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Re-introducing politics in African farmer-led irrigation development: Introduction to a Special Issue

Gert Jan Veldwisch
Water Resources Management Group, Wageningen University, Wageningen, the Netherlands;

Jean-Philippe Venot
UMR G-EAU, IRD, and University of Montpellier, Montpellier, France; Water Resources Management Group, Wageningen University, Wageningen, the Netherlands; and Royal University of Agriculture, Phnom Penh, Cambodia;

Philip Woodhouse
Global Development Institute, University of Manchester, Manchester, UK;

Hans C. Komakech
WISE – Futures: Centre for Water Infrastructure and Sustainable Energy Futures, Nelson Mandela African Institution of Science and Technology, Arusha, Tanzania;

Dan Brockington
Sheffield Institute for International Development, University of Sheffield, Sheffield, UK;

ABSTRACT: This introduction is a reflexive piece on the notion of farmer-led irrigation development and its politics. It highlights the way the varied contributions to the Special Issue support a shared perspective on farmer-led irrigation development as a process whereby farmers drive the establishment, improvement, and/or expansion of irrigated agriculture, often in interaction with other actors. We analyse how the terminology is used and reproduced, and what it means for our understanding of irrigation policy and practices in sub-Saharan Africa. A central tenet of our argument is that farmer-led irrigation development is inherently political, as it questions the primacy of engineering and other expert knowledges regarding the development of agricultural water use practices in Africa as well as the privileging of formal state planning or technical solutions. We show how mainstream understanding of farmers’ engagement focuses on (1) regulation and control, (2) profitability, and (3) technical efficiency. We demonstrate how these three perspectives have contributed to depoliticised readings of farmer-led irrigation (development), which has been essential to the ability of the terminology to travel and find global allies. Second, we explore the paradox of the invisibility of farmer-led irrigation development in national policies and practices. We discuss practical and political reasons underlying this silence and point out that there are important advantages for irrigators in not being visible. In conclusion we highlight what can be gained from adopting an explicitly political analysis of the processes through which farmers engage in irrigation on their own terms.

KEYWORDS: Irrigation, farmer-led irrigation development, sub-Saharan Africa, irrigation policies, state planning, expert knowledges



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Petrol pumps and the making of modernity along the shores of Lake Victoria, Kenya

Paul Hebinck
Sociology of Development and Change, Wageningen University, The Netherlands;

Luwieke Bosma
MetaMeta Research, ’s Hertogenbosch, The Netherlands;

Gert Jan Veldwisch
Water Resource Management Group, Wageningen University, Wageningen, The Netherlands;

ABSTRACT: This paper explores how pump irrigation has evolved along the Kenyan shores of Lake Victoria. Over the past two decades access to petrol pumps has allowed small-scale horticultural enterprises to start up and then transform the size, intensity and nature of their production. We analyse the spread of petrol pumps as the assimilation and wider use of a modern device along a mutated trajectory of change. We argue that it was not led by external actors but is a local and self-organised process driven by actors who negotiated interfaces between themselves and those operating at the macro level. The assimilation unfolded not as a temporally and spatially linear process but through its embeddedness in complex and dynamic social relationships that structure access to the key resources required for vegetable production. This in turn has given rise to a range of strategies in which the pumps' performance is adjusted to fit with various socially differentiated contexts.

KEYWORDS: Horticulture, farmer-led irrigation, mutant modernity, farming strategies, pump irrigation, Lake Victoria, Kenya

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Critical governance problems for farmer-led irrigation: Isomorphic mimicry and capability traps

Anna Mdee
School of Politics and International Studies, University of Leeds, Leeds, UK;

Elizabeth Harrison
School of Global Studies, University of Sussex, Brighton, UK;

