From then on, farmers, using only water from the tubewells, have
grown two crops per year over the past 14 years.

Small and large reservoir combinations

In China, Sri Lanka, and other countries, large storage facilities supply water to numerous small tanks within a river basin.
These reduce supply and demand mismatches from large reservoirs. In southern Sri Lanka, linking a large storage
reservoir with five small, existing, cascading reservoirs resulted in a 400 percent increase in crop production in the
command area.

Source: Adapted from McCartney, 2010



smallholder farmers have adopted the technology.
Smallholder farmers that employ micro-irrigation
tech-nologies tend to intensify their production
with multiple crops or switch to higher value crops.
For instance in Maharashtra, technology adopters
switched from groundnut and oilseed to high water
consuming and higher value crops, such as cotton
and bananas. Although drip irrigation can increase
yields and correspondingly increases income, the
economic benefits need to be balanced with higher
water demand, which can place greater stress on
already scarce water resources (IWMI, 2006). The
simple application of technologies is not sufficient to
address water scarcity and may at times aggravate
the situation; rather micro-irrigation solutions need to
consider end-user needs and work within the societal
and environmental constraints.

‘Affordable’ technologies

The investment costs and the inherent risks of modern
technologies can be too high for many smallholder
farmers, therefore a number of alternative ‘affordable’
technologies have been developed to fill the gap.
These include drip irrigation kits such as the Pepsee
easy drip technology, bucket and drum kits, micro
sprinklers, micro-tube drip systems and others that
have been designed by NGOs such as International
Development Enterprises (IDE). They are affordable
but often only at a small scale level. A drip kit covering
10m2, for example, may cost as little as US$10, which
may be affordable. But the same level of investment
on a hectare of land would cost US$10,000, which is
a very high level of investment and would be difficult
to justify on a commercial basis.

Nevertheless, these technologies are characterised
by affordable initial investment costs, relatively short
payback periods, and high farm-level returns on
investments. In addition, widespread use of small-
plot irrigation methods can generate employment
opportunities on and off farms in rural areas. They are
somewhat labour-intensive, but local entrepreneurs
can establish businesses that build, service, and
repair the irrigation equipment. Such activities
stimulate greater demand for farm products and other
non-tradable goods and services.

Rainwater harvesting is also practised on a small
scale around households and home gardens to grow
fruit trees, water small livestock, and support fish
ponds. Techniques include collecting rainwater runoff
to store in small tanks, drums, and off-stream storage

reservoirs. This requires only limited investment, no
regular external inputs, are simple to manage, and
can be built close to households.

5.4 Water lifting

Few farmers and households in LDCs have the
luxury of a gravity or pressurised water supply. Most
smallholder and garden irrigation requires some form
of water lifting and these are usually characterised by
their energy source – human and animal power, fossil
fuels, electricity, and renewable energy sources such
as sun, wind, and water.

Human powered pumps

Many smallholder farmers still rely on lifting water by
hand, using buckets and other similar containers to
transport water from source to field. These simple
tools, though appropriate for many, are limiting,
inefficient, and time consuming. They prevent the
poor, particularly women (see section 6.1), from taking
up alternative opportunities for income generating

Most hand-operated mechanical pumps are designed
for domestic water supply purposes and are not well
suited to the high water volume requirements of
irrigation. Treadle pumps changed such views on the
use of human power by transferring the driving force
from the arms to the legs. They were first developed
in Bangladesh in the 1980s for lifting relatively large
volumes of water through small lifts of up to 1 m for
rice irrigation. Their acceptance among farmers has
been described as extraordinary and over 500,000
pumps are now used daily in the country (Kay, 2000).
Treadle pumps are seen as a ‘stepping stone’ between
hand lifting and motorized pumping. The initial capital
cost is low, between US$50-120, thus investment is

Treadle pumps were introduced into Africa from
Bangladesh in the 1990s and are now widely used
across the continent. Although the current number of
pumps installed is not known, it is estimated that there
are many thousands used in Niger, Kenya, Zambia,
Zimbabwe, and Malawi. In some countries, notably
Kenya, a commercial market has been established
with supply chains so that spares and pump
maintenance services are available. There are also
those who see treadle pumps as yet another means
of tying up farmers and their families into yet another
form of drudgery.


The transfer of treadle pump technology from
Bangladesh to Africa was not without problems.
However, commercial companies and NGOs have
successfully re-engineered the technology so that
it can cope with the different operating conditions
that prevail such as undulating land and deeper
groundwater sources. Some treadle pumps have now
been adapted to sprinkler and drip irrigation systems.

Electric and fossil fuel pumps

A rapid growth in motorized pumping across the
world in the past few decades has resulted from the
availability of small, cheap petrol, diesel, affordable
electric pumps; the development of cheap well drilling
technology; rural electrification; and subsidized
energy. Pumps provide a level of freedom that
smallholder farmers did not have on the larger state-
owned schemes. They can irrigate as and when
crops need water and when it is convenient to irrigate
– usually during the day rather than at night (Snell,

In places where there is electricity access near
farmlands, electric pumps can be an attractive option.
However, electric pumps are not a feasible option in
areas with an intermittent electricity supply.

Motorised pump costs also tend to benefit large-
scale farmers due to economies of scale but tend to

be uneconomical for certain smallholder farmers with
limited land and revenues (Adeoti, 2009). For instance,
in Ghana, the cost of the motorised pump was 5.6
times higher than a treadle pump, a high capital
investment for small scale vegetable plots owners
(IWMI 2005). Additionally the operational costs of
motorised pumps were high compared to the returns.
Often users would have to travel long distances
for repair support and spare parts. Capabilities in
maintenance and repair are important considerations
in the adoption of motorised pumps.

Renewable energy powered pumps

Studies on renewable energy sources, such as solar
and wind, present mix results regarding technical
feasibility and costs. Some studies argue that
renewable energy sources do not have the long-term
and loss-free energy storage inherent in fossil fuels.
The energy supply is therefore usually unreliable, while
the equipment needed to capture and apply a useful
amount of power to a pump for irrigation purposes
is expensive (Snell, 2001; Fraenkel, 2006). However,
other studies have found that some renewable
sources are more cost competitive than traditional
sources of energy in rural areas and for small scale
applications, such as micro-irrigation (ESMAP, 2007;
Burney et al. 2010).

Box 3: Micro-irrigation examples

KickStart, an international NGO, developed a low-cost micro-irrigation pump which is purchased by local entrepreneurs
and used to establish new, small agricultural businesses. These pumps allow users to irrigate their crops year-round and
to not depend solely on seasonal rainfall.

Irrigating crops during the dry season allows pump owners to take advantage of the higher crop prices in the marketplace.
Successful models of micro-irrigation in India and Nepal have increased crop yields and reduced water consumption
in addition to increasing income and household food security. Since 1996, KickStart has been one of the leaders in
micro-irrigation technologies through the development and sales of its manually operated “MoneyMaker” pumps.
“Farmerpreneurs” are increasing their incomes by as much as ten-fold, transforming subsistence farms into highly
profitable enterprises.

Source: Pandit el al, 2010

Box 4: Labour for lifting water is not always a cheap option

A healthy farmer expends about 250 Watt-hours of energy each day and will use 1 kWatt-hour in four days. At an income
of US$1 per day this would be valued at US$4. This is similar to the amount of work that a small petrol engine pump
can produce with a litre of fuel at about US$1 per litre. If the labourer has access to alternative wage earning work then
investing in a petrol driven pump can pay dividends.

Source: Fraenkel, 2006



Solar power is used for applications requiring
relatively small power inputs in remote locations
– telecommunications and small isolated potable
water supplies are typical examples. Despite many
years of intensive research attempting to develop
cheap and robust solar energy gathering devices,
they remain expensive relative to their power output.
Both the solar energy devices and the associated
equipment for bringing the energy to a pump are
quite delicate and sensitive. Experience of their use
in remote locations for pumping potable water has
been mixed, with pumpsets often out of operation for
long periods awaiting repair or spare parts, although
this problem can also apply for conventional energy
technologies (ESMAP, 2007; Burney et al, 2010). A
study regarding solar-powered agricultural irrigation
found that photovoltaic (PV) pumping irrigation
systems are technically and economically feasible,
but the main constraint is land availability for the
solar array (Kelley, 2010). At present, solar-powered
devices are only cost-effective in low-powered and
specialised applications. Nevertheless, they should
be considered on the list of potential technologies,
and future improvements in cost and robustness
should improve their competitiveness.

Wind power has been used extensively for lifting
water, usually for draining low-lying land where there
are persistent strong winds. Relative to their water-
lifting output, both ancient and modern wind-powered
devices are large and expensive in comparison with
other technologies now available. They tend not to be
very reliable, or at least need a good deal of attention
and maintenance. An additional factor is the regional
and seasonal availability of strong winds. Over most
of the cultivable lands of SSA, wind speeds are

not high for much of the year. Nevertheless, some
experiences have shown that wind energy resources
can be successfully used for abstracting groundwater
and irrigating crops (Al Suleimani & Rao, 2000). In
India, wind power pumps hold great potential for
smallholder irrigation provided that certain conditions
are met such as wind resources, farmer income, etc.
(Kumar et al, 2007).

The decision to use renewable energy technologies
rather than conventional energy sources depends on
number of factors: availability of renewable resources
on the site, the power needed and type of utilization,
among others. Notable examples of application of
renewable energy technologies in rural areas are
wind pumps for irrigation in South Africa and Namibia.
Other applications include small biomass plants for
water pumps, micro-hydroelectric plants and solar
energy for micro-irrigation (UNCTAD, 2010).

5.5 ICT in water management

ICTs are growing in importance in most LDCs and
although they have yet to make a significant impact
on agriculture and AWM, there are positive signs. In
Ugandan villages, for example, farmers have access
to a wealth of information on the Internet and can call
their questions in to a free telephone hotline (Question
Box, 2010). The operators, who speak the local
language, search for the answers and call the farmers
back and provide information on crop prices, weather
forecasts for irrigation and water management, plant
diseases, and more.

GIS (geographic information system) technology
is also finding new ways of supporting water
management. An IWMI study indentified more than

Box 5: Pumped irrigation in Nigeria

Farmers in northern Nigeria lost their traditional use of the fadamas (wetlands) along the rivers following the construction
of dams to control the river floods for urban water supply and irrigation. As an alternative they turned to small-scale
irrigation using shallow groundwater recharged by the river and lifting it by shadouf or calabash (hand lifting devices) in
the dry season to grow vegetables for local and city markets. In the early 1970s, a few farmers, with help from relatives,
bought small pumps from private traders. In 1982-83, an agricultural development programme based in Kano sold over
2,000 pumps to individuals or small farmer groups. Engineers introduced low-cost well technologies from India, which
reduced well construction by two thirds with a commensurate increased return on tubewell investment.

This has been one of the most successful irrigation developments in Nigeria, with many thousands of pumps being used
by private farmers. Maintenance is well established and farmers have confidence in the technology. External monitoring
helped avoid depletion of the aquifer.

Source: Kay, 2001


6,000 traditional water tanks (small reservoirs to
capture rainfall or runoff) in a single sub-watershed in
the Krishna basin using Landsat data (Thenkabail et
al, 2008). If these traditional tanks, built 1500 years
ago, were restored to capture just 15 - 20 percent
of local rainfall, they could hold some 1.74 cubic
kilometres of water – enough to expand the irrigated
area in the region by 50 percent and at a quarter of
the cost per hectare of a typical dam and diversion
project proposed for the region (Pittock et al, 2009).

5.6 Common and unconventional water sources

Wastewater re-use

Most domestic and industrial water is not consumed;
rather it is used and returned to the catchment
either directly discharging into rivers or seeping into
groundwater. When discharged into the sea or into the
desert, it is beyond economical recovery. Wastewater
is a resource that can be re-used, particularly for
agriculture. In most European countries wastewater,
suitably treated to a high standard, is regularly
discharged into rivers where it is diluted within the
main flow, then re-used downstream by households,
industry, agriculture and the environment.

