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


The Federal Ministry of Water Resources (FMWR) is the main national coordinating body in the water sector. The present FMWR was established in 2010, but inherited directly from the Water Resources Division established in the 1960s within the Federal Ministry of Agriculture (FMA). Merges and divisions between the FMWR and FMA have been frequent since then. Four of the eight FMWR departments are directly concerned with irrigation subsector matters:

  • The Department of Irrigation and Drainage (DID): among its major responsibilities are the supervision and monitoring of the River Basin Development Authorities (RBDAs)
  • The Department of Planning, Research and Statistics
  • The Department of Hydrology and Hydrogeology
  • The Department of Dams and Reservoir Operations

The FMWR is also responsible for 16 parastatals agencies:

  • The 12 River Basin Development Authorities (RBDAs), established progressively between 1973 and 1984, play an important role in water resources development, dam construction, irrigation and water supply, operation and management of the public irrigation within the authorities’ areas:
    • Anambra-Imo River Basin Development Authority (AIRBDA)
    • Benin Owena River Basin Development Authority (BORBDA)
    • Chad Basin Development Authority (CBDA)
    • Cross River Basin Development Authority (CRBDA)
    • Hadejia Jama’ Are River Basin Development Authority (HJABDA)
    • Lower Benue River Basin Development Authority (LBRBDA)
    • Lower Niger River Basin Development Authority (LNRBDA)
    • Niger Delta Basin Development Authority (NDBDA)
    • Ogun-Osun River Basin Development Authority (OORBDA)
    • Sokoto-Rima River Basin Development Authority (SRRBDA)
    • Upper Benue River Basin Development Authority (UBRBDA)
    • Upper Niger River Basin Development Authority (UNRBDA)
  • The Nigeria Hydrological Services Agency (NIHSA) created in 2010.
  • The Nigeria Integrated Water Resources Management Commission (NIWRMC), created in 2007, is a central coordinating body for the 8 Catchment Management Offices of the 8 hydrological areas (HA listed in section “water resources” and Table 3).
  • The National Water Resources Institute (NWRI) established legally in 1985, but began to operate as a training centre on water resources in 1979.

Other federal institutions involved in the irrigation subsector are:

  • The National Council of Water Resources (NCWR) is the most important water policy formulating body. Its sub-committee, the National Technical Committee on Water Resources (NTCWR) ensures information exchanges between federal and state level agencies.
  • The Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD), formerly involved in irrigation development through the Agricultural Development Projects (ADPs) in particular, provides extension services to the public sector irrigation schemes of the RBDAs and the State Irrigation Departments.
  • The Federal Ministry of Environment (FMEnv) is responsible for setting up policies on water quality, sanitation and pollution control including water quality standards and guidelines.

The current institutional arrangement presents some overlaps, for example between the FMEnv and the FMWR’s Department of Water Supply (FMWR, 2014).

At the State level, agencies involved in the irrigation subsector are:

  • State Ministries of Water Resources (SMWRs) in some States, which host the State Irrigation Department (SID) transferred from the State Ministry of Agriculture.
  • State Ministry of Works, which is responsible for water resources development in particular in States without a SMWR.
  • State Ministries of Agriculture (SMAs), which were responsible for irrigation development before RBDAs were established. They host the SID, in case there is no SMWR.
  • State Water Agency (SWA), which is usually responsible for drinking water supply and sanitation (FAO, 2013).

Water management

Public irrigation in the Nigerian context means schemes run either by River Basin Development Authorities (RBDAs) or by the States. A farmer group in each scheme is supporting the maintenance of irrigation facilities. And for example, in the Bakolori irrigation scheme, collective action on canal and drainage maintenance is relatively common and was often initiated by the irrigators themselves (IFPRI, 2015). However, the infrastructures are in most cases in dire need of rehabilitation with non-functional pumps, damaged or silted up canals. Non-equipped water managed areas are effective due to their low maintenance. Many of the public small schemes in the south of the country are effectively operational whilst some of the public large schemes are still active but operating at low capacity level and low cropping intensity (FMWR, 2014).

The National Fadama Development Project (NFDP) resulted in the formation of more than 9 000 Fadama User Associations (FUAs). And government policy is to subdivide schemes along the lines of one Water User Association (WUA) per distribution canal; thus, a WUA comprises 10-25 farmers. Responsibilities include operation and maintenance (O&M) of the canal and its structure and adherence to water scheduling programmes. WUAs have traditionally been weak from design to operation and maintenance of irrigation projects. They rarely are effective or active in most schemes.

Between 2006 and 2013 it became clear that that irrigation development did not progress as planned, that farmers did not get reliable delivery of irrigation water and that irrigated production sometimes decreased. So FMWR signed in 2014 a delegation of authority for large-scale public schemes to transfer tertiary irrigation and drainage facilities to WUAs. The WUAs Federations (WUAFs) will be in charge of O&M at tertiary and field level, and the collection of water charges, as soon as the new Water Bill has been passed.

Although for commercial use a license for water abstraction and use is required according to the 1993 Water Resources Act, it has not yet been implemented. As a result, either water is withdrawn without a license, even by governmental agencies, or a contract between the agency and the RBDA is considered to be a license (FMWR, 2014).


Only from 1983 onwards, a token irrigation water charge was requested to farmers. The water charge paid in most of public irrigation schemes is on average US$ 10/ha per season, while operation and maintenance (O&M) costs are estimated at US$61/ha/year for gravity-fed schemes and US$530/ha/year for schemes using pumps. The water charges are too low to meet the cost of water delivery. In most cases, charges were never collected and when they were, collection rate was weak. The Federal and State governments played a significant role in O&M expenses (FMWRRD, 1995), considering water supply as a social service (Brebbia and Bjornlund, 2014). But with economic reforms, it resulted in infrastructure deterioration and low level of productivity, requiring rehabilitation. The inadequate pricing is responsible for the cycle of poor services leading to lack of willingness to pay by the user (FMWR, 2014).

Policies and legislation

The main legislation regarding water management is the 1993 Water Resources Act No. 101 giving the FMWR significant power to control and coordinate activities for proper watershed management and resources protection and for public administration of water resources. A new National Water Resources Bill was drafted from October 2006 and will replace the 1993 Water Act, as soon as it is enacted by the National Assembly–still pending by mid-2016. It is based on the 2009 revised National Water Policy and includes principles of integrated water resources management and stakeholders’ participation.

In addition to the 1993 Water Resources Act, the following legislations also affect the water sector:

  • The 1986 River Basins Development Authorities Act (No. 35)
  • The 2000 Niger-Delta Development Commission (Establishment, etc.) Act
  • The 2011 Nigeria Integrated Water Resources Management Commission (NIWRMC) Act (passed by the National Assembly but never assented by the President).

To complement these legislations, the following policies and strategies in relation with water apply in Nigeria:

  • The Water Resources Strategy 2006
  • The Draft National Irrigation Policy and Strategy (NIDPS) 2006
  • The Draft Policy on Private Sector Participation in Irrigation Development and Management
  • The National Water Resources Policy 2009 (Revised from 2004): principles and strategies for the development and management of water resources by the FMWR.
  • The Water Sector Roadmap 2011

More generally, the federal government launched an Agriculture Transformation Agenda (ATA) in 2011 to promote productivity growth.


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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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