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


The responsibility in water for production in Uganda is shared between the Ministry of Water and Environment and the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries. The first is responsible for development of off-farm water facilities while the latter for water use and management of on-farm agricultural water facilities.

The Ministry of Water and Environment (MWE) has the responsibility for setting national policies and standards, managing and regulating water resources and determining priorities for water development and management (MWE, 2009 and 2013); and within the MWE:

  • The Directorate of Water Resources Management (DWRM) is responsible for developing national water laws, policies and regulations; managing and monitoring water resources; issuing water permits; integrated water resources management (IWRM) activities; coordinating transboundary waters resources. It comprises three departments:
    • Water Resources Monitoring and Assessments,
    • Water Resources Regulation,
    • Water Quality Management.
  • The Directorate of Water Development (DWD) is responsible for providing overall technical oversight for planning, implementation and supervision of the delivery of urban and rural water and sanitation services across the country, including water for production.
  • The Directorate of Environmental Affairs (DEA) is responsible for environmental policy, regulation, coordination, inspection, supervision and monitoring of the environment and natural resources as well as the restoration of degraded ecosystems and mitigating and adapting to climate change.
  • The National Water and Sewerage Corporation (NWSC) is a parastatal that operates and provides water and sewerage services in 28 large urban centres across the country including Kampala.
  • The National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) is responsible for the regulatory functions and activities that focus on compliance and enforcement of the existing legal and institutional frameworks on environmental management in Uganda.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries (MAAIF) has the responsibilities to support the development of infrastructure and use of water for agricultural production along livestock, crop and fisheries value chains. With its two commodity-based Directorates (Animal Resources and Crop Resources) each with three Departments, as well as 8 specialised Agencies, it aims to:

  • provide technical assistance with respect to the design and construction of on-farm irrigation systems (including tertiary canals, distribution/field channels, control structures and drainage channels);
  • promote appropriate technologies for efficient and effective use in irrigation;
  • establish efficient and effective management structures;
  • support the operation and maintenance of the on-farm systems;
  • provide extension services and advice to farmers on irrigation systems;
  • support the supervision and monitoring of water use and managements.

The Water Policy Committee (WPC) was established, by the Water Act, to promote inter-ministerial and inter-sectoral coordination over water resources management and development issues. It also advises the MWE.

At sub-national level, the four Water Management Zones (WMZs) of Kyoga, Victoria, Albert and Upper Nile perform since 2011 water resources management functions that were formerly performed by DWRM at central level.

At district level, the District Water Offices manage water and sanitation development and oversee the operation and maintenance of existing water supplies in the District. At community level, District Water and Sanitation Coordination Committees (DWSCCs) have been established in all districts to strengthen collaboration across sectors and between different players and a water user committee (WUC), which is sometimes referred to as a Water and Sanitation Committee (WSC), should ideally be established at each water point (MWE, 2013b).

Over 200 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are working in water supply and sanitation. The Uganda Water and Sanitation NGO Network (UWASNET) is a national network organization established in 2000, with the aim of strengthening the contribution of NGOs and community based organizations (CBOs) in achieving the Water and Sanitation Sector goals.

Water management

Water is managed in the country either in terms of water and sanitation or in terms of water for production. The latter integrates irrigation, livestock watering and aquaculture with considerations to stock reservoirs and valley tanks–meant for small-scale irrigation and livestock watering–with fish.

Uganda’s water sector was reformed in 1998, but implementation of catchment or basin based water resources management, as a means of promoting effective management and development of the country’s water resources and sustainability of water-based infrastructure and services, is recent. The DWRM de-concentrated in July 2011 some water management functions, such as compliance monitoring, compliance assistance and awareness raising to four Water Management Zone (WMZs): Kyoga, Victoria, Albert and Upper Nile. The respective Catchment Management Organisations under each WMZ are to develop catchment management plans. This transfer already demonstrated an improved performance in terms of water permits issuance and compliance monitoring and enforcement (MWE, 2013b). In addition, catchment based management is also ongoing in the six sub-catchments of Rwizi, Mpanga, Semliki, Achwa, Awoja and Okok, and has been initiated in four other sub-catchments. However, despite those efforts, water management is curtailed by limited institutional and human capacity skills, weak policy, regulatory and legal framework, weak enforcement of laws and policies, and lack of data and information according to the NDP (Republic of Uganda, 2010).

At local level, in 2013 there are 278 ‘water for production’ facilities under community management with established water user committees (out of 711 constructed since 2000). These water user committees are actively functioning at 78 percent. This is an indicator reviewed every year as part of the will to encourage the formation of water users associations (WUAs) for both irrigation and livestock farmers.

In the past, from the 1960s onwards, the Government of Uganda applied top-heavy approaches in developing irrigation schemes. In the early 1990s the first effort to introduce farmer participation in small-scale irrigation schemes was undertaken with the development of Kekite, Gayaza and Zirobwe schemes. Another effort to introduce farmer participatory approaches was made with the development of Olweny pilot rice irrigation project; where, however, the technologies introduced (pumping for both irrigation and drainage water) were imposed on the farmers.

Transfer of the irrigation schemes to the farmer cooperatives is discussed since the 1960s, but is not implemented everywhere. In Doho rice scheme, the farmers lease their field for 99 years but the scheme remains property of the government, who also provides the management officers. Cleaning of the irrigation and drainage channels (from main to tertiary level) is the responsibility of the farmers, either collectively or individually depending on the level. The Doho rice scheme farmer’s association is in charge of mobilizing farmers for cleaning, monitoring it, and collecting the water fees, which are used for the operation and maintenance of the scheme. However, at field level operations are constrained by the lack of clear rules regarding water distribution, as well as by the infrastructure (most of the water gates controlling the water flow were damaged before the scheme’s rehabilitation in 2013). The water drained downstream of the scheme is reused by farmers called ‘out-growers’ on around 200 ha of informally irrigated crops (Nakano et al., 2010). Management of Agoro scheme is similar. In Kibimba rice scheme the management of the scheme failed after the departure of the Chinese technical assistance team in 1991, and the infrastructure was deteriorating up until 1997 when it was privatized. Since then, the performance of the scheme has improved substantially.


During the 2008/09 census of agriculture, only 3 732 out of the 31 000 households using full control irrigation, or 12 percent, indicated to pay for the water they use for irrigation, almost equally divided between payment by area, by volume or other form of payment. However, payment by area takes place mostly in the eastern region, while payment by volume happens mainly in the central and western regions (UBOS, 2010).

The average cost of irrigation development in equipped wetlands is estimated at between US$500 and 1 140/ha. The cost of irrigation development with open channel ranges from US$1 750 to 5 700/ha, while the cost of installation of pressurized irrigation is US$5 400/ha (MAAIF, 2011b).

Policies and legislation

The law related to irrigated agriculture is scattered over many pieces of legislation. There is no legislation that deals specifically with irrigated agriculture:

  • The Constitution of Uganda 1995 vests in the State the duty to protect important natural resources including water and to take all practical measures to promote a good water management system.
  • The draft Water (Amendments) Act 2013 (Avery, 2014), which is to replace the Water Statute 9/1995 or Water Act 1995 provides for the use, protection and management of water resources and supply and for the constitution of water and sewerage authorities. The objectives of the statute are, inter alia, to allow for the orderly development and use of water resources for purposes other than municipal use, such as irrigation and agriculture, in ways that would minimize harmful effects to the environment. Extraction of water is prohibited unless authorized. The following regulations implement the Act:
    • The Water Resources Regulations 33/1998 provides for the procedure to obtain a water permit;
    • The Water (Waste Discharge) Regulation 32/1998 establishes the need to apply for a permit when discharging effluent or waste into the aquatic environment or on land;
    • The Water Supply Regulations 1999;
    • The Sewerage Regulations 1999.
  • The National Water and Sewerage Corporation Act 1995 revises the objectives, powers and structure of the National Water and Sewerage Corporation.
  • The National Environment Statute 4/1995 provides for the sustainable management of the environment and establishes the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA).
  • The Environmental Impact Assessment Regulations 13/1998 requires an environmental impact assessment to implement a project.
  • The Land Act 1998 protects natural lakes, groundwater, natural streams, wetlands and any other land reserved for ecological purposes for the common good of the citizens of Uganda.
  • The Local Governments Act 2010 is to guide implementation of water for agricultural production locally.

The major policies of the Government of Uganda impacting on irrigation development are:

  • The Draft National Irrigation Master Plan (DNIMP) for Uganda (2010-2035) identifies drivers of irrigation development in Uganda, namely: (a) the National Development Plan, (b) climate change, (c) new markets; and (d) increasing international investments in agriculture in the region. As a result, it defines four stages of the Irrigation Framework Master Plan (IFMP): i) capacity building and studies (2011-13); (ii) reinvigoration of the irrigation sub-sector (2014-18); (iii) spatial and market expansion (2019-23); and (iv) integration and commercialization of production models (2024-35).
  • The National Water Resources Development and Management Strategy, based on the findings of the National Water Resources Assessment, is current developed and will aim at providing a framework for integrated management and development of the country’s water so as to effectively contribute to the realisation of the objectives of the National Development Plan. The strategy will set the stage for the development and management of Uganda’s water resources up to the year 2040 (MWE, 2013b).
  • The National Water Quality Management Strategy (2006)
  • The National Water Policy (1999) resulting from the 1998 water sector reform.
  • The Uganda Water Action Plan (1995).

Both the Water Policy and the Water Legislation are currently amended to include issues arising out of the previous water sector reforms as well as those from emerging global and national challenges (MWE, 2013).

In agriculture, following the Plan for Modernization of Agriculture (2000) and the first Development Strategy and Investment Plan 2005/06-2007/08 for Agriculture, were defined in 2010 the National Agricultural Policy (NAP) and the Agricultural Sector Development Strategy and Investment Plan: 2010/11-2014/15 (MAAIF, 2010a), the sectorial approach of the National Development Plan (Republic of Uganda, 2012). The latter in particular aims at rehabilitating government irrigation schemes, transfer the management of irrigation schemes to lowest appropriate level, establish new irrigation schemes (informal, small scale, commercial), and increase water storage for livestock and wildlife.

In addition, the National Policy for the Conservation and Management of the Wetlands (1995) gives a basis for the planning and development of rice irrigation. More recently, the Environment and Natural Resources Good Governance Action Plan 2013-2016 was prepared to promote good governance in the sector.

Finally, the Draft National Land Policy 2012 recognizes land as the most basic resource in terms of the environmental resources that it contains and supports (MAAIF, 2013).


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