Water research in Africa wins European development award

06 October 2022
Farmers connecting the Chameleon Reader Kiwere to the three underground sensors, Irrigation Scheme farmers, in Iringa District. Credit: Stanley Awaki

An ACIAR-funded project improving water security in Africa has received a prestigious international development award.

The Transforming Irrigation in Southern Africa (TISA) project was presented the Excellence in Practice Award for Ecosystem Development from the European Foundation for Management Development (EFMD) in Coventry overnight at the organisation’s annual conference.

Led by researchers at the Australian National University, the TISA project has been instrumental in improving the lives of smallholder farmers in Southern Africa through better management of irrigation schemes and water resources.

Working in partnership with research organisations and service providers from Australia, Mozambique, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe, the 9-year research effort has empowered hundreds of rural communities to transition from subsistence farming to profitable, self-sustaining irrigation systems.

ACIAR CEO, Professor Andrew Campbell, said the award was an important recognition of how science partnerships can reduce poverty and enhance sustainable agricultural development.

‘We have invested in the Transforming Irrigation in Southern Africa project since 2013. This innovative partnership has brought together African and Australian researchers to help farmers and the governments of Mozambique, Tanzania and Zimbabwe to achieve their development objectives,’ Prof Campbell said.

‘We are especially proud that this research has helped farmers to improve water management, delivering better livelihoods for women, for the poor and for youth in irrigation communities in these nations.

‘We are honoured that ACIAR and our partners are recognised in the EFMD Excellence in Practice Awards, which celebrate some of the most outstanding and impactful leadership, learning and development in the world,’ Prof Campbell added.

Leader of the TISA project, Professor Jamie Pittock from the Australian National University (ANU), said he was proud to lead an initiative where African and Australian scientists joined forces to reduce poverty and improve rural livelihoods.

‘The Australian National University exists to advance learning to transform society by addressing global challenges. It is an honour to collaborate with so many wonderful people and organisations to empower farmers to improve their livelihoods and food security,’ Prof Pittock said.

‘We believe that our agricultural research for development project has had a significant impact for a more equitable and sustainable world. This award is welcome recognition of the excellent work of our partners, especially in Africa, and a boost for promoting the solutions identified in our work for sustainable development.’

TISA project leader Prof Jamie Pittock (front row, right centre) with project staff at the recent International Commission on Irrigation and Drainage congress in Adelaide.
TISA project leader Prof Jamie Pittock (front row, centre right) with project staff at the recent International Commission on Irrigation and Drainage congress in Adelaide.

Initiated in 2007, the EFMD Excellence in Practice Awards (EiP) seeks to recognise impactful learning and development partnerships.

Director-General at the National Irrigation Institute in Mozambique, Delfim Júlio Vilissa, said the recognition would further efforts to improve sustainability across Africa.

‘The EFMD EiP Award demonstrates that our effort and intense involvement in generating responses to the main challenges of smallholder irrigation, particularly in Mozambique, are in the right direction. The award builds confidence to do more and continue the excellent partnerships to support and mentor changes in smallholder irrigation management and generate good livelihoods sustainably.’

TISA project partners, The University of South Australia (UniSA), and the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Aid Tropics (ICRISAT), shared the award with ACIAR and the ANU. 

Executive Dean at UniSA, Professor Andrew Beer, said the TISA project is a great example of researchers collaborating across disciplines to provide solutions that support inclusive and sustainable communities.

‘The award highlights the complex learning and development project UniSA Business has worked on in collaboration with partners in Australia and Africa, which has transformed irrigation farm businesses and their irrigator corporations from dysfunctional to profitable business enterprises,’ Prof Beer said.

‘Now in its ninth year, the project works with 15,500 farm businesses and 42 irrigator corporations across three countries in Africa. As a result of the project, the profitability of the small farm businesses and their irrigator corporations has increased significantly, improving farmers’ livelihoods, food security, nutrition, education, and prosperity. 

‘It’s a wonderful example of research with significant global impact, where. It is a truly collaborative effort from a number of key partners, including the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research and the Australian National University, and we are very proud of the result’, Prof Beer added.

Learn more about the TISA project via the ACIAR website and visit the EFMD website for a complete list of EiP award winners.