Wastewater reuse is high on the agenda in countries
across North Africa and the Middle East where water
is already scarce. In the Syrian Arab Republic, 67
percent of sewage effluent is reused; in Egypt, 79
percent; and in Israel, 67 percent, mostly for irrigation
and for environmental purposes (FAO, 2010a).
However, there is a continuing debate over whether
this water is actually ‘available’ for exploitation. It is
unlikely, for example, that the 0.79 billion cubic metres
of effluent produced in Egypt each year is readably
available for total usage. Egypt’s water strategy for
2017, which shows more water being used than is
available from the country’s water allocation from
the Nile River, suggests that this entire amount of
water reuse is already accounted for in Egypt’s water
balance (FAO, 2010a).

Wastewater for agricultural uses is also becoming an
important issue in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Large cities use treated wastewater in local fruit,
vegetable, dairy and poultry markets. In Mexico, for
instance, approximately 25 percent of municipal
wastewater is reused to irrigate 300,000 hectares
of land (Mejia, 2010). On the other hand, in some
countries, culture and concerns about the quality of
treatment are barriers to resuing wastewater. Using

effluent to grow crops such as fruit and vegetables
is not an accepted practice. However, treated water
used to grow processed crops such as grains, root
crops and biofuels may be less contentious.

Large scale wastewater treatment for agricultural
purposes can involve substantial additional costs
compared to freshwater. Wastewater requires
treatment to avoid health risks even when the crops
are not directly consumed. Municipal wastewater
comes mainly from cities and larger towns where
there is a high concentration of people and industry,
which may make it feasible and economically viable
to invest in the required infrastructure. However, cities
are often some distance from where the treated water
can be used for agricultural purposes and so canals
and/or pipelines are required to transport the water.
Also the timing of wastewater availability (usually
an even flow over the year) does not coincide with
agricultural water demand (usually over a 3-month
growing season); therefore some means of water
storage is essential if all the water is to be effectively
used. All this can add considerably to the costs of re-
using water for agriculture.

Wastewater usage in agriculture on an informal and
unregulated basis is a pressing issue in developing
countries which deserves more attention. Globally
around 3-3.5 million hectares of land are irrigated
with raw or diluted wastewater – double the size of
Africa’s total formal vegetable irrigation schemes.
In many low-income countries, fresh water is not
readily available and municipal wastewater treatment
facilities hardly exist; thus untreated wastewater is the
only affordable option for irrigation in many cases.
Additionally, nutrient value in wastewater has lead to
increased yields, at lower costs. For instance, farmers
in Pakistan on average earn 30-40 percent more per
annum when using wastewater for irrigation compared
to regular water. Additionally wastewater irrigation
employs local suppliers, traders, and others in related
services. Women also benefit in SSA, as they make
up over 95 percent of vegetable vendors in the region
(IWMI, 2006b). On the other hand, the health risks
could be extremely high. This connects the issues
of food security with the major challenges facing
domestic water supply and sanitation, especially in

The issue is not whether wastewater should or should
not be used in agriculture; rather, how can wastewater
be used safely for irrigation with affordable treatment
technologies? The policy challenge is to maximise



benefits while minimising risks in wastewater use. This
would entail the adoption of safety guidelines which
are appropriate to the local context, and the diffusion
of simple technologies. These technologies include:
localised drip irrigation, construction of shallow wells,
as well as water collection and application methods
which reduce contamination. Many innovative local
solutions exist for wastewater treatment. In India’s
Kikwari village, for example, farmers constructed
a wastewater system using pipes to connect the
drainage water into settling tanks. The water was
then filtered and used for irrigation in school and
community gardens (Mikhail et al, 2008). It has been
observed that farmer field schools can contribute to
disseminating good practices and linking research
with extension services (IWMI, 2006b).


Desalination is a process that removes salt from
saline water to produce fresh water. Desalination
processes have evolved significantly over the past
30 years and this has led to the general acceptance
of two main technologies, thermal and membrane,
which together account for almost 98 percent of the
world’s current desalination operating capacity – now
in excess of 35 million cubic metres per day, much
of which is in the Middle East. Desalination is used
mainly for drinking water and for industry. Estimates
suggest that less than 10 percent of desalinated water
is used for irrigation and this is mostly in Spain where
desalination is heavily subsidised. Both processes
are energy intensive and produce good quality water
(FAO, 2006b).

Since the late 1970s, seawater desalination costs
have decreased by nearly 14 times due to economies
of scale and continued developments in membrane
technology; but costs for deployable technologies
have remained largely unchanged (AMTA, 2007).
Desalination could be a potential source of water for
irrigation but at its current cost of around $0.5-1.5
per cubic metre, the technology is still considered
too costly. Some firms, however, are developing new
systems that could potentially cut desalination costs
by half (Hurst, 2009). There are also concerns about
the water being too pure and lacking micro-nutrients
for irrigation (FAO, 2006b).

Planners and policy makers still look at desalination
as a ‘silver-bullet’ solution to water shortages.
Unless desalination is powered by clean energy
sources, desalination will likely worsen the problem

they are trying to solve by burning more fossil fuels,
while making local water supplies more and more
dependent on increasingly expensive fossil fuels
(Postel, 2010).

A third option involves the use of solar energy for
desalination but this is very much in its infancy. Solar
stills produce water vapour by mimicking the natural
water cycle. However, yields are low averaging only
2-5 litres/day and depend on sun-hours. Solar stills
are a useful option for providing basic energy and
domestic water needs in remote regions where it is
not possible or cost-effective to connect to the public
electricity supply, and where physical water scarcity is
most severe. They are small in scale, low maintenance,
and have low environmental impacts.

5.7 Improved rain-fed agriculture

Substantial improvements are possible in rainfed
agriculture and the technologies are not new.
Integrating soil and water management focused on
soil fertility, improved rainfall infiltration, and water
harvesting can significantly reduce water losses,
improve yields, and water productivity; the strategy is
to get ‘more crop per drop’. The greatest potential for
improvement lies in those areas that face the greatest
water challenges and where most of the hunger and
poverty exists.

