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Water and Climate

A Virtual Irrigation Academy to improve Water Productivity in Malawi, Tanzania and South Africa

Project Code: LWR/2014/085
Research Program Manager: Dr. Robyn Johnston
Project Leader: Richard Stirzaker - CSIRO Land and Water
JUN 2015
JUN 2019
Project Status: Concluded
Key partners
Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa
Department of Agricultural Research Services
Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security


This project created a monitoring and social learning system to improve agricultural irrigation water productivity in Malawi, South Africa, and Tanzania.

The Virtual Irrigation Academy (VIA) combined new irrigation monitoring tools with an on-line communication and learning system. The VIA:

  • Captured physical data from irrigation schemes in real time, so that project and country leaders could understand the situation and mentor extension workers and farmers.
  • Captured dialogue between farmers, extension workers and scientists to analyse how learning occurs.
  • Included training resources: videos on equipment installation and maintenance, data interpretation; it shared success stories with other farmers in the project countries.

The monitoring tools were designed to fit farmers' mental model and to give an output that was linked to action. Colours illustrated information on soil water suction, nitrate concentration and salinity levels. These colours represented action thresholds, and not numbers with complicated units.

Each country formed 'learning coalitions' comprising farmers, extension workers, a district irrigation officer, and research and project staff. Each coalition was located around an irrigation scheme, and built their own case studies based on experiential learning. The learning coalition expanded to neighbouring irrigation communities, using the VIA as the major resource.

A sister project, LWR/2016/137: Transforming irrigation into profitable and self-sustaining systems in southern Africa, combined the tools and VIA with agricultural innovation platforms to overcome market and water supply problems in Mozambique, Tanzania and Zimbabwe.