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The continuous quest for control by African irrigation planners in the face of farmer-led irrigation development: The case of the Lower Moshi Area, Tanzania (1935-2017)

Chris de Bont
Department of Human Geography, Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden; chris.de.bont@humangeo.su.se

ABSTRACT: Although much has been written about the indigenous irrigation systems of Tanzania, there has been no comprehensive historical study of state irrigation planning. This article fills this gap by analysing irrigation development policy in Tanzania between 1935 and 2017. Based on archival research, and using the Lower Moshi area in Kilimanjaro Region as a case study, it contains an analysis of 80 years of irrigation policy and state intervention. It distinguishes between four periods, based on changes in the perceived role of irrigation and the different actors that were considered important. It notes that the belief in the necessity of state intervention and formal engineering for proper irrigation development ran through all the time periods, and that these were the key factors defining the state’s attitude towards irrigation development planning, regardless of the political situation. This article argues that, ultimately, the development narrative of 'modern' irrigation as a driver for agricultural transformation has been successful in depoliticising irrigation interventions and has succeeded in closing the debate on whether state-controlled irrigation development is really the best way to reduce poverty and stimulate economic growth. To provide space for reflection on the possible role of governments in promoting, supporting, and regulating farmer-led irrigation development, future debates on African irrigation should start by recognising the unique contributions that can be made by farmers in realising the continent’s development targets.

KEYWORDS: Irrigation history, rendering technical, farmer-led irrigation development, Africa, Tanzania