Innovative strategies are required to manage the
sudden excesses of water and frequent dry spells. For
instance, soil and water conservation measures can
help to make better use of rainfall by increasing water
infiltration and water storage in the soil. They include
terracing, contour bunds, infiltration pits, tillage,
integration of tree crops, and green manuring. These
techniques require little or no capital investment. The
challenge for the poor is to identify pragmatic options
for gradual improvement which are manageable by
part-time farmers with limited skills and without access
to regular extension advice.

Because the majority of the world’s poor and hungry
live on rainfed farms in South Asia and SSA, raising
farm productivity using these techniques would
directly boost food security and incomes. So it is
both disappointing and of great concern that these
technologies, though widely known, are not being
extensively promoted, implemented, and practised
(UNCTAD, 2011).


5.8 Conservation agriculture

Conservation agriculture is not directly a water
technology but improved water management is
one of the benefits. The rainfed farming system is
practised on 95 million hectares worldwide, primarily
in North America, Brazil, and Argentina, though to a
much a lesser extent in Africa and Asia. Conservation
agriculture utilises soil and agro-ecosystem resources
in a sustainable manner in order to optimise crop
yields rather than exploit natural resources to maximise
output. Soil cover is permanently maintained with
minimal soil disturbance using ‘zero-tillage’ systems.
Crop residues protect the soil, which enhances soil
and water conservation and improves soil organic
matter. This in turn improves water infiltration and
storage in the soil during rainfall events.

In Africa, the method is only beginning to spread in
Kenya, the United Republic of Tanzania, and Zambia,
where some farmers have doubled or even tripled
grain yields. In Zambia, conservation agriculture has
helped vulnerable households to survive drought and
livestock epidemics. More than 200,000 farmers are
now using this technique. In the 2000–2001 drought,
Zambian farmers who used conservation agriculture
managed to harvest one crop, while others farming
with conventional methods faced total crop failure. In
Ghana, more than 350,000 farmers use conservation
agriculture (IFAD, 2008).

6. What needs to be done?
Existing AWM technologies are available to help
meet the challenge of food security. But history has
shown that exploiting the endowed potential of water
and land will be challenging and investing in water
alone will not increase food production. Agriculture
requires many and varied inputs. Complementary
investments are needed in a wide range of farm
products and services – fertilizer, seeds, farm power,
micro-credit, good roads, post harvest infrastructure,
access to markets – and conducive institutions that
support farmers and their livelihoods. When taking
these factors into account, food security becomes an
extremely complex issue. Indeed this complexity was
one of the reasons why the development community
pulled out of irrigated agriculture in SSA in the 1960s
and 1970s following disappointing investments in
irrigation infrastructure.

Most industrialized countries have the infrastructure,
strong institutions, and the capacity to sustain the

levels of water and food security they currently enjoy.
But most LDCs lack these essential physical and social
structures that underpin sustainable development.
Until recently, agriculture and food security have not
been high on the international and political agenda.
Additionally, water management has not featured high
in the agriculture agenda. Farmers and professionals
in LDCs lack the capacity to plan, manage, and
implement AWM and there are few supporting
institutional structures. Furthermore the broad socio-
economic environment in which these individuals
and their institutions work is not always conducive to
strong market-led agricultural development.

Funding is also crucial. Asian governments initiated
their green revolution in the 1970s by spending
15 percent of their annual budgets on agriculture.
The World Bank estimates that a 1 percent increase
in agricultural GDP in Africa will reduce poverty by 3
or 4 times as much as a 1 percent increase in non-
agricultural GDP. Yet donor countries spend less than
5 percent of their development aid on agriculture in
the region (HOC, 2009).

On the positive note, agriculture is now returning to
the world agenda and the international community
is beginning to re-engage in agricultural investment.
There is now a growing recognition that integrating
resource management, production, marketing, and
consumption is essential for sustainable and profitable
agricultural growth. But ‘more of the same’ will not be
enough and the pitfalls of the past must be avoided.

6.1 Focus more on women

Given the important role women play in agricultural
production in LDCs, focusing on the unique
challenges women face and their lack of access to
resources is an important key to increasing overall
agricultural productivity (Meinzen-Dick, 2010). Women
are often excluded from decision-making and have
little choice over the services they receive. They have
limited access to water and this is often coupled with
their limited access to land. Securing access to land
among poor farmers, particularly women, can lead to
secure access to water rights (IFAD, 2001).

Agricultural productivity is often lower for women
because they have limited access to a wide range
of physical assets including agricultural inputs,
technological resources, and land. Thus a broader
understanding of their needs is essential in order
to remove the obstacles that women face. If the



resources accessible to men were made equally
available to women, they would increase their
farm output by 20-30 percent. On the global scale,
agricultural production would rise by 2.5-4 percent. As
both research and extension in LDCs are dominated
by men, more resources need to be directed towards
women in order to narrow the gender gap in AWM
(FAO, 2011).

Whilst women’s role in agriculture is becoming more
recognised, many AWM activities are still associated
with men. For instance, the opening and closing
of gates and the physical application of water in
the fields are viewed as masculine tasks even in
situations where women provide most of the labour
in the irrigated fields (IFAD, 2007). Furthermore, men
often attend to cash crops and livestock while women
are associated with tending staple crops, vegetables
and kitchen gardens. Thus garden irrigation has
become an important focus for women who farm
vegetables for home consumption and the local
markets. Studies in Nepal (Upadhyay, 2005) show
that women play a predominant role in drip-irrigated
vegetable production. They contribute almost 90
percent of the total labour and yet the extension and
adoption system focuses largely on male farmers
and cash crops. Women have received little or no
information on improved agriculture and technology.
If irrigation is to address the concerns of both men
and women, then women should be included in the
management of local water resources through Water
User Associations (WUA).

IFAD (2007) also recommends new ways of doing
business that enable women to benefit from water
projects. This includes fixing minimum quotas for

land allocation to women and ensuring equal plot
sizes for men and women, improving women’s
access to financial services, providing additional
water infrastructure such as wells and handpumps,
opening up membership to users of water other than
for irrigation, and establishing a minimum quota for
women’s membership of WUAs.

