Transforming smallholder irrigation into profitable and self-sustaining systems in southern Africa

Project code
AUD 4,450,000
Research program manager
Dr Neil Lazarow
Project leader
Jamie Pittock, Australian National University
Commissioned organisation
Australian National University
JUN 2017
JUN 2023
Project status
Legally committed/Active
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This project aims to improve farmer livelihoods, equity and community management in smallholder irrigation schemes in southern Africa.

Across Africa, governments and donors are investing in a massive expansion of irrigated agriculture, assuming that this will reduce poverty for smallholder farmers and increase food security. Yet existing smallholder irrigation schemes on the continent have largely failed to significantly reduce farmer poverty, use the land and water sustainably or maintain the irrigation infrastructure. There is a complex array of reasons for this, ranging from farmers’ skills and markets to dysfunctional institutions.

A prior ACIAR project (FSC/2013/006) Increasing irrigation water productivity in Mozambique, Tanzania and Zimbabwe through on-farm monitoring, adaptive management and agricultural innovation platforms (AIPs), found that AIPs combined with soil moisture and solute measuring and monitoring substantially increase the productivity and incomes of farmers and make irrigation schemes more self-sustaining. 

This follow-on research project will test how best to spread those findings beyond individual irrigation schemes to many other irrigation schemes and countries.

Expected Outcomes

  • Irrigation communities becoming more profitable and self-sustaining as a result of individual and social learning, and institutional and technological change. This will result from: farmers mindsets changing from subsistence to market-oriented practices and choosing more profitable crops with more reliable markets; better access to cheaper and higher quality farming inputs; more efficient use of water and fertilisers resulting in greater crop yields; reduced social conflicts; savings in irrigation labour directed to other livelihood activities; more effective farmer organisations; farmers being willing to pay sufficient water fees and provide labour to maintain infrastructure; and greater demand on governments to support the irrigation sector’s needs. Some expansion of irrigated cropping is expected as water is used more efficiently.
  • Extension and support staff facilitating AIPs and supporting the development of district-scale agricultural service providers and markets.
  • Governments applying project findings to provide answers on how best to meet their key irrigation policy targets.
  • Partnerships with the private sector leading to more vibrant local economies, as all value chain stakeholders benefit from increases in agro-economic activities.
Map of Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania and Zimbabwe
Key partners
Ardhi University
CSIRO Agriculture and Food
CSIRO Land and Water
Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network
Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network
International Crops Research Institute for the Semi Arid Tropics
National Institute of Irrigation
University of South Australia
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Fact Sheet LWR/2016/137