This project builds on a scoping study that reviewed the work of International Water Management Institute, International Food Policy Research Institute, World Bank, Challenge Program, Gates Foundation and others on how irrigation could contribute to food security in nine sub-Saharan African countries. The region seeks investment of 10% of national budgets to increase agricultural production at six times the current rate under the African Union’s Comprehensive Africa Agricultural Development Program (CAADP) initiative. The land and water resources for such expansion are theoretically available.

Set against these agricultural expansion plans are i) a history of irrigation in the region failing to provide adequate return on investment, ii) weak market integration and weak water governance institutions, and iii) significant degradation and abandonment of irrigated land. Further, surface water is scarce and subject to competition in key river basins, such as the Limpopo and Rufiji. Despite these drawbacks, irrigation expansion will take place, and so research is needed to increase water productivity, the economic value per volume of water consumed. It is also needed to mitigate environmental degradation in current and new irrigated lands.

There are no silver bullet interventions to improve water productivity in Africa. The irrigation ‘problem’ is systemic in that there is failure at several levels including technical capacity, institutional arrangements and market linkages. In response to such complex problems, an FAO (2012) report calls for the introduction of adaptive management approaches that will lead to social and institutional learning. This project seeks to implement such a program by deploying on-farm monitoring of water applied, soil water, nitrate, salt and groundwater depth and using this as a basis for identifying options for improving water productivity. At the same time the project will use existing farmer organisations as a basis for establishing agricultural “Innovation Platforms” which comprise farmers, political representatives and players across the market value chain in order to identify obstacles and stimulate opportunities for change. The platforms will consider water productivity as well as other constraints to irrigated agricultural productivity.

Objectives and expected outputs

The project aims to increase agricultural water productivity to improve food security in Mozambique, Tanzania and Zimbabwe. The objectives are to:

  1. Evaluate whether Agricultural Innovation Platforms, based on existing community organisations can identify and overcome institutional and market barriers to greater Water Productivity (40% of effort). Outputs: AIPs functioning in six or more areas, methodology documented for out scaling
  2. Develop, test and deploy innovative water and solute monitoring systems to stimulate farmer learning toward greater Water Productivity (40% of effort).  Outputs: Benchmarking WP and identifying pathways to improvement; methodology for adaptive learning documented for out scaling
  3. Identify and communicate economic and policy incentive mechanisms for greater Water Productivity  (20% of effort). Outputs: Analysis of incentive and other policy options to improve water productivity and sustainable management.

Likely impacts

The project partners report approximately 2 million, 40,000 and 20,000 smallholder irrigator households in Tanzania, Mozambique and Zimbabwe respectively. We anticipate at least six AIP’s reaching approximately 5,000 farmers. The project will model the adaptive learning and AIP approach with government and non-government organisations so that they may scale up application.  Analysis of benefits for just the farmers in the six case study areas assuming a 30% increase in farmer incomes suggests a BCR of around 5 at peak adoption (year 15). This analysis does not factor in the benefits of social capital and capacity building nor improved policy options. The project is also planned to influence national and multi-lateral policies for water, agriculture and food security by providing evidence to enhance sustainability components concerning water and small holder-irrigation. The project concludes in 2017.