Multiple-use schemes offer opportunities for women
to improve their overall wellbeing and that of society
by providing additional uses for water rather than
single uses. The public sector was responsible for
artificially creating these sub-sectors and categorising
water uses for single purposes (IRC and IWMI, 2009),
when in practice communities naturally use water for a
variety of purposes. Multiple-use schemes recognize
that water has many applications and priorities such
as domestic use, kitchen gardens, livestock watering,
and fisheries, many of which are traditionally the
responsibility of women.

Add-ons to irrigation schemes can include steps
to irrigation canals to enable access to water for
drinking, laundry and other domestic activities, or
simply maintaining water in seasonal irrigation canals
throughout the year for domestic uses. Similarly,
schemes primarily designed for domestic uses can
become multiple-use schemes (or ‘domestic-plus’
schemes). For instance, if 50–100 litres per capita
per day are provided, 3 litres per capita per day is
designated for drinking and cooking. The water in
excess of domestic needs is used for horticulture,
livestock, or small-scale enterprise. Additionally
multiple-use schemes recognize women’s concurrent
roles as farmers, housekeepers, livestock keepers,
and entrepreneurs. Hence by their very nature multiple-

Box 6: Water harvesting in the United Republic of Tanzania

Micro water harvesting systems were introduced into the drier regions of the United Republic of Tanzania to improve
maize production giving smallholder farmers more control over their farms. However, when they were invited to evaluate
the micro-catchment trials, farmers understood the benefits of rainwater harvesting but were reluctant to adopt the
system. They were more interested in the greater potential of using macro-catchment systems and argued in favour of
more ambitious attempts to harvest runoff on a larger scale. So far the limited trials with macro-systems for maize are
mixed. Proper control over distribution of harvested runoff within the cropped area can be problematic for deficit-irrigated
crops. There was also clear evidence that failure to provide proper control over the distribution of runoff can lead to
serious erosion. Too much water can be as big a problem as too little water. The need for cooperative group action can
also give rise to disputes over water sharing. Whether farmers will continue to prefer macro-systems over micro-systems,
as they acquire more experience in using them for maize production, remains to be seen. However, one significant
outcome of the research is that the United Republic of Tanzania Government sees runoff as a beneficial resource rather
than just a hazard which causes soil erosion. Development of rainwater harvesting is included in the United Republic of
Tanzania National Water Resources Management Policy.

Source: Hatibu, 1999


use schemes should be participatory and community-
driven. Planners look at all users’ priorities for all water
applications and sources instead of the single-use
public sector mandate. Moving beyond the sectoral
boundaries of the single-use water subsectors, this
‘inclusive community-based participatory planning’
approach involves men and women alike, leading to
a more ‘gender-balanced water intervention’ (IWMI,

Overall, gender perspectives need to be main-
streamed in planning processes to ensure the
specific needs and concerns of women and men
from all social groups are taken into account in the
development, use, and management of water.

This is not a new theme, rather it was promoted in
the 1980s to improve irrigation performance and
it is still highly relevant today. There are still many
examples of designs inappropriate for users’ context.
Canal systems, for example, are often designed
with flexibility in mind and have moveable gates so
that canal flows can be adjusted to meet crop water
requirements. But such systems may not necessarily
match the farmers’ preference for more user-friendly
irrigation technologies. In such cases, fixed water
control structures may be a more suitable option, as
they offer a more easily managed distribution system
(Horst, 1983).

Women in WUAs in Ghana

In Ghana an IFAD-supported water management
project established a WUA in which 40 percent of the
participating farmers were women. They were allocated
40 percent of the land with plots the same size as
those allocated to men even though women were not
traditional land owners in the region. Women now play
a much greater role in irrigation management, they have
direct access to irrigated land, equal time to speak
up and present their views, and they generate crops
and cash which contribute to family food security and
improved nutrition.

Source: IFAD, 2007

6.2 Focus on existing technologies

Benefits can come from promoting and using
existing technologies and adapting them to new
circumstances. This is true for both irrigation and
drainage technologies. Adapting existing tech-
nologies should embrace ‘design for management’
as many technologies are designed and developed
with little thought given to who will manage them,
and how they will be managed and maintained.

Box 7: Women farmers innovate to solve their irrigation problems in Ghana

A small-scale irrigation project was established on the outskirts of Khumasi for a group of women growing vegetables for
local markets. The scheme uses open irrigation channels supplying many plots, each less than 0.1 hectare and owned
by a different person. The scheme was designed and built to supply water on a rotational basis and each woman was
given an allotted time when she would receive water. The women objected to the scheme and said that the rotation
was unworkable because they had other household and family duties that took priority over irrigation. They solved the
problem by innovatively building small storage tanks on their farms. This allowed them to receive water when it was
available and to irrigate their crops when it was convenient to them.

Source: Kay, 2001

Adding domestic water use to an irrigation scheme
in Nepal

The Nepal Smallholder Market Initiative, a multiple-
use scheme, was introduced in Nepal from 2004-
2008. Small stream diversions and water collection
tanks were installed to provide a gravity water supply
to surrounding village reservoirs for 10-40 households
for homestead horticulture and domestic uses. Some
households began using drip irrigation. The cost of this
multiple-use system was approximately US$50/year per
household while the benefits from yielding high-value
crops increased income by more than US$180/ year on
0.5 hectare plots of land.

Source: Winrock; IWMI, 2006; Mikhail et al 2008

Design for management also needs to be gender
sensitive to enable rural women to fully benefit from
schemes. Examples include preferences for irrigation
schedules that fit better with family duties and avoiding
night irrigation because of gender-based violence or

In Zimbabwe, although women were the main
irrigators, only men were made responsible for and
trained to operate and maintain the diesel pumps for



water supplies. This lack of control over the supply often
meant that women experienced the additional burden
of carrying water to ensure their crops were irrigated.
Designing schemes using existing technologies for
multiple uses can also reduce drudgery and provide
women with more time for other productive activities
(IFAD, 2007).

