One-third of irrigation schemes in Southern Africa have failed

Photo credit: IWMI

Main Canal from Siya Dam to Manjinenji Dam. Photo: David Brazier/IWMI

Irrigation development in Southern Africa

Moving in the right direction, but still room for improvement

It’s nothing new to champion the virtues of irrigation for fast-tracking agricultural development and economic growth in large swaths of Africa.

But according to a recent report, around one-third of irrigation schemes in the south of the continent have failed.

So what went wrong – and why isn’t it bad news?

“Fortunately, newer schemes seem to be performing well,” said IWMI’s Jonathan Lautze, one of the authors of Irrigation in Southern Africa: Success or failure?, published in the journal Irrigation and Drainage recently. “While schemes set up many years ago have a troubling failure rate, this is falling with modern approaches to irrigation development. That’s a reason to be upbeat.”

Lautze and lead author Justin Mutiro of the Lowveld College of Agriculture in South Africa used existing literature to assess 100 schemes in seven countries in Southern Africa. It is the biggest assessment of irrigation scheme performance in the region to date.

Despite concluding that 32% of schemes had failed, they found that overall the success rate has roughly doubled since the 1960s and around 90% of schemes introduced between 2000-2009 are working well. Commercial, private sector schemes showed an impressive 100% success rate across the board.

“It’s clear from our results that irrigation development continues to hold great promise for boosting agricultural development and economic growth in Southern Africa.”

Read the full article: IWMI



Published by

Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.