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Irrigation and drainage

Evolution of irrigation development

The irrigation potential in Mauritius is estimated at 33 000 ha. The development of irrigation started in 1910 with the construction of the La Ferme and Nicolière reservoirs and the main feeder canals in 1929 to convey water to the western and northern regions. Surface irrigation was used until the early 1960s when sprinkler irrigation was introduced. In 1970, the areas equipped for full and partial control irrigation were about 12 000 ha, all for sugar cane. In 1978 the Mauritius Irrigation Authority was created, which accelerated the expansion of the irrigation sector for sugar cane and food crops and promoted the adoption of efficient irrigation techniques. Mauritius has one of the highest yields of sugar cane in the world. The area equipped for full control irrigation was estimated to be 16 720 ha in 1987, 17 500 ha in 1995 and 21 222 ha in 2003. Surface irrigation is practised on 2 372 ha, sprinkler irrigation on 17 028 ha and localized irrigation on 1 822 ha (Table 4 and Figure 2). About 75 percent of the land is irrigated with surface water and 25 percent by groundwater (Figure 3). Around 61 percent of the land is power irrigated. Most of the area equipped for irrigation is actually irrigated, i.e. 20 800 ha. Three categories of irrigation schemes can be distinguished: i) small-scale irrigation schemes (< 2 ha) amounting to 4 548 ha; ii) medium-scale irrigation schemes (2-40 ha) amounting to 328 ha and iii) large-scale irrigation schemes (> 40 ha) amounting to 16 346 ha (Table 4 and Figure 4).

Both public and private irrigation schemes exist. In private schemes, the farmers own the land and are beneficiaries of water rights for surface water or groundwater. Irrigation construction, operation and maintenance are financed by them too. In public schemes, the land is either owned by the farmers or it belongs to the state. Full or up to 80 percent of the investment is made by the state, which has the water rights. Operation and maintenance costs are covered by the Water Users’ Association (WUA).

Role of irrigation in agricultural production, the economy and society

Most of the irrigation schemes operational at present are located in the rural areas in the northern and western regions and in the coastal belts of east and south. Farmers have diversified their agriculture from the mono-crop of sugar cane to food crops such as vegetables (tomatoes, eggplants, green peppers, and beans) (Table 4 and Figure 5).

The development cost of irrigation for public schemes is US$10 200/ha for centre pivot-cum-solid set high-pressure sprinkler irrigation, US$8 653/ha for drip irrigation and US$3 845/ha for dragline low pressure sprinkler irrigation. The average operational and maintenance costs are US$506/ha and rehabilitation costs around US$290/ha in public schemes. The average cost of irrigation development in private schemes is US$7 590/ha for centre pivot irrigation, with operational and maintenance costs of US$318/ha and rehabilitation costs of US$254/ha. Annual irrigation water requirements for sugar cane vary from region to region, being on average around 820 mm in the north, 1100 mm in the west and 700 mm in the east and west.

The WUAs are constituted of male members who organize water distribution and collect water charges. Activities such as starting the pumps in the pumping stations, fertilizer injection in the drip system, and minor maintenance are confined to men. Women participate in the opening of hydrant valves, in the displacement of low-pressure sprinklers or flushing of drippers, and are attending the meetings of the WUA.


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       Quote as: FAO. 2016. AQUASTAT website. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Website accessed on [yyyy/mm/dd].
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