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ABSTRACT: In July 2009, in the closing moments of the G8 meeting in Italy, President Obama responded to a question from the floor regarding investments in Africa to tackle food security and poverty. His answer (quoted below) included the phrase "the right irrigation". This opinion piece reflects on the phrase, places it within a policy debate and suggests that the development community can respond to Obama's call for the 'right irrigation' in sub-Saharan Africa by taking a comprehensive approach that utilises a mixture of technologies, builds on local capabilities, brings sound engineering know-how, is supported by a range of other services, and acknowledges other water needs within catchments. Cost-effectiveness and community ownership will be important.