Farmer-led Irrigation

Smallholder farmers produce more than a third of the global food supply but face challenges such as increasing competition for water, unpredictable rainfall, limited financial capacity and restrictive gender norms. Farmer-led irrigation has significant potential to support agricultural transformation and adaptation to climate change by enabling farmers to produce greater quantities of high-value crops in areas with rainfall variability. Built on the belief that farmers should have agency and autonomy over decision-making related to irrigation, farmer-led irrigation is a process where farmers invest in, expand or improve their agricultural water use by adopting or developing small-scale, locally relevant and market-oriented solutions.

IWMI’s research on farmer-led irrigation focuses on six areas. These aim to influence policy, strengthen irrigation markets, services and value chains, test innovation bundles using renewable energy such as solar and accelerate farmer-led irrigation development in an inclusive and sustainable way. All the focus areas contribute to the broader ambitions of a unified One CGIAR. These are defined by ways to grow, catch, trade and consume healthy and nutritious food while helping the world to live within planetary boundaries, stop the loss of biodiversity and maintain a safe climate.

Click on the icons on the right to find out more or browse the resources below.

Focus Areas

Highlights

BlogsEventsVideosProjectsPublicationsTools & DataExpertsPartners
    • Virtual forum: Operationalizing farmer-led irrigation development at scale

      Co-organized by the African Union Commission (SAFGRAD), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) and the World Bank, the forum will provide an interactive platform to discuss and share learnings on the design of public and private interventions to catalyze farmer-led irrigation development (FLID) on a larger scale, at a faster pace and in a more inclusive and sustainable way.  

      02/09/2021 | Online Only, Ghana


    • SIWI World Water Week: The role of water in transforming Africa’s value chains

      Using the World Bank-funded AICCRA (Accelerating the impact of the CGIAR’s climate research in Africa) project, this super interactive session will provide an opportunity for participants to unpack the role of water in food systems transformation in Africa.

      23/08/2021 | Online Only, Sweden


    • WEF Nexus in Action

      Strengthening Water-Energy-Food Nexus to expand small-scale farmer-led irrigation solutions for climate-friendly and more resilient food systems.

      26/07/2021 | Online Only, Germany


Displaying 6 publications (Show all records)
Sustainable expansion of groundwater-based solar water pumping for smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa (8/31/2021)
Sustainable expansion of groundwater-based solar water pumping for smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa
2021
Keywords | Fulltext (10.7 MB)
Agricultural water management innovations to build resilient food systems in West Africa (7/8/2021)
Agricultural water management innovations to build resilient food systems in West Africa
2021
Keywords [DOI] | Fulltext (1.88 MB)
Who is likely to benefit from public and private sector investments in farmer-led irrigation development? evidence from Ethiopia
Journal of Development Studies, 2021
Keywords / Abstract [DOI] | Fulltext (3.74 MB)
Solar photovoltaic technology for small-scale irrigation in Ghana: suitability mapping and business models. Agricultural Water Management  Making a Business Case for Smallholders (7/1/2021)
Solar photovoltaic technology for small-scale irrigation in Ghana: suitability mapping and business models. Agricultural Water Management Making a Business Case for Smallholders
2021
Keywords / Abstract [DOI] | Fulltext (7.40 MB)
Adaptive scaling to achieve system transformation in One CGIAR (6/18/2021)
Adaptive scaling to achieve system transformation in One CGIAR
2021
Keywords | Fulltext (2.91 MB)
Solar for all: a framework to deliver inclusive and environmentally sustainable solar irrigation for smallholder agriculture
Energy Policy, 2021
Keywords / Abstract [DOI] | Fulltext (2.37 MB)

Potential for Solar Photovoltaic-based Irrigation

An interactive online tool to identify suitable areas for solar-based irrigation depending on water sources, soil and land characteristics, market proxies and pump characteristics across sub-Saharan Africa. The solar suitability mapping framework was developed using a GIS-based multi-criteria evaluation technique and implemented by combining spatial information from a number of geospatial drivers for solar-based irrigation.

Analyzing the Enabling Environment to Enhance the Scaling of Irrigation and Water Management Technologies: A Tool for Implementers

Designing scaling strategies that are adaptive to context and available resources requires an understanding of the enabling environment in which the scaling processes are embedded. This can be achieved by conducting an analysis to identify enablers and hinderers influencing farmers’ adoption of irrigation and water management technologies and introducing measures to ensure success. This tool provides implementers with a structured guide to carrying out this analysis.

Considering Gender When Promoting Small-scale Irrigation Technologies

Many actors promoting irrigation technologies in low- and middle-income countries want to ensure that men, women and different social groups have equal opportunity to participate in and benefit from irrigation but are uncertain how to do so. This tool provides a set of questions to assess gender dynamics in irrigation in a specific context.

The Farmer-led Irrigation Development Guide: A What, Why and How-to for Intervention Design

Farmer-led irrigation development (FLID) holds significant potential to safeguard domestic food security and strengthen farmers’ ability to recover from shocks and adapt to a changing environment. The guide aims to provide governments with the practical strategies to catalyze FLID and scale it up, making it a faster, more sustainable and inclusive process.

Water Accounting+

Water accounting integrates hydrological processes with land use, managed water flows and the services that result from water consumption in river basins. Its objective is to achieve equitable and transparent water governance for all users and a sustainable water balance. The Water Accounting+ tool provides independent estimates of water flows, fluxes, stocks, consumption and services.

Name Role/expertise Country Focus areas
Dr. Minh Thai Innovation system scaling, multistakeholder dialogues, enabling environment, policy Ghana, Mali, Ethiopia, Zambia All focus areas except environmental sustainability
Dr. Soumya Balasubramanya Impact evaluation Ethiopia, Niger, Nepal, Bangladesh, India Innovation bundles, gender and social inclusion
Dr. Marie Charlotte Buisson Socioeconomic analysis, agricultural economics Mali, Ethiopia, Niger, Bangladesh Innovation bundles, gender and social inclusion
Hauke Dahl Private sector financing Ghana, Ethiopia, Mali, Zambia Gender and social inclusion, financing ecosystem
Rachel Von Genechten Water resources expert/big data Kenya Environmental sustainability
Fitsum Hagos Socioeconomic analysis, agricultural economics Ethiopia Financing ecosystem
Dr. Mansoor Leh Water accounting, suitability mapping Sub-Saharan Africa Environmental sustainability
Dr. Manuel Magombeyi Hydrology, agricultural water management Ghana, South Africa, Zambia Innovation bundles, environmental sustainability
Dagmawi Melaku Enabling environment, multistakeholder dialogues Ethiopia Gender and social inclusion, adaptive scaling and partnerships
Dr. Aditi Mukherji Groundwater institutions and policies, climate change Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan Gender and social inclusion, environmental sustainability
Likimyelesh Nigussie Gender expert, institutions Mali, Ethiopia Innovation bundles, gender and social inclusion, financing ecosystem
Abena Ofosu Private sector partnerships, innovation grants and scholarships, irrigation supply chains and services Ghana Gender and social inclusion, adaptive scaling and partnerships
Dr. Paul Pavelic Groundwater hydrology Laos, Nepal, India, sub-Saharan Africa Environmental sustainability
Dr. Lisa Maria Rebelo Remote sensing, water productivity, water accounting Mali, Ethiopia, Kenya Environmental sustainability
Gitta Shestra Gender expert, institutions Nepal Gender and social inclusion, adaptive scaling and partnerships
Desalegn Tegegne Irrigation engineer Ethiopia Innovation bundles, adaptive scaling and partnerships
Labisha Uprety Agricultural value chains, irrigation supply chains and services Nepal Adaptive scaling and partnerships, financing ecosystem
Shilp Verma Water-energy-food nexus India Innovation bundles, environmental sustainability, adaptive scaling and partnerships
Dr. Karen Villholth Groundwater hydrology South Africa, sub-Saharan Africa Environmental sustainability
Dr. Azeem Shah Solar irrigation bundles Pakistan Innovation bundles, environmental sustainability, adaptive scaling and partnerships
Dr. Petra Schmitter Agricultural water management, hydrology Ethiopia, Tanzania, Ghana, Kenya, Zambia, Mali Innovation bundles, environmental sustainability, adaptive scaling and partnerships, human capacity development