6.3 More research for development and better

There is often a disconnect between AWM research
in LDCs and its practical implementation for farmers.
Some research topics may not be relevant for farmers
while other research outputs may be beneficial but do
not necessarily reach their intended audience. New
ways of disseminating this information are needed
which take into account the needs of end-users. The
information should not only be intended for farmers
but also presented in an appropriate manner for
policy-makers, agro-entrepreneurs, extension staff,
and the general public. For instance, researchers
in East Africa, are promoting research uptake. Their
approach is to build a ‘community of champions’,
now over 800 whose role is to promote AWM with a
carefully prepared uptake promotion strategy (NRSP,
2006a). Researchers in natural resources also need to
bring social scientists into the team so that their efforts
are more end-user and gender responsive.

NGOs also have a vital role to play in linking research
with practice. They have the advantage of directly
interacting with the local community. Researchers
should engage more directly with NGOs to better
understand local needs, gain feedback and share

6.4 Smarter water management

One of the biggest untapped potentials for smarter

water management in all types of enterprises lies in
more creative use of information technologies such as
meters, sensors, controllers, computers, and mobile
phones. These may seem hi-tech options but in view
of the rapidly expanding use of mobile phones in
LDCs there is scope to provide valuable information
and advice to farmers in remote places who do not
have access to extension services.

Areas in which ICTs can play an important role in water
management are shown in Figure 3.

Special efforts should be made to reduce the gender
gap in ICT access and use, particularly in view of the
significant role that women play in agriculture (Melhem
et al, 2009) (see section 6.1).

6.5 Build new institutions

New institutional arrangements are needed which
centralize water regulation yet decentralize water
management responsibilities and increase user
ownership and participation.

At a national level, monitoring, collecting, and
synthesising data on water resources is an essential
part of managing and regulating water resources. So
too is communication across government departments
with water management responsibilities. Bridges need
to be built between the various ministries that deal with
water, food, agriculture, environment and finance. In
many countries, responsibility for water in agriculture
falls between the Ministry of Agriculture, which deals
with AWM and the Ministries of water resources,
irrigation, and the environment which deal with other
water matters. Communication between ministries
and other bodies involved in water management is
an essential ingredient in integrated water resources

Decentralisation is a key policy for many LDC govern-

Box 8: Women in agriculture

According to the Africa Regional Review, “Successful extension must involve women, youth and the most vulnerable
people in the rural communities.”

Source: Mokwunye, 2009 in Meinzen-Dick, 2011

In workshops in West Africa and North Africa the consensus was “Women have many roles in agriculture: farm production,
marketing, food preparation, etc. Evidence shows that empowering women will result in [lower] child mortality, [higher]
school enrolment and declines in child malnutrition. Women also have a better track record in collaboration and sustaining
social capital. Based on evidence from micro-finance schemes, investments used by women have shown higher returns
as those used by men”

Source: Smets, 2009 in Meinzen-Dick, 2010


ments but local management relies on sustainable
local institutions capable of engaging local communi-
ties and articulating their needs as well as analysing,
designing and implementing policies and innovations.
The essence of such organisations is social capital,
which will need strengthening if decentralisation is to

While there is broad consensus on these principles
among international organisations, there is still a
long way to go before these principles are adopted
by national policy-makers and transformed into
operational and context-specific strategies.

6.6 Develop AWM capacity

Building capacity is a long, slow process of dialogue,
coordination, participation and knowledge sharing
among farmers, the state, finance and donor organi-
zations, NGOs, community based organizations, the
private sector and research centres.

A key constraint to developing water for agriculture in
most LDCs is the acute lack of capacity at all levels.
Capacity development is not just about training
farmers, local professionals, and government-based
research and extension service personnel who
provide services to farmers; it is also about developing
institutional structures, such as water abstractor
groups and extension support services, and providing
a favourable environment condusive to increased

food production and agricultural water investment.
For example, reducing tariffs on imported pump sets
or other irrigation and soil improvement technologies
would help to lower costs and make agriculture more
profitable (FAO, 2004).

6.7 Support Public-Private-Partnership

Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) operate in some
LDCs and offer a new approach to irrigation devel-
opment by involving the private sector in smallholder
farming in traditionally government/aid funded activi-
ties. These need not be two separate sectors of the
economy. Rather there are opportunities for coopera-
tion between the two and for smallholder farmers to
join with commercial farmers for a potential ‘win-win’

In Zambia, smallholder farmers and emerging
commercial farmers are encouraged to cooperate
(Tardieu, 2009). Smallholder farmers can benefit
from accessing the value chain and acquiring more
knowledge on modern farming techniques and
management skills. Commercial farmers benefit from
economies of scale, being able to purchase crops
from neighbouring smallholder farmers, and adding
value such as maize milling and bio-fuel processing.
Including smallholder farmers in commercial irrigation
schemes can also reduce unit water costs. The
approach is based on three principles: irrigation

Figure 3. Major areas for ICTs in water management (ITU, 2010)

Setting up Early Warning Systems and Meeting Water
Demand in Cities of the Future

Rain/storm water harvesting

Flood management

Managed aquifer recharge

Smart metering

Process Knowledge Systems

Mapping of Water Resources and Weather Forecasting

Remote sensing from satellites

In-situ terrestrial sensing systems

Geographical Information Systems

Sensor networks and the Internet

Just in Time Irrigation in Agriculture and Landscaping

Geographical Information Systems

Sensor networks and the Internet

Asset Management for the Water Distribution Network

Buried asset identication and electronic tagging

Smart pipes

Just in time repairs / real time risk assessment

Source: ITU, 2010



schemes must be financially sustainable – with an
emphasis on smallholder schemes; they must be
professionally managed; and there must be inclusive
business opportunities for both input supply and for
marketing produce.

The approach is not without its challenges, not least
of which is the limited technical and commercial
capacity within the government bodies to engage in
PPP with private stakeholders and financial partners.
But valuable lessons for success have already been
acquired including: ensuring the schemes are large
enough (250-1,000 hectares) to be professionally
managed and financially sustainable; joining irrigation
and marketing service provision as a way to mitigate
financial risks; and addressing the lack of competent
private operators in the irrigation sector.

