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Irrigation and drainage

Evolution of irrigation development

Irrigation potential estimates in Nigeria vary from 1.5 to 3.2 million ha. The latest estimate gives a total of about 2.3 million ha, of which over 1 million ha are in the north (WB, 2014).

Traditional irrigation dates back to the 9th century. Until recently, the majority of irrigation was located in naturally flooded swamps, or fadamas, usually controlled with simple mud bunding. Fadamas are lowlands, flood plains or valley bottoms with a high water table. The traditional dry season farming in northern Nigeria was practiced in the valley of the Komadougou Yobe along the border with Niger and on the swampy area of Lake Chad and was dominated by simple lift systems (shadufs replaced by pumps in the 1970s). Flood-recession cultivation was possible in the Lake Chad region, although it has never become widespread. In the early 1950s, some rice schemes and simple flood control schemes were created in the Niger State in the centre-west of the country (Blench, 1993). Public irrigation was initiated only in the 1970s, during the oil boom and following a strong drought in 1970-75. The three pilot irrigation schemes developed in the early 1970s, Bakolori in the northwest, Kano in the north and Chad basin in the northeast, were successful. Hence, substantial investment was made by the government during the 1970-80s, especially in dams. However, the corresponding irrigation infrastructure was often not developed due to economic reform made in the late 1980s aiming at economic efficiency and higher productivity, resulting in budget reduction for public irrigation infrastructure development. At the same time, agricultural development projects (ADPs) were designed to develop small-scale, farmer-based, privatized irrigation systems in fadama lands for wheat and vegetable cultivation especially during the dry season by providing pumps and tubewells. The National Fadama Development Project (NFDP) built on the ADPs’ achievements from 1993 onwards.

The area equipped for irrigation in 2004 was 293 117 ha, comprising 238 117 ha full control irrigation and 55 000 ha of equipped lowlands, i.e. improved fadamas. About 75 percent, or 218 840 ha, of the equipped area was actually irrigated in 2004.

In 2010, the area equipped for irrigation increased to 325 106 ha, of which 232 106 ha are full control irrigation and 93 000 ha equipped wetlands (FMWR, 2014; Table 7 and Figure 2). The area equipped for full control irrigation can be classified into:

  • Public schemes using mainly surface water on 142 106 ha, of which only about 40 percent is actually irrigated (FMWR, 2014)–32 percent for irrigated areas managed by RBDAs and 55 percent for those managed by States (AfDB, 2013). This low rate is due to the need for rehabilitation in most schemes–for 80 percent of the equipped area–, high operation and maintenance costs, fuel shortage or deterioration of the infrastructures and pumps from a technical perspective. The lack of coherent irrigation policy, inadequate support services, low level of ownerships by the farmers and uncertain financial viability also explain the low operational level.
  • Private schemes on about 90 000 ha, of which 70 percent is actually irrigated. Almost all of them being small-scale (< 50 ha) and use groundwater. Only two private companies have larger irrigation schemes, mostly to produce sugar cane and vegetables, but out of the 7 000 ha equipped for irrigation in Savannah sugar estate only 500 ha were cropped and irrigated in 2004 (FMWR, 2014).

In addition, non-equipped flood recession cropping was being practiced on 681 914 ha, bringing the total water-managed area to 1 007 020 ha in 2010. Traditionally many farm families in Nigeria had cultivated small areas in fadamas during the dry season, using water manually drawn from shallow wells or streams. Major fadama areas are located along the flood plains of the Niger, Sokoto Rima, Benue and Yobe rivers.

Role of irrigation in agricultural production, economy and society

With irrigated land being less than 1 percent of the cultivated area, the contribution of irrigated agriculture to total crop production is small. The impact of irrigation is felt only with regard to specific crops such as wheat, sugarcane and to some extent rice and vegetables. In the 2003-2004 season irrigated grain production contributed to 0.9 percent of the total grain production and irrigated vegetable production contributed to 2.3 percent of the total vegetable production. The main irrigated crops in 1999 were vegetables, wheat, maize and sugarcane. Other irrigated crops were rice, potatoes, cotton, cowpeas, oil palm, citrus fruits, cocoa, rubber, taro and cashew nuts. The crop with the highest increase in net return resulting from irrigation is sugarcane, due to a four-fold per hectare yield increase. Next are onions and tomatoes, the least profitable crops being rice and wheat.

Productivity of irrigated agriculture is negatively impacted both by land fragmentation–in schemes and in fadamas–and under-utilization of large dams in particular in the North where most dams and irrigation infrastructures are located. This under-utilization resulted in large irrigation schemes becoming unsustainable physically, environmentally and financially and non-functional schemes have reverted back to rainfed cultivation. This situation makes irrigated agriculture uncompetitive and unattractive, thereby discouraging potential investors and youths to participate in irrigated agriculture (FMWR, 2013). In 2010-2011, 2.8 percent of farm household plots were irrigated and only 1.6 percent the following year (NBS, FMARD and WB, 2014). Irrigation is most common in the northwest with 6 percent of plots reported as irrigated compared to 1.3 percent in the southwest in 2010-2011 with slightly higher rate of plots being irrigated in the urban than in the rural areas (NBS, FMARD and WB, 2013).

Crops cultivated in public irrigation schemes are diverse, including rice, maize, tomatoes and other vegetables. However, rice generally constitutes the major crop cultivated in the rainy season. Irrigated rice is with 510 050 ha nevertheless less common than rainfed upland and lowland rice together with 1 243 151 ha and 47 799 ha in 2008 respectively (FMWR, 2014). However, irrigated rice has the highest yield with 3.5 tons/ha, which is almost double the rainfed rice yield (1.7 tons/ha for rainfed upland rice and 2.2 tons/ha for rainfed lowland rice) (Ugalahi, 2016). High irrigated rice yields are obtained in some public irrigation schemes. For example, the Bakolori irrigation scheme, one of the largest schemes in the country with over 5 000 ha actually irrigated and almost 19 000 registered farmers in 2014, experiences yields comparable to Asian rice with 5.4 tons/ha during the dry season and 4.6 tons/ha during the rainy season (IFPRI, 2015).

Irrigated agriculture reduces poverty as demonstrated by a study of the role of Kampe irrigation dam in Kogi State, where the poverty incidence reduced to 41 percent for beneficiaries of irrigation projects compared to 57 percent for non-beneficiaries in the same community (Gbenga, 2015).

Women and irrigation

Women do most of the water fetching in low-income urban areas, as they do in rural areas. They, together with children, are also the most affected by floods especially in the lower Niger river, since their share of the workload for most of the farming tasks is larger than the men’s share, in addition to doing most of the water fetching. They are thus more exposed to the flow release from upstream dams (Atakpu, 1999).

In 2007, out of the 15.7 million agricultural holders in Nigeria, 10 percent were women. Women nonetheless provide 70 percent of the agricultural workload and 90 percent of the animal husbandry workload and they also play a major role in producing, processing and marketing food crops. This is because under customary law, women rarely inherit land and primarily obtain use rights through their husbands. Although statutory law says women are entitled to inherit in the same way as men, this law applies only to women who are married under statutory law and only if there is a will. Furthermore, under both statutory and customary systems, land registration is usually in the man’s name. Ninety percent of registered land and properties are in men’s names. Less than 14 percent of women have land in their name. They also have limited access to agricultural inputs such as fertilizer, improved seedlings and agricultural extension services. Indeed male-headed households use considerably more inputs, except seeds, than female-headed households. Only 15 percent of beneficiaries of government programmes are women (FAO, 2016). Male-headed household plots are also more likely to be irrigated than plots cultivated by female-headed households: 3 percent of the former are irrigated against 1.3 percent of the latter in 2010-2011 (NBA and WB, 2013). These figures drop to 1.8 percent and nil respectively in 2011-12 (NBS, FMARD and WB, 2014).

The culture in some of the northern states prevents married women from direct participation in farming. Where culture practices are enforced strictly, so that married women cannot engage directly in fadama farming, they cultivate land they may inherit or purchase by using the labour of their husbands, friends, other male relatives or hired workers. This presents a cost disadvantage to such women as all fadama cultivation involves relatively high labour inputs. In some communities there is a belief that fadama farming is too complicated for women and women are excluded from the more productive aspects of farming.

Decision-making at household level is not very different between men and women. However, at the community level, female participation in decision-making is much lower than their male counterpart –1.7 percent and 17.4 percent respectively (AfDb, 2013).

Status and evolution of drainage systems

Most large-scale irrigation schemes in Nigeria are fully equipped with drainage networks. For instance, in the Kano River Irrigation Project I the total area of 15 000 ha equipped with irrigation canals has a corresponding drainage network. This also applies to Bakolori Irrigation Project, South Chad Irrigation Project, Kiri Irrigation Project, Bagwai Irrigation Project, Lower Anambra Irrigation Project and Hadejia Valley Irrigation Project for example. Most is surface drainage. Subsurface drainage is not very common in the country, except in the irrigation schemes of the Savannah Sugar and Bachita Sugar Companies. However, most of the surface drainage networks are not operational due to encroachment by landless farmers, weed infestation, cattle crossing, tractor crossing during seedbed preparation for dry and wet season cropping, etc. Combined with poor on-farm water management practices, waterlogging and salinization appeared in of some irrigated fields (FMWR, 2015).


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