Irrigation has lost the leading sector status it had in international and bilateral aid during the 1960s and 1970s. This paper discusses some of the reasons why, despite the lower level of investments for developing new irrigable areas and the focus on rehabilitation of existing schemes, the contribution of irrigated agriculture to food and fibre production has continued to increase. The shortages of food production projected for the 1990s have been averted because of the explosive exploitation of groundwater and the manifold increase in water-saving application techniques over the last three decades.
Overexploitation of groundwater and an associated decline in water quality have been occurring in many parts of the developing world, particularly in the semi-arid regions. This paper suggests that no further complacency is acceptable in addressing the long-standing issue of poor management practices in the large irrigation systems. Failure to understand the links between the technical improvements of the large surface irrigation schemes and the required management reforms may exacerbate the problem of water scarcity and threaten food security. This paper argues that in the long run, continuing business as usual is not an option. Management practices must change to better serve the farming community.
The paper is the fourth in a series of Issue Papers for the International Programme for Technology and Research in Irrigation and Drainage (IPTRID). The series aims to promote debate on important issues related to the development and sustained operation of irrigated agriculture.
Hervé Plusquellec prepared the paper. It was edited by Catherine Brabben for the International Programme for Technology and Research in Irrigation and Drainage (IPTRID). The assistance of AFEID, France, and Jean Verdier (IPTRID) in reviewing the paper is gratefully acknowledged.