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Prospects and problems of irrigation development in Sahelian and sub-Saharan Africa


Although many different definitions of irrigation are being used, the need for this way of agricultural intensification is rapidly increasing as the population dependent on agriculture has in many countries largely surpassed the carrying capacity of rainfed systems. However, unfortunately many donor-sponsored irrigation projects in Africa disappoint because they are generally conceived with a too short time perspective and they suffer from a series of negative characteristics. Generally there is insufficient farmer involvement in all phases of the projects, which are formulated in isolation from existing farming systems, are capital-intensive and require high-input levels (from elsewhere), focus on the hardware, neglect agricultural production and institutional weaknesses, and cannot put up the money needed to be run. Therefore, sustainability should be the main point of orientation. Important steps towards it consist in choosing activities and forms of irrigation that fit well in the farming systems, are attractive to farmers, and can be run to a very large extent by themselves without external assistance. Marketing and production support services should be included in analysis and programmes of assistance, together with institutional strengthening and adequate land tenure arrangements. Governments' involvement in operation and management can often be reduced, and the same goes for the role of the irrigation organisations. Donor involvement should be more flexible, have a longer time-perspective, be less guided by expected economic rates of return and concentrate more on how to ensure increased sustainability of irrigation projects for both the country and the farmers.

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Kortenhorst, L.F., van Steekelenburg, P.N.G. & Sprey, L.H. Prospects and problems of irrigation development in Sahelian and sub-Saharan Africa. Irrig Drainage Syst 3, 13–45 (1989). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF01102814

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Key words

  • irrigated agriculture
  • sub-Saharan Africa
  • farming system
  • irrigation development
  • donor involvement
  • wetland cropping