6.8 Encourage the private sector

Many AWM developments around poverty are based
on aid. But there are considerable opportunities for
the private sector to engage commercially in the sup-
ply of water management technologies (See Box 3 for
examples in India and Nepal). African AWM decision
makers and farmers can learn from this as there are
considerable opportunities to introduce affordable,
appropriate pumps manufactured or assembled lo-
cally. Similar opportunities exist for the supply of drip
kits and treadle pumps and the development of sup-
ply chains that offer support and spare parts.

To be commercially successful, products must make
a significant positive contribution to the income and
productivity of the customers who purchase them;
they should be affordable; have a very short payback
period; and match specific customer requirements
such as fitting the small plots typically managed by
smallholders farmers.

6.9 Focus more on youth

Over 25 percent of the world’s population is between
10 to 24 years old and in some African countries it is 35
percent – many are born into poor rural families. Youth

are largely ‘invisible’ in natural resources development
yet their potential for contributing to economic growth
and food security is significant. It is argued that the
time has come to mainstream youth in natural resourc-
es related development policies and to put aside the
‘received wisdom’ that the young are not interested
in deriving a livelihood from land and water resources
(NRSP, 2006b).

6.10 Increase water-food trade

Some 85 percent of the water used by the world’s half
billion farms produces food commodities that remain
within the producer economies. Only 15 percent of
farm output in terms of embedded water is traded
internationally. This trade in water embedded in food-
products, known as ‘virtual water’, between water-rich
and water-short nations may play an increasing role
in enabling better distribution of food to countries that
find it difficult to grow sufficient staple food crops. But
the aqua-politics of importing food versus self-suffi-
ciency will not be easy to resolve. Poorer countries
may wish to continue over-exploiting water resources
to feed their populations. Industrialising the econo-
mies of water-scarce countries is seen as a long term
means of raising GDP in preference to a continuing
dependency on agriculture and particularly low-value
food and fodder crops (World Bank, 2007).

6.11 Strategy in Asia

In Asia, new strategies for improving AWM are being
established. A useful five point strategy is outlined as
follows (Mukherji, 2009):

• Modernizing yesteryear’s schemes for tomorrow’s

• ‘Going-with-the-flow’ by supporting farmers’ initia-

• Looking beyond conventional participatory irrigation
management and irrigation management transfer

• Expanding capacity and knowledge.

• Investing outside the irrigation sector.

Box 9: Strong social capital supports traditional rice irrigation

Traditional rice irrigation terraces in Southeast Asia rely on strong social capital to organise and manage labour-intensive
construction and maintenance of the terraces and to synchronise cropping patterns for effective water and pest
management. Without strong social capital this system would not survive.

Source: NRSP, 2003


6.12 Strategy in Africa

In SSA the ‘Comprehensive Africa Agriculture
Development Programme’ (CAADP) established
by the New Partnership for Africa’s Development
(NEPAD) in 2002 has set the agricultural development
agenda for the whole region with a pillar focusing
on land and water development. A group of key
donor agencies have now set out an implementation
strategy that promotes institutional and policy reforms
and investment in viable and sustainable projects.
In response to this, the African Minister’s Council on
Water (AMCOW) called on NEPAD to inaugurate a
new partnership – Agricultural Water for Africa (AgWA)
– that would re-engage African countries, donors,
and regional and international organisations in the
development of water for food production, economic
growth and poverty reduction. This partnership is now
being actively developed and its mandate includes
(AfDB et al, 2007):

• Advocacy – AWM needs to convey a strong positive
message such as water for food, water for wealth,
and water for life if AWM is to be more effective.
Advocacy for AWM is an immediate priority.

• Mobilizing resources – providing an authoritative
platform to influence investment decisions and
promote the allocation of more funds towards AWM.

• Sharing knowledge – facilitating the exchange of
experience and learning with a view to improving
sector performance.

• Harmonizing partner programmes – this is seen as
critical to capturing synergies, taking advantage of
complementarities, avoiding duplication of efforts
and, ultimately, enhancing development impact and
sustainability of investments.

6.13 Strategy in Latin America and the Caribbean

Whilst Latin America and the Caribbean is one of the



1970s: Engineering + Agriculture +

1980s: Engineering + Agriculture + Economics +
Management + User-Organizations

1990s: Engineering + Agriculture + Economics +
Management + User-Organizations + Institutions + Gender

2000: Engineering + Agriculture + Economics + Management +
Service Orientation + User-Organizations + Institutions/Governance + Gender +
Policies/Politics + Environmental and Intersectoral aspects (IWRM) + “Green Water”

2005: Engineering + Agricultur e+ Economics + Management + User-Organizations +
Institutions/Governance + Policies/Politics + Environmental & Intersectoral
aspects (IWRM) + “Green Water” + Climate Change

2010+: Engineering + Agriculture + Economics + Management + User-Organizations +
Institutions/Governance + Policies/Politics + Environmental & Intersectoral aspects (IWRM) +
“Green Water” + Climate Change + Cultural Aspects

Low perceived

High perceived

Figure 4. The growing complexity of managing irrigation systems (Huppert, 2009)

Source: Huppert, 2009


few regions in the world with sufficient land and/or
water available to increase agricultural production,
this potential is jeopardized by high rates of natural
resource degradation (FAO, 2010b). From an AWM
perspective the key regional issues identified include:
• Improving agricultural productivity in parts of the

• Developing less water intensive and more drought

tolerant crops.
• Optimising water storage and distribution of water

using on-demand water supply systems.
• Protecting irrigated areas from flood damage and

maintaining drainage systems.
• Introducing more water-efficient growing practices.
• Improving water governance and institutional

capacities to ensure that existing plans function

7. Where, for whom, and how?
The experience of agency and government-led
interventions has shown mixed results and a critical
gap exists between planning and successful
implementation. Approaches focus too much on what
needs to be done, less on where and with whom and
most importantly how to implement it. The question of
how to implement AWM schemes is largely ignored as
decision-makers and donor agencies rarely address
the full complex interactions between individuals, the
state, and service providers, and the limited absorptive
capacity to translate plans into practice.

