Español || Français
      AQUASTAT Home        About AQUASTAT     FAO Water    Statistics at FAO

Featured products

Main Database
Global map of irrigation areas
Irrigation water use
Water and gender
Climate info tool

Geographical entities

Countries, regions, river basins


Water resources
Water uses
Irrigation and drainage
Institutional framework
Other themes

Information type

Summary tables
Maps and spatial data

Info for the media

Did you know...?
Visualizations and infographics
SDG Target 6.4
UNW Briefs

Read the full profile


Water management, policies and legislation related to water use in agriculture


The development of irrigated agriculture is supported by several institutions including the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation (MAI), the Ministry of Water Development (MWD), the Department of Environmental Affairs, the Water Resources Board, the Department of National Parks and Wildlife, the Department of Forestry and training institutions.

The Department of Irrigation (DoI), which is part of the MAI, has in the past been responsible for the actual implementation of irrigation activities. Now, the responsibility for developing irrigation projects rests with the beneficiary community, and the DoI plays the role of a facilitator. It is the duty of the Department to provide advisory services in the development of irrigation programmes in the country. The Department consists of a Head Office and eight Agricultural Development Divisions (ADDs). One task of the ADDs is to manage irrigation schemes directly. The problems of the DoI are that it is heavily understaffed and that most of the present staff require training in irrigation technology.

The central function of the MWD is to facilitate the development and management of water resources in the country. Among its responsibilities are ensuring access to safe water and related sanitation services, the provision of safe drinking water to rural communities the collection of hydrological data and catchment protection. It has been noted that the link between the DoI and the MWD is very weak and needs to be strengthened.

The Water Resources Board is an institution within the MWD and is responsible for the granting of water rights for abstractions and discharge of effluents, as well as for monitoring the adherence to the water rights. For the development of irrigation schemes, water rights for abstraction and discharge of wastewater drained from irrigation schemes have to be granted by the Board.

The primary function of the Department of Environmental Affairs is to ensure that the implementation of projects does not result in the degradation of the environment. For all irrigation schemes of more than 10 ha, environmental impact assessments are conducted.

The Department of National Parks and Wildlife and the Department of Forestry are responsible for the protection of catchment areas that fall within their jurisdiction. Some of the rivers that are diverted for irrigation purposes arise from areas designated as national parks/game reserves or forest reserves and therefore, there is a need for collaboration between these departments and the Department of Irrigation.

Water management

Both the Irrigation Act 2001 and the Water Resources Act 1969 provide for the formation of water user associations or irrigation management authorities to promote local community or farmers’ participation in the development and management of irrigation and drainage, and proper utilization of the available water resources.

By 1999, the ADDs directly managed over 40 irrigation schemes. These are mainly smallholder irrigation schemes for rice production developed in the 1960s and 1970s. However, the level of farmers’ involvement in the operation and maintenance of the irrigation schemes has been limited and their experience in scheme and water management is thus very low. This has been attributed to the top-down approaches used in the development and management of these schemes, which were initiated, designed, constructed and managed by the Government, without farmers’ participation in the development process. To improve the situation, the DoI is currently transferring responsibility to the local smallholder farmers and empowers them to manage the schemes by themselves. To this effect, the DoI initiated the formation of water user associations or other farmer organizations, such as Trusts and Cooperatives, for a number of irrigation schemes.

The Government considers that extension services, especially those targeted at smallholder farmers, should remain part of its core functions. There is, however, a strong argument for partially commercializing extension and research services, in particular those delivered to the medium and large farmers who have the capacity to pay. The approach has in fact been tried with the irrigation and coffee trust, but it is too early to gauge its success.


Government policy on financing irrigation developments in the country is that such developments are only minimally subsidized. The government aims to optimize its investment in irrigation development through the application of the principles of cost sharing and cost recovery.

Policies and legislation

Policy issues are addressed by the National Irrigation Policy and Development Strategy (2000) developed by the DoI, the Water Policy (1996), the Water Resources Management Policy and Strategy (2000) developed by the MWD, and the Environmental Management Policy (1996). Main legislation concerned with issues of water resources and irrigation are the Water Resources Act of 1969 and the Irrigation Act of 2001.

According to the Irrigation Policy and Development Strategy, the mission of the DoI is to manage and develop water and land resources for diversified, economically sound and sustainable irrigation and drainage systems under organized smallholder and estate management institutions and to maintain an effective advisory service. Following this policy, an Irrigation Act (No. 16 of 2001) was passed by Parliament in November 2001. The Act makes provision for the sustainable development and management of irrigation, protection of the environment from irrigation related degradations, establishment of a National Irrigation Board and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.

The overall policy goal of the Water Resources Management Policy and Strategy is sustainable management and utilization of water resources in order to provide water of acceptable quality in sufficient quantities, and ensure availability of efficient and effective water and sanitation services that satisfy the basic requirements of every Malawian. The Policy is currently being revised to include a number of issues that were not clearly addressed in the previous policy documents.

Under the Water Resources Act of 1969 all water abstractions must be licensed, except for general household municipal use, as well as all industrial effluent discharges into public water bodies, including human sewage. Annual permits are required for abstractions greater than 1 000 l/day, except for municipal use. The charging system is based on the water source and type of usage; however, the collection of revenue is severely limited by lack of staff. Together with the efforts to revise the above policy there are attempts to revise and amend the Water Resources Act of 1969. The process of the revision of the Act has been very slow. In fact efforts to revise the Act started in the mid 1980s but they never materialized due to a number of factors. However, following recent revision of the policy, efforts are underway to finally amend the Act. The existing Act makes provision for the control, apportionment and use of the country’s water resources.


^ go to top ^

       Quote as: FAO. 2016. AQUASTAT website. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Website accessed on [yyyy/mm/dd].
      © FAO, 2016   |   Questions or feedback?    [email protected]
       Your access to AQUASTAT and use of any of its information or data is subject to the terms and conditions laid down in the User Agreement.