Irrigation-based livelihood trends in river basins: theory and policy implications for irrigation development

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This paper examines irrigation development and policy in Tanzania utilising a livelihoods and river basin perspective. On the basis of observations, the author argues that river basins theoretically exhibit a sigmoid curve of irrigation development in three stages; proto-irrigation, irrigation-momentum and river basin management. This model arises from two governing factors. Firstly, irrigation is a complex livelihood activity that, although has benefits, also has costs, risks and alternatives that integrate across many systems; farmers implicitly understand this and enter into or keep out of irrigation accordingly. In the proto-irrigation stage, irrigators are less common, and irrigation is felt to be a relatively unattractive livelihood. In the irrigation-momentum stage, irrigators are drawn very much to irrigation in providing livelihood needs. Hence, given both of these circumstances, governments should be cautious about policies that call for the need to ‘provide irrigation’ (when farmers may not wish to irrigate) or to further increase it (when farmers already have the means and will to do so). Second, irrigation consumes water, generating externalities. Thus if irrigation momentum proceeds to the point when water consumption directly impacts on other sectors and livelihoods, (e.g. pastoralists, downstream irrigation, the environment) decision-makers should focus not necessarily on irrigation expansion, but on water management, allocation and conflict mediation. This three-stage theoretical model reminds us to take a balanced ‘livelihoods river-basin’ approach that addresses real problems in each given stage of river basin development and to develop policy accordingly. The paper contains a discussion on livelihood factors that affect entry into irrigation. It ends with a series of recommendations on policy; covering for example new large-scale systems; problems solving; and the use of an irrigation-river basin livelihoods approach. The recommendations here might be useful for governments and other implementing and donor agencies in Sub-Sahara Africa (where irrigation has greater potential than it currently enjoys) that are considering irrigation as policy instrument for improving rural livelihoods.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)817-825
Number of pages9
JournalPhysics and Chemistry of the Earth, Parts A/B/C
Issue number20-27
Publication statusPublished - 2003

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