Capacity Development Portal
Good Practices

Rural infrastructure and agro-industries

  1. Best practice in post-harvest and processing
  2. Modernization of Agricultural Water Management

Modernisation of irrigation schemes, from a technical or managerial perspective, to increase the effectiveness of agricultural water use

What problem did it address, where?

In terms of hydraulics engineering, modernization might imply a "jump" in technology, for example the replacement of sliding gates for a remote-controlled automated system or the transformation of an open channel distributary canal into a buried pressurized pipe. From an institutional or social perspective modernization could involve re-organization of the irrigation sector in favour of more efficient or dynamic arrangement of water-related institutions; or the need to improve the participation of water users in the management of a particular irrigation system.

FAO adopts the definition that Modernization of irrigation systems is a process of technical and managerial upgrading of irrigation schemes combined with institutional reforms, if required, with the objective to improve resource utilization (labour, water economics, environment) and water delivery service to farms.

FAO has carried out modernisation work in three areas in particular: upgrading of irrigation schemes (Pakistan, Nepal, Tanzania) in some cases combined with authorities looking to move management arrangements to local control (so called "Irrigation Management Transfer"); organising water users' associations (Peru, Pakistan, Tanzania, Malawi) including support to create constitutions for these organisations; and participatory approaches to devising new approaches to water management on-farm (for instance, through Field Schools in Tanzania - such as the Farmer Training Support Programme for Smallholder Irrigation Schemes in the Rufiji and Pangani Basins - as well as Zambia, Cambodia, Sudan, Egypt, Nepal, Turkmenistan)


Upgrading involves 

  • detailed planning with the active participation of the concerned communities and Water authorities
  • strengthening the local/regional departments of the Water authorities through capacity building and the provision of equipment for an efficient management structure, for instance with the establishment of regional river basin authorities
  • supporting the establishment of a technical coordination unit as a nucleus of a technical secretariat of a future National Water Authority

Training of irrigation officers involves:

  • the development of curricula and training material on smallholder irrigation planning and implementation which is suited to local conditions
  • the provision of formal training to local professionals in planning, design, construction, operation and management of sustainable small-scale irrigation, with farmer full participation in the development process;
  • developing field skills and confidence in these professionals through the provision of follow-up field-level support, supervision, coaching and encouragement to these professionals over a 12-month period after their return from the formal course.

Field schools stress active approaches to learning and experimentation

Where next?

Countries upgrading water management infrastructure and institutions can benefit from these approaches.

Contact our Team