The paper examines the method of using project irrigation requirements (PIR) in the design and rehabilitation of small-scale smallholder irrigation systems within multi-sector and dynamic river basins. This procedure, which employs equations that determine irrigation and crop water requirements, is found embedded in irrigation thinking and planning methodologies throughout the irrigation world. The paper argues that if the PIR equations are used formally and conventionally without sufficiently accounting for changing demands for water in semi-arid river basins, they can lead to irrigation designs that over-prioritise water for individual irrigation systems and as such be labelled ‘irrigation-centred’. Although other adjustments and attempts at re-allocating water might be undertaken, basin managers are often unable to recognise, accommodate or transcend the irrigation focus that this approach generates thus curtailing the efficacy of re-allocation efforts. This argument is made on the basis of observations in the Usangu Plains of Tanzania of farmer-originated irrigation and donor attempts at rehabilitation and modernisation. Features of a modified planning and design methodology are suggested, which considers irrigation alongside other water sectors, and focuses on the river basin rather than on the individual system; an alternative which, it is proposed, is more flexible and ‘water-resource-centred’. The implications of this dualism in approaches (irrigation-centred or resource-centred) for basin management, livelihoods, conflict mediation and formal irrigation rehabilitation projects are explored.
Agricultural Water Management (2004) 68 (1) 33-46 [doi: 10.1016/j.agwat.2004.03.001]