ABSTRACT: Irrigated agricultural production is viewed as key to the twin challenges of transforming agriculture and adapting to climate change in sub-Saharan Africa. Farmer-led irrigation is currently not well recognised or accounted for, and the current focus on state or public-private irrigation schemes means this activity is largely occurring outside of formal governance mechanisms or is deemed illegal. How do current institutional and regulatory frameworks relate to the apparent boom in farmer-led irrigation, and how do these shape current patterns of response, support, and regulation? To answer this question, we build a conceptual understanding of water governance which draws on critiques of current institutional frameworks for water and irrigation management, specifically using the conceptual ideas of isomorphic mimicry and capability traps, and elements of a problem-driven iterative adaptation (PDIA) approach. We then use three case studies from Tanzania and Malawi to illuminate three critical problems that state institutions encounter in approaching the recognition and regulation of farmer-led irrigation. In our conclusion we argue that current irrigation governance is creating capability traps for existing institutions. Where incremental and context-driven adaptation of governance is practised this can be avoided, creating better chances of effective support and regulation of farmer-led irrigation development.

KEYWORDS: Farmer-led irrigation development, innovation, governance, Tanzania, Malawi

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Vegetable gardening in Burkina Faso: Drip irrigation and agroecological farming in light of the diversity of smallholders

Basile Gross
Institute of Geography and Sustainability, University of Lausanne, Lausanne, Switzerland;

Ronald Jaubert
Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva, Switzerland;

ABSTRACT: Small-scale irrigated vegetable production has expanded dramatically in Burkina Faso. Its development can be divided into four periods: the colonial period with the construction of small dams; the boom in reservoir development as a response to drought and famine; the period during which private irrigation was supported; and the current period of new irrigation technologies such as drip irrigation and, to a lesser extent, agroecological vegetable gardening. Since the 1990s, vegetable gardening projects have had a limited impact and irrigation development has been led and financed mainly by farmers. This situation still prevails with current projects, which throws into question their capacity to respond to the needs of family farms. This issue is addressed in the Réo area, where an in-depth survey of family farms revealed a large diversity of situations and livelihood strategies. It became evident from the study that drip irrigation or agroecological gardening can only be adopted by a very small number of family farms. In addressing the problems of smallholders in this regard, development organisations and public policies need to consider their diversity, and adapt accordingly to farming families’ needs and capacities.

KEYWORDS: Vegetable market gardening, irrigation, development project, agroecology, smallholder, family farming, Burkina Faso, Réo

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Development assemblages and collective farmer-led irrigation in the Sahel: A case study from the Lower Delta of the Senegal River

Samir El Ouaamari
AgroParisTech, Paris, France;

Nadège Garambois
AgroParisTech, Paris, France;

Mathilde Fert
AgroParisTech, Paris, France;

Léa Radzik
AgroParisTech, Paris, France;

ABSTRACT: In Sahelian countries, farmer-led irrigation development has contributed to the extension of irrigated areas in formerly state-led schemes, especially from the 1990s onwards. It has usually consisted of individual approaches, revealing the unequal capacities that farmers have had to develop irrigated agriculture. However, in some cases, farmers have performed collective practices geared towards achieving a more concerted and equitable management of resources. This article is centred on such collective enterprises. It is based on a case study from the delta of the Senegal River. In this region, where state agencies, donors, and investors have set the tone of irrigation development over the last decades, the concerted irrigation development led by the inhabitants of a small village (Thilène) can be considered to be a form of resistance. By drawing on the concepts of 'moral economy' and 'assemblage', and using 'comparative agriculture' methods, we situate the emergence of this collective action in order to understand who has governed it by what means or practices, and to know what have been its outcomes. We see these collective actions as an alternative irrigation development pathway to that led by the state and donors. The results highlight the contingent nature of these initiatives and the difficulties in implementing adapted policies to trigger or boost their emergence.

