The Politics of Small-Scale Irrigation in Tanzania: Making Sense of Failed Expectations

Future Agricultures Working Paper 107
Anna Mdee with Elizabeth Harrison, Chris Mdee, Erast Mdee and Elias Bahati
September 2014

This working paper examines the dynamics of smallscale irrigation in two sites in Tanzania. It is an output from a wider project which explores how institutions for smallscale irrigation combine localised moral economies with national and international influences. The project seeks to understand how ‘external’ actors interact with ‘local’ norms, rules, moralities and politics, particularly in the context of climate change. It further asks how economic growth objectives can be reconciled with strengthened livelihoods and the resilience of diverse stakeholders.

The two study locations illuminate different aspects of the policy context for irrigation in Tanzania, where agriculture continues to provide employment for more than 80 percent of the population, but productivity remains poor and livelihoods are highly vulnerable. The latest policy initiatives aimed at developing agriculture such as Kilimo Kwanza suggest a significant role for irrigation in improving the productivity of agriculture, and will be crucial in attempts at commercialisation and growth.

Tanzanian irrigation policy shows a clear preference for the creation of large irrigation schemes to be managed by the private sector or by co-operatives of small farmers. ‘Traditional’ irrigation is only seen as desirable where it is ‘improved’ and formalised to fit within existing institutions of water management. To explore this policy context further, the study covers one location where irrigation is informal and ‘traditional’ but apparently improved by a change in technology, and one large irrigation scheme managed by a co-operative of small-scale farmers.


FAC Working Paper 107 Pdf 1.06 MB 30 downloads