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


The Technical Services Branch (TSB) in the Department of Field Services of the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives (MACO) is the main institution mandated to plan and develop all aspects related to irrigation and water management. The TSB consists of three sections, namely: i) Irrigation Engineering Section; ii) Land Husbandry Section; iii) Farm Power and Machinery Section. The TSB through the Irrigation Engineering Section provides services to farming enterprises in irrigation agronomy, catchment hydrology and related hydraulic and civil engineering aspects. It also helps the Government to formulate policies for irrigation development, to carry out water resources assessments and to implement irrigation projects.

While many other government agencies and some NGOs with interest in the irrigation sector exist, the Ministry of Energy and Water Development (MEWD) is the key one. It houses the Department of Water Affairs and the Water Development Board of Zambia, both of which are mandated to deal with water resources development and management. The Water Development Board of Zambia allocates water rights although no water charges have been levied on any irrigation abstractions. All land allocations for any development purposes, including irrigation, are the responsibility of the Ministry of Lands (MOL), which is also responsible for issuing title deeds. Its current policy is to set aside at least 30 percent of the demarcated land for women and other vulnerable groups.

The private sector and NGOs play an important role in community mobilization for irrigation, with respect for traditional farmers or emerging farmers adopting irrigation.

Water management

The expertise for irrigation water management available at the field level is very poor if not non-existent among most farmers in Zambia. This situation is even worse among small-scale farmers than among medium-scale and commercial farmers. Conveyance water losses are tolerated without due regard, leading to localized flooding and inefficient water application. The situation is exacerbated by the fact that most farmers over-irrigate their crops, which also is an economic loss for the farmers because they pay more money for pumping water but get diminishing returns from their production.

The reasons for the above phenomenon are many. Firstly, there is an absence of water management regulations. Secondly, the Water Board committee has no capacity to enforce existing water rights regulations and fees and, as a result, water users, including major users like ZESCO and the Nakambala Sugar Estates, owe thousands of US dollars to the Water Board. Because of this users of irrigation water do not think of water as an economic good; only when there is a shortage do users consider water important.

Training for communities in water use and management is provided by the TSB through its provincial, district and camp officers. NGOs like CLUSA, IDE and Total Land Care also have a large focus on water management and water use capacity building among small-scale farmers. The main thrust of training offered to water users is on aspects of leadership and group organization and on technical aspects of management and maintenance of infrastructure such as canals, furrows, small dams and pumps. Such training will build the capacity of the irrigation communities to run the affairs of the schemes without external help from the Government. It will also ensure that all irrigation schemes under rehabilitation will be handed over to the farmers for operation and maintenance. As an result, scheme operators realized that they have to charge fees for pumped irrigation schemes.


Irrigation development funds are controlled at the ministerial level. The funds are thus allocated to provinces for further disbursement to districts where programmes are implemented at grass roots level. The running of any irrigation scheme is the responsibility of the community, which is involved in its operation and maintenance activities. The scheme management may charge fees for operation and maintenance on the basis of demands.

Policies and legislation

The Water Policy of 1994 recognized water as an economic good by drafting a water tariff legislation to cover the provision and allocation of water resources for consumptive and non-consumptive use. For agriculture, the policy recognizes water use for irrigation, livestock watering and aquaculture. Other uses include hydