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Challenges of irrigated agricultural intensification in northern Tanzania: A case study of Mtakuja

Ravic Nijbroek1, Thomas Smucker2

1International Center for Tropical Agriculture, CIAT, Kenya
2Ohio University, USA

Contemporary understanding of agricultural development options for smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) follows several narratives. One such narrative is that the global population will reach 9.5 billion by 2050 and global food production needs to double to ensure adequate global food supply. Furthermore, SSA can support the projected increase in production through agricultural intensification. The latter will require significant investments to increase land under irrigation. Major constraints to agricultural intensification are lack of land ownership and land fragmentation. Much agricultural land in SSA consists of small parcels of 0.5-2 acres that are under some type of customary ownership. Policy initiatives, e.g. in Rwanda and Ethiopia, aim to re-allocate land in order to consolidate it for agricultural intensification with improved technology adoption. These schemes are usually driven by funding from external NGOs or government agencies which makes their long-term sustainability questionable. We applied the Common Pool Resources (CPR) management principles to evaluate the sustainability of a 200-acre irrigated farm that is comprised of 400 household plots of 0.5 acres each. The scheme was developed by and continues to receive support from, an international NGO in two villages in northern Tanzania. The region has low rainfall (~300 mm per year) and there have been several failed community irrigation schemes in the region. This project employs novel operational rules that are supported by the communities. We collected data over two years, including household questionnaires, key informant interviews, and focus group discussions. Our findings suggest that unclear group boundaries and increased pest and disease prevalence are undermining the farmer’s sustainability. The high maintenance cost of irrigation equipment also undermines financial sustainability. This study gives important insights into how collective irrigation schemes can be designed and managed adaptively for community benefit in SSA.

Défis de l'intensification agricole irriguée dans le nord de la Tanzanie: une étude de cas de Mtakuja

Ravic Nijbroek1, Thomas Smucker2

1 Centre international d'agriculture tropicale, CIAT, Kenya
2 Ohio University, États-Unis

La compréhension contemporaine des options de développement agricole pour les petits exploitants agricoles en Afrique subsaharienne (ASS) suit plusieurs récits. Un tel récit est que la population mondiale atteindra 9,5 milliards d’ici 2050 et la production alimentaire mondiale doit doubler pour assurer un approvisionnement alimentaire mondial adéquat. En outre, l’Afrique subsaharienne peut soutenir l’augmentation prévue de la production grâce à l’intensification agricole. Ce dernier nécessitera des investissements importants pour augmenter les terres irriguées. Les principaux obstacles à l’intensification agricole sont le manque de propriété foncière et la fragmentation des terres. Une grande partie des terres agricoles en ASS se compose de petites parcelles de 0,5 à 2 acres qui appartiennent à un type de propriété coutumière. Initiatives politiques, par exemple au Rwanda et en Éthiopie, visent à réaffecter des terres afin de les consolider pour l’intensification agricole avec une meilleure adoption des technologies. Ces programmes sont généralement alimentés par des financements d’ONG externes ou d’agences gouvernementales, ce qui rend leur durabilité à long terme douteuse. Nous avons appliqué les principes de gestion des ressources de la piscine commune (CPR) pour évaluer la durabilité d’une ferme irriguée de 200 acres qui comprend 400 parcelles familiales de 0,5 acres chacune. Le programme a été développé par et continue de recevoir le soutien d’une ONG internationale dans deux villages du nord de la Tanzanie. La région a de faibles précipitations (~ 300 mm par an) et il y a eu plusieurs projets d’irrigation communautaire qui ont échoué dans la région. Ce projet utilise de nouvelles règles opérationnelles soutenues par les communautés. Nous avons collecté des données sur deux ans, notamment des questionnaires sur les ménages, des entretiens avec des informateurs clés et des discussions de groupe. Nos résultats suggèrent que les limites floues des groupes et l’augmentation de la prévalence des ravageurs et des maladies compromettent la durabilité de l’agriculteur. Le coût d’entretien élevé du matériel d’irrigation compromet également la viabilité financière. Cette étude donne un aperçu important de la façon dont les systèmes d’irrigation collectifs peuvent être conçus et gérés de manière adaptative pour le bénéfice de la communauté en ASS.


3 Responses

  1. How have ecological and social changes in the last 10 years impacted whether design principles were met? And how did this lead to institutional change? For example, disease spread or technological change may impact the financial sustainability, which may lead to changes in the rules and regulations and therefore the compliance with design principles.

  2. Thanks for the comment Marco,
    There are many challenges and I like how you frame the problem: where disease itself may not be the main sustainability challenge (due to lower yields) but instead lower yield means lower profits which may jeopardize the expansion loan repayment – so financial sustainability becomes the problem. These types of connection are plenty in the system. For example, pump maintenance costs are increasing, some people secretly rent land to outsiders (thus violating boundary rules), pests impacting yields, soil health (remains unknown – we didn’t have funds to do soil tests, etc. So the social, ecologic and financial systems are interacting and slowly undermining long-term sustainability. But there are no institutional changes – the political system is rigid and the rules are not reviewed, nor challenged or ever changed. This is why I often think that “rules about how to change rules” is the most critical design principal. What do you think?

    1. I would just add to Ravic’s response that rule changing process is fairly well understood by participants, but it’s a complex process. The CBO that manages day to day affairs is elected and has some in built mechanisms that enable participants to provide input, make suggestions, etc. However, formal rule changes have to be undertaken by village council and would be a rather lengthy process and could entail political risks for elected village council members. Moreover, because of the unorthodox rules of the scheme itself (particularly relative to the rest of lower Moshi), the CBO board has struggled to achieve acceptance of and compliance with rules. They feel as though they have finally reached a point at which participants understand and mostly follow the rules. Now conditions are beginning to changing in ways that point to the need to revisit rules, yet their is a reluctance to signal to participants in the scheme that rules are up for negotiation!

      Beyond rule changes, there is some limited co-learning going on with regard to soil fertility and pest management, but as Ravic suggests in the presentation, there is a dire need to create platforms for communicating and sharing lessons among participants as new pests (e.g., fall army worm) become more prevalent and soils less productive.

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