There are no simple universal ‘blue print’ solutions
as technology choices depend on local people and

circumstances. But having selected appropriate
interventions for specific locations and target groups,
how can governments and agencies successfully
intervene in complex and changing AWM systems with
specific technical, environmental, socio-economic,
and institutional challenges? Recognising that AWM
systems are complex is an important step as well as
realising that AWM is also embedded in the wider
political and socio-economic fabric of society (Figure
4). These factors can make intervention complicated
to implement but ignoring them can lead to rigid
systems that cannot respond to change.

Some interventions are relatively straightforward,
such as canal maintenance. Changing agricultural
production from rainfed to irrigated agriculture is much
more complex and requires a great deal of interaction
between individuals and between organisations.
These more complex interventions will place new
demands on AWM service providers, who will need
skills to work as facilitators, moderators, and change
agents, and farmers who must become responsible
managers, rural entrepreneurs, and citizens (Huppert,

Improving AWM in LDCs is usually based on the
assumption there is good governance and a
supportive institutional framework. This is not usually
the case. Introducing new formal institutions such
as Water User Groups within local social structures
can be challenging as the local organisations often
reflect traditional, indigenous, and local norms which
can clash with urban institutions biased towards the
interests of consumers and non-agricultural sectors.
Furthermore, introducing improved AWM is often

Box 10: How to intervene – a case study in the Jordan Valley

The Jordan Valley Authority (JVA) ensures irrigation water delivery to farms by opening and closing valves at each farm
which are installed in enclosed concrete boxes. This was perceived as a complex task as the valves must be operated
by qualified staff to meet the diverse cropping patterns in the valley. Because of staff constraints this proved difficult
to manage and the unpredictability of the water supply due to unforeseen water scarcity added to the problems of
managing the supply. Since there was little or no interaction with farmers throughout the process, some farmers would
break the boxes and open valves to access the water. JVA rebuilt the boxes and tried to prevent farmers from illegally
opening valves but this was unsuccessful.

In recent years JVA has realized that water delivery under conditions of diverse cropping patterns and unpredictable
water supplies is a complex service requiring much greater interaction with farmers. Water user groups were established
to work with JVA staff and to take responsibility for operating valves and allocating water among themselves in periods of
scarcity and uncertainty. As a result it has been possible to establish a continuous process of balancing farmers’ needs
and actual water availability and to have the farmers themselves organize water delivery to the farms. Damage to valves
and boxes is no longer a problem.

Source: Adapted from Huppert, 2009


done on ‘pilot’ scales where subsidy schemes for
replication and scaling up of successful experiences
are not within the fiscal realm of LDCs.

Some agencies are now learning how to intervene
in such complex issues. In Bolivia for example, local
institutions are strong but national ones are weak,
and a ‘top down’ approach to modernizing irrigation
schemes in Cochabamba was not successful. A more
successful, alternative strategy was adopted which
built on local institutional strengths and engaged
with local farmers and communities using indigenous
knowledge and recognizing local water rights (Huppert
2009) (see Box 10).

8. Conclusion
This paper sets out the water and food security
challenges in LDCs and developing countries. The
general consensus is that there is sufficient water to
meet global needs. Carrying on with the ‘business as
usual’ model is not an option. It is up to stakeholders,
smallholder farmers, researchers, policy-makers, and
governments to innovatively use AWM technologies
in addressing the growing food demands with finite
water resources.

Some key messages:

Water scarcity is becoming a major issue not just in
LDCs but also in OECD countries driven by climate
change, population growth, and social and economic

Agriculture uses 70 percent of the world’s available
water resources; thus the wise use of water for
agriculture is key to water and food security, economic
growth, and poverty reduction in LDCs.

These facts about water for agriculture are not well
understood by the general public and indeed many
development professionals. AWM needs a much
stronger, coordinated voice both nationally and
internationally so that it can get the attention and
investment it deserves.

Agricultural development in the LDCs is mainly in
the hands of smallholder farmers, many of whom
are women. Water technologies appropriate to their
needs will play a crucial role in meeting the food

security challenge. Women have only limited access
to a wide range of physical assets such as agricultural
inputs, technological resources, land and water. As
a participatory and community-driven approach,
multiple-use schemes provide greater opportunities
for women by recognizing their concurrent roles in
the agricultural sector and addressing their needs in
water allocation and management.

Many benefits will come from using existing
technologies and adapting them to new situations so
they are appropriate in terms of location, people, and
purpose. Investment in water technologies must also
form part of a comprehensive investment in a range of
farming and value chain market-orient services.

Research must focus on this process of adaption
and innovation. Researchers must also focus
more on uptake and dissemination of information
and knowledge and tailor it for different audiences
including farmers, policy-makers, extension services,
schools, and the general public.

New institutions are needed which centralize the
responsibility for water regulation yet decentralize
water management responsibility and increase user
ownership and participation of smallholder farmers.

Many LDCs have a severe shortage of capacity for
AWM. To address this shortage would not only entail
training individuals but also institutional building and
the creation of an enabling environment in which
agriculture can flourish.

Public Private Partnerships offer new opportunities
to improve AWM as well as the prosperity of small-
holder farmers.

Institutional structures and technologies that
recognise the key role that women play in agriculture
are required. So too is a recognition of the role that
youth can and must play in the future management of
natural resources.

There is an abundance of good advice on what needs
to be done. But the question of how to do it is rarely
addressed. A new pro-poor approach to AWM is
needed which addresses both what to do and how to
do it if interventions are to benefit poor people.



1 FAO (1992) defined safe food as follows: “food supply must have an appropriate nutrient content and it must be available in

sufficient variety and quantity. It must not endanger consumer health through chemical, biological and other contaminants
and it must be presented honestly.”

2 Bruinsma (2009) produced similar predictions for 2050
3 South Asia: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.
East Asia: China, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and Republic of Korea, Japan, and Mongolia.
Southeast Asia: Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Thailand, and
Viet Nam.

Central Asia: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.
4 IFAD defines supplemental irrigation as “the addition of small amounts of water to essentially rainfed crops during times

when rainfall fails to provide sufficient moisture for normal plant growth, in order to improve and stabilize yields”.



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