KEYWORDS: Irrigation, collective action, resistance, assemblage, Senegal

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Irrigating Zimbabwe after land reform: The potential of farmer-led systems

Ian Scoones
ESRC STEPS Centre and Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex, Brighton, UK;

Felix Murimbarimba
Independent researcher and farmer, Masvingo, Zimbabwe;

Jacob Mahenehene
Independent researcher and farmer, Chikombedzi, Zimbabwe;

ABSTRACT: Farmer-led irrigation is far more extensive in Zimbabwe than realised by planners and policymakers. This paper explores the pattern of farmer-led irrigation in neighbouring post-land reform smallholder resettlement sites in Zimbabwe’s Masvingo district. Across 49 farmer-led cases, 41.3 hectares of irrigated land was identified, representing two per cent of the total land area. A combination of surveys and in-depth interviews explored uses of different water extraction and distribution technologies, alongside patterns of production, marketing, processing and labour use. In-depth case studies examined the socio-technical practices involved. Based on these data, a simple typology is proposed, differentiating homestead irrigators from aspiring and commercial irrigators. The typology is linked to patterns of investment, accumulation and social differentiation across the sites. The results are contrasted with a formal irrigation scheme and a group garden in the same area. Farmer-led irrigation is more extensive but also more differentiated, suggesting a new dynamic of agrarian change. As Zimbabwe seeks to boost agricultural production following land reform, the paper argues that farmer-led irrigation offers a complementary way forward to the current emphasis on formal schemes, although challenges of water access, environmental management and equity are highlighted.

KEYWORDS: Farmer-led irrigation, land reform, water control, socio-technical system, Zimbabwe

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Modernisation and African farmer-led irrigation development: Ideology, policies and practices

Chris de Bont
Department of Human Geography, Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden;

Janwillem Liebrand
Water Resources Management Group, Wageningen University, Wageningen, the Netherlands; International Development Studies, Utrecht University, Utrecht, the Netherlands;

Gert-Jan Veldwisch
Water Resource Management Group, Wageningen University, Wageningen, The Netherlands;

Philip Woodhouse
The Global Development Institute, School of Environment, Education and Development, The University of Manchester, Manchester, UK;

ABSTRACT: In both Mozambique and Tanzania farmer-led development of irrigation is widespread, yet it is little recognised in irrigation polices and is under-supported by the government. This paper explores how this situation is exacerbated by modernisation ideas in irrigation policy and professional thinking. By means of a historical review, we trace modernisation thinking in irrigation development from the colonial period onwards, and analyse how this thinking continues to play out in contemporary irrigation policies in both countries. We then examine the relationship between modernisation thinking and practices of farmer-led irrigation development, drawing on policy documents, field studies, and interviews in both countries. Based on this analysis, we argue that the nature of farmer-led development of irrigation is consistent with many of the goals identified by state agricultural modernisation programmes, but not with the means by which government and state policies envisage their achievement. As a consequence, policies and state officials tend to screen out farmers’ irrigation initiatives as not relevant to development until they are brought within state-sanctioned processes of technical design and administration.


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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;

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

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Viewpoint – A hybrid approach to statutory water law to support smallholder farmer-led irrigation development (FLID) in Sub-Saharan Africa

Barbara van Koppen
International Water Management Institute, Pretoria, South Africa;

Barbara Schreiner
Water Integrity Network, Berlin, Germany; and Pegasys Institute, South Africa (at the time of research);

ABSTRACT: Millions of small-scale farmers in sub-Saharan Africa who are driving farmer-led irrigation development (FLID) have been turned into criminal offenders or, at least, categorically marginalised under widespread water permit systems. Under these systems, small-scale water users are obliged to apply for a permit, but very few have done so, largely because states lack the administrative capacity to inform such large numbers of people scattered across widespread rural areas with this obligation, to process large numbers of applications and enforce conditions tied to permits. Those who use water below a usually very low threshold, are exempted from this obligation, but small-scale farmers are generally above this category. This viewpoint, based on research and policy dialogues in a range of African countries, elaborates an alternative that addresses these injustices: a hybrid approach to water use authorisation. The proposed hybrid approach provides a suite of tools to legalise the water use of smallholder farmers and to overcome the colonial legacy of the side-lining of customary water law. These tools which can be combined and adjusted to suit specific contexts include: permits, targeted at, and enforced for, the relatively few high-impact users; collective permits; non-permit tools, in particular, first, general authorisations with equal or priority legal standing relative to permits and, second, the recognition of customary water law; and prioritisation.

KEYWORDS: Sub-Saharan Africa, water law, legal pluralism, decolonisation, permits, water allocation, customary water law