IWMI works with a range of national and international partners on farmer-led irrigation. These include:

Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development

Bahir Dar University

Where We Work

Economics and equity

At IWMI, researching underlying economic and social trends helps us understand why people migrate. They also explain the impact of remittances and loss of agricultural labor, as well as consequences of migration on gender roles and food and water security. For instance, communities with higher levels of income inequality, or relative deprivation, may experience greater levels of out-migration compared to consistently low-income communities. In addition, migration changes intra-household gender-labor composition, which can change the access of smallholders to water resources, affecting the functioning of community-based institutions and consequently household and local food security. IWMI also focuses on circular economy, a strategy to recover and reuse waste, to boost food security and understand how interventions can encourage refugee and host communities to retain scarce resources.

This focus area contributes to the following One CGIAR impact areas:

Nutrition, health and food security Poverty reduction, livelihoods and jobs Gender equality, youth and inclusion

Urban & rural transformation

As agricultural opportunities fluctuate in rural areas, migration, particularly to urban areas, is an adaptation technique to secure incomes and alternative livelihoods. Income generated by migrants is often sent back to family as remittances to support communities at home. At IWMI, we assess linkages between rural and urban areas, as well as the role of agricultural knowledge systems and food and water security. We recognize there are complex push and pull factors such as individual aspirations, economic opportunity, social norms, climate variability and government policies which drive migration and affect rural communities, particularly youth. Our work follows a ‘positive migration’ philosophy, framing migration as an adaptation technique and socio-economic choice (in many cases) rather than a problem to be solved, and focuses on establishing safer, more regular migration by supporting changes to migration governance in sending regions.

This focus area contributes to the following One CGIAR impact areas:

Nutrition, health and food security Poverty reduction, livelihoods and jobs Gender equality, youth and inclusion Climate adaptation and mitigation

Covid-19 disruption & adaptation

Covid-19 has caused a rupture in migration logistics and exposed inequities in the migration system, yet drivers of movement remain. Government lockdowns and closed borders due to the pandemic curtailed movement for migrants, posing complex problems for migrant hosting and origin countries. There have been significant economic shocks, with a sharp decline in unemployment for migrants and an inability to send money home through remittances to support family. Some migrants face social stigma for returning home without an income, particularly if families relied on loans to support their journeys. Consequences have been severe for informal migrants who lack government protection in their host countries. Migrants, particularly those living in crowded, lower-income neighborhoods, have been experiencing stigmatization related to the spread of Covid-19. We look at the impacts of Covid-19 on migration governance and rural areas across seven countries, development planning in Ghana, migration challenges in Southeast Asia, and community-based disaster management and resilience building in South Africa.

This focus area contributes to the following One CGIAR impact areas:

Nutrition, health and food security Poverty reduction, livelihoods and jobs Gender equality, youth and inclusion

Water, climate change and agrarian stress

Migration, water and climate stress are inextricably linked to rural development. Water stress and climate variability can act as a driver of fragility, intensifying pre-existing political, social, economic and environmental challenges. Initiatives designed to address migration-related challenges must tackle inequalities and the exclusion of women, youth and marginalized groups; governance opportunities to better manage water and natural resources and technology and innovations to help communities escape socio-ecological precarity and thrive despite climate challenges. IWMI intends to build climate resilience by implementing projects which tackle gender-power inequalities in the face of dynamic, economic-social-ecological challenges. Our work brings together affected communities, institutional stakeholders and social actors to manage water in response to climate variability and agrarian stress, striving to address complex physical and social variables.

This focus area contributes to the following One CGIAR impact areas:

Nutrition, health and food security Poverty reduction, livelihoods and jobs Gender equality, youth and inclusion Climate adaptation and mitigation

Gender, intersectionality and social inclusion

It is critical to center gender and intersectional identities when unpacking migration phenomena. Gender as a social construct guides social norms and relations, including the decision-making processes and mechanisms leading to migration. We recognize that the intersections between race, age, class, sex, caste and region shape the migrant experience.

IWMI strives to offer transformative approaches and solutions for women, youth and marginalized groups, regarding them as equal partners in our work rather than passive end-users.  For example, within communities that experience male out migration, socio-political systems are restructured to make women, youth and other groups active agents in their own agri-food transformation. Migration patterns contribute to the feminization of agriculture, and women may experience a greater burden of responsibility coupled with an increased ability to access and control resources and policies to build sustainable livelihoods. Acknowledging social complexities helps researchers and communities understand migration trends and address structural power imbalances to build a more equitable world.

This focus area contributes to the following One CGIAR impact areas:

Nutrition, health and food security Poverty reduction, livelihoods and jobs Gender equality, youth and inclusion

Innovation bundles

Farmer-led irrigation development is about much more than installing a pump in a field. It requires access to financing, labor, energy, and input and output markets, so that investments in irrigation translate into sustainable returns. IWMI uses a systemic approach to understand the farming system as well as the factors in the enabling environment that prevent women, men and youth from engaging in and benefitting equitably from farmer-led irrigation. We partner with farmers and the public and private sectors to test contextually relevant innovation bundles that combine irrigation technology such as solar pumps with financing mechanisms like pay-as-you-own or pay-as-you-go, agricultural inputs and agronomic techniques. We also look at ways to improve on-farm water management and nutrient use efficiency and reduce evapotranspiration through digital advances and agricultural extension. We integrate the scaling of innovation bundles into agricultural value chains to enhance the impacts on farmers’ irrigation investments, incomes and livelihoods.

This focus area contributes to the following One CGIAR impact areas:

Nutrition, health and food security Poverty reduction, livelihoods and jobs Gender equality, youth and inclusion Environmental health and biodiversity Climate adaptation and mitigation

Gender and social inclusion

The barriers facing women and men in accessing irrigation technologies are not the same. Neither are the benefits. Social, cultural and religious norms influence inter- and intra-household power relations. These, in turn, affect access to resources such as land, credit, information and training. IWMI carries out cross-dimensional analysis of gender and social inclusion in policy, financing, livelihood assets and access, institutional approaches and interventions as well as gender-based technology preferences. For example, we work with farmers, financial institutions and the private sector to address gender-based constraints in credit scoring and enhance women’s purchasing power. But benefitting from farmer-led irrigation does not stop at accessing and adopting technologies; enabling women and resource-poor farmers to participate in input and output markets is equally important to ensure that investments in irrigation result in improved nutrition and economic empowerment. Other ways we enhance gender and social inclusion include tackling agency issues around financial management and literacy, livelihood diversity and social capital as well as access to infrastructure, extension services and market linkages.

This focus area contributes to the following One CGIAR impact areas:

Poverty reduction, livelihoods and jobs Gender equality, youth and inclusion

Environmental sustainability

Population pressure and increasing water competition in a changing climate require us to take stock of the availability and use of water across scales. Water availability not only influences farmers’ commercial prospects but also irrigation-related enterprises and agri-businesses. Greater water scarcity could jeopardize irrigation and agricultural markets while excessive water use can lead to declining ecosystems, water quality and soil health. IWMI advises development partners and the public and private sectors on all aspects of water resource availability and use through a variety of advanced modeling and remote-sensing products and tools, including Water Accounting+solar irrigation mapping and internet of things. These are complemented by multi-criteria analysis to evaluate the potential of irrigation expansion, taking into consideration environmental flows. With our private sector partners, we are leveraging converging technologies, such as sensors on solar pumps that capture usage data, to encourage better resource management and governance.

This focus area contributes to the following One CGIAR impact areas:

Environmental health and biodiversity Climate adaptation and mitigation

Adaptive scaling and partnerships

The ability of farmers to engage in or expand irrigation depends on the prevailing socioeconomic, ecological and political contexts, which are often complex, non-linear and changeable. Overcoming systemic barriers to farmer-led irrigation development while taking advantage of existing opportunities requires scaling processes to be adaptive. This means diverse actors feed off, adapt to, support, cooperate, compete and interact with each other, forming different multi-actor networks and engaging in collective action to undertake various functions in the scaling ecosystem. IWMI works with farmers and public and private sector partners to co-design and pilot contextually relevant innovation bundles and their scaling pathways or strategies, influence policies and accelerate the transition to scale of innovations with demonstrated early impact.

This focus area contributes to the following One CGIAR impact areas:

Nutrition, health and food security Poverty reduction, livelihoods and jobs Gender equality, youth and inclusion Environmental health and biodiversity Climate adaptation and mitigation

Financing ecosystem

A lack of affordable credit, particularly for women and resource-poor farmers, is one of the main barriers to expanding farmer-led irrigation in low- and middle-income countries. But credit alone is not enough. Financing for irrigation equipment must be embedded in a wider financing ecosystem that bundles credit with inputs and services, market information and access, and technology such as digital payment. In several countries, irrigation equipment suppliers are stepping in to provide financing directly to farmers. In doing so, they increase their own risk. To address this issue, IWMI works with farmers, private companies, finance institutions and development partners such as the World Bank Group to analyze whether credit-scoring tools are inclusive. We also help to identify gaps in the financing ecosystem and de-risk the private sector from testing innovative end-user financing mechanisms that take into account farming system typologies, financial and social capital and crop seasonality.

This focus area contributes to the following One CGIAR impact areas:

Poverty reduction, livelihoods and jobs Gender equality, youth and inclusion

Human capacity development and knowledge exchange

Scaling farmer-led irrigation requires strengthening human capacity and knowledge exchange among all actors and stakeholders involved. IWMI takes an action research approach, working with national and international research institutions, governments, extension agents and public and private organizations to co-develop the scaling ecosystem and strengthen capacity to drive scaling networks and collective action. We support the development of or reinforce national multi-stakeholder dialogues with the aim of sharing scaling experiences and realizing win-win collaboration, interactive learning and capacity development. Other modalities for capacity development include hackathons, innovation research grants for bachelor’s and master’s students, private sector scaling grants and innovation internships with private companies. These all serve to stimulate local and contextually relevant innovation, close the research-private sector divide and enhance job readiness among young professionals.

This focus area contributes to the following One CGIAR impact areas:

Nutrition, health and food security Poverty reduction, livelihoods and jobs Gender equality, youth and inclusion Environmental health and biodiversity Climate adaptation and mitigation

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Innovation bundles

Farmer-led irrigation development is about much more than installing a pump in a field. It requires access to financing, labor, energy, and input and output markets, so that investments in irrigation translate into sustainable returns. IWMI uses a systemic approach to understand the farming system as well as the factors in the enabling environment that prevent women, men and youth from engaging in and benefitting equitably from farmer-led irrigation. We partner with farmers and the public and private sectors to test contextually relevant innovation bundles that combine irrigation technology such as solar pumps with financing mechanisms like pay-as-you-own or pay-as-you-go, agricultural inputs and agronomic techniques. We also look at ways to improve on-farm water management and nutrient use efficiency and reduce evapotranspiration through digital advances and agricultural extension. We integrate the scaling of innovation bundles into agricultural value chains to enhance the impacts on farmers’ irrigation investments, incomes and livelihoods.

This focus area contributes to the following One CGIAR impact areas:

Nutrition, health and food security Poverty reduction, livelihoods and jobs Gender equality, youth and inclusion Environmental health and biodiversity Climate adaptation and mitigation

Gender and social inclusion

The barriers facing women and men in accessing irrigation technologies are not the same. Neither are the benefits. Social, cultural and religious norms influence inter- and intra-household power relations. These, in turn, affect access to resources such as land, credit, information and training. IWMI carries out cross-dimensional analysis of gender and social inclusion in policy, financing, livelihood assets and access, institutional approaches and interventions as well as gender-based technology preferences. For example, we work with farmers, financial institutions and the private sector to address gender-based constraints in credit scoring and enhance women’s purchasing power. But benefitting from farmer-led irrigation does not stop at accessing and adopting technologies; enabling women and resource-poor farmers to participate in input and output markets is equally important to ensure that investments in irrigation result in improved nutrition and economic empowerment. Other ways we enhance gender and social inclusion include tackling agency issues around financial management and literacy, livelihood diversity and social capital as well as access to infrastructure, extension services and market linkages.

This focus area contributes to the following One CGIAR impact areas:

Poverty reduction, livelihoods and jobs Gender equality, youth and inclusion

Environmental sustainability

Population pressure and increasing water competition in a changing climate require us to take stock of the availability and use of water across scales. Water availability not only influences farmers’ commercial prospects but also irrigation-related enterprises and agri-businesses. Greater water scarcity could jeopardize irrigation and agricultural markets while excessive water use can lead to declining ecosystems, water quality and soil health. IWMI advises development partners and the public and private sectors on all aspects of water resource availability and use through a variety of advanced modeling and remote-sensing products and tools, including Water Accounting+solar irrigation mapping and internet of things. These are complemented by multi-criteria analysis to evaluate the potential of irrigation expansion, taking into consideration environmental flows. With our private sector partners, we are leveraging converging technologies, such as sensors on solar pumps that capture usage data, to encourage better resource management and governance.

This focus area contributes to the following One CGIAR impact areas:

Environmental health and biodiversity Climate adaptation and mitigation

Adaptive scaling and partnerships

The ability of farmers to engage in or expand irrigation depends on the prevailing socioeconomic, ecological and political contexts, which are often complex, non-linear and changeable. Overcoming systemic barriers to farmer-led irrigation development while taking advantage of existing opportunities requires scaling processes to be adaptive. This means diverse actors feed off, adapt to, support, cooperate, compete and interact with each other, forming different multi-actor networks and engaging in collective action to undertake various functions in the scaling ecosystem. IWMI works with farmers and public and private sector partners to co-design and pilot contextually relevant innovation bundles and their scaling pathways or strategies, influence policies and accelerate the transition to scale of innovations with demonstrated early impact.

This focus area contributes to the following One CGIAR impact areas:

Nutrition, health and food security Poverty reduction, livelihoods and jobs Gender equality, youth and inclusion Environmental health and biodiversity Climate adaptation and mitigation

Financing ecosystem

A lack of affordable credit, particularly for women and resource-poor farmers, is one of the main barriers to expanding farmer-led irrigation in low- and middle-income countries. But credit alone is not enough. Financing for irrigation equipment must be embedded in a wider financing ecosystem that bundles credit with inputs and services, market information and access, and technology such as digital payment. In several countries, irrigation equipment suppliers are stepping in to provide financing directly to farmers. In doing so, they increase their own risk. To address this issue, IWMI works with farmers, private companies, finance institutions and development partners such as the World Bank Group to analyze whether credit-scoring tools are inclusive. We also help to identify gaps in the financing ecosystem and de-risk the private sector from testing innovative end-user financing mechanisms that take into account farming system typologies, financial and social capital and crop seasonality.

This focus area contributes to the following One CGIAR impact areas:

Poverty reduction, livelihoods and jobs Gender equality, youth and inclusion

Human capacity development and knowledge exchange

Scaling farmer-led irrigation requires strengthening human capacity and knowledge exchange among all actors and stakeholders involved. IWMI takes an action research approach, working with national and international research institutions, governments, extension agents and public and private organizations to co-develop the scaling ecosystem and strengthen capacity to drive scaling networks and collective action. We support the development of or reinforce national multi-stakeholder dialogues with the aim of sharing scaling experiences and realizing win-win collaboration, interactive learning and capacity development. Other modalities for capacity development include hackathons, innovation research grants for bachelor’s and master’s students, private sector scaling grants and innovation internships with private companies. These all serve to stimulate local and contextually relevant innovation, close the research-private sector divide and enhance job readiness among young professionals.

This focus area contributes to the following One CGIAR impact areas:

Nutrition, health and food security Poverty reduction, livelihoods and jobs Gender equality, youth and inclusion Environmental health and biodiversity Climate adaptation and mitigation