Irrigation, Livelihoods and River Basins


This paper examines the relationship between irrigation, rural livelihoods and river basin management in Tanzania. There are six critical arguments contained in this paper. Firstly, irrigation is a complex livelihood activity that many systems; farmers implicitly understand this and only in special circumstances do governments need to 'provide irrigation' or to further increase it. Second, irrigation is a sector that consumes considerable amounts of water and may impact negatively on downstream sectors and livelihoods; pastoralists, rainfed agriculturalists, the environment and urban demands, especially during the dry season. Third, irrigation does not reduce poverty in a geographically widespread fashion; this is because water is limited, sites for irrigation are restricted and places for irrigators finite. Fourth, a functioning irrigation system depends on the resolution of its own particular problems not on the application of generic irrigation theory. Fifth, irrigation improvements are often associated with technological interventions; these are prone to be poorly designed and expensive resulting in increased ‘maldistribution’ of water and therefore conflict. Sixth, in most cases the water resource is sufficiently limited in time and quantity for it to be contested over. In these cases policy should focus not necessarily on irrigation improvement, but on conflict mediation. This too reminds us of the need to take a balanced livelihoods river-basin approach and to establish appropriate institutional frameworks.


Lankford, B. Irrigation, Livelihoods and River Basins. (2002) 32 pp. [LADDER Working Paper No.14]

Irrigation, Livelihoods and River Basins

Published 1 January 2002