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Viewpoint – The politics of research on farmer-managed irrigation systems in Asia: Some reflections for Africa

Janwillem Liebrand
Water Resources Management Group, Wageningen University, Wageningen, the Netherlands; International Development Studies, Utrecht University, Utrecht, the Netherlands; janwillem.liebrand@gmail.com

ABSTRACT: This article presents a reconstruction of the 1980sʼ research-policy debate on farmer-managed irrigation systems (FMIS) in Asia. Such a reconstruction yields important lessons for the role of academic researchers in the current research-policy debate on African farmer-led irrigation development (FLID). Two interrelated insights stand out: (1) academic irrigation research was (and is) produced in an institutional context that is infused with the politics of the professional tradition in irrigation, and more specifically, (2) academic knowledge on the institutional heterogeneity of farmer-organized irrigation was (and is) incompatible with how things really work in the institution of the irrigation tradition. These insights raise critical questions on the politics of academic research on FLID, whose research agenda is really pursued; what roles do academic researchers want to play, and how to make irrigation research in development more democratic?

KEYWORDS: Irrigation, knowledge, policy, politics of research, farmer-managed irrigation systems, farmer-led irrigation development