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A people-centred approach to irrigation development

Dossier

In Amhara, Ethiopia, thanks to a participatory irrigation scheme, Workneshe Mossie is now cultivating a range of high-value crops, including maize.

© Dawit Endeshaw

In four Ethiopian states, a participatory irrigation development project is underway to reduce small-scale farmers’ vulnerability to adverse weather conditions, to enhance productivity and food security.

To strengthen the resilience of poor, rural communities in Ethiopia to extreme climate conditions by increasing the area of arable land under irrigation, a Participatory Small-Scale Irrigation Development Programme (PASIDP) was implemented from 2008 to 2015. The project has developed a farmer-owned and managed system of small-scale irrigated agriculture, which aims to enhance economic growth and reduce rural poverty, as well as mitigate the impacts of climate change.

A sustainable approach

Specifically, PASIDP sought to encourage a highly participatory approach to small-scale irrigation development; improve catchment area planning; support construction of small-scale irrigation schemes covering about 12,000 ha; improve farming practices, particularly in soil and water conservation and seed production; and promote home gardens for women. The programme received financial support from the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and was coordinated by the Ministry of Agriculture and local water users’ associations (formal organisations that bring farmers together for the management of a shared irrigation system).

The PASIDP interventions developed and upgraded 116 small-scale irrigation schemes, which mostly included the construction of river diversions and water harvesting irrigation channels. The project achieved its target of irrigating 12,000 ha, and more than 311,000 people are estimated to have benefited in the four regions of Amhara, Oromia, the Southern Nations, Nationalities and People's Region, and Tigray. Households accessing the technology were able to double their average crop yields and revenues for barley, maize, pulses, teff and wheat, as well as horticultural and fruit crops.

To ensure sustainability and the full participation of local community members, the farmers operated the irrigation systems themselves through their water users' associations. Participants were also trained in irrigation scheme management, irrigation agronomy and financial management, for example, to take charge of the irrigation development process to ensure its longevity once the programme had ended.

Transforming livelihoods

Workneshe Mossie, a 40-year-old single mother of six, was unable to cultivate her 1.5 ha plot of land in Amhara when her children were young and, with no other regular form of income, was forced to rent out her land for just Br 80 (~€2.5) per year. “I did not have sufficient income to feed my children, let alone to pay for them to be schooled,” she says. “We lived day-to-day, where even a loaf of bread was out of reach some nights.” After spending 9 years living a nomadic lifestyle in search of employment opportunities, Mossie decided to take back ownership of her land in 2012, where she had heard the PASIDP initiative was underway.

With access to the water harvesting channels introduced by the project, Mossie began to cultivate her land with the help of her children and finally started to experience the success that once eluded her. Today, she produces an array of crops, including coffee, maize, onion, orange and potato, three times a year. “I can feed my children ably and with the profit from the farm, send them to school, hoping their lives will be different to mine,” says Mossie, who now earns about Br 75,000 (€2,300) in a year selling her products at local markets.

After seeing the implementation of the PASIDP activities in his local community in 2008, Tesfaye Yigzaw from Tigray region decided to rent 1 ha of land for 6 months. Using PASIDP’s water harvesting channels to irrigate his land, Yigzaw was able to cultivate 21,000 kg of onions from every harvest, generating an income of Br 240,000 (~€7,400), three times a year. He extended his contract to rent the land for another 4 years and, with the profits earned from selling his produce, he was able to invest in a small shop that he has since transformed into a hotel. “I started from nothing; now look where I am,” Yigzaw marvels.

A new phase

Based on the success of the first phase, the approach of developing and managing irrigation schemes alongside local communities and water users’ associations is being scaled-up in the project’s second phase. PASIDP II, which runs from 2016 to 2024, envisages the development of around 18,400 ha of small-scale irrigation schemes across the four regions.

Whilst the farmers of the first phase benefited from increased access to irrigation infrastructure and, as such, increased their output, they were not always able to market their additional production, leaving the potential for enhanced incomes largely untapped. PASIDP II is therefore also focusing on supporting linkages between producers, markets and financial services so that smallholder farmers can further increase their productivity, competitiveness and incomes.

In line with Ethiopia’s Growth and Transformation Plan, PASIDP II is also expected to create 15,000 new jobs through intensive watershed development, which will enhance the efficiency of the irrigation systems. Particular attention is being given to engaging women-headed households, unemployed youth and landless people, and a total of 108,750 poor rural households are expected to benefit. “This programme is not just about irrigation. It is about people. IFAD is a people-centred organisation and we invest in rural lives,” says Ulaç Demirag, IFAD country director for Ethiopia. “At the end of PASIDP II, we will not count how many schemes were built, but we will focus on how the programme has transformed the lives of the smallholder farmers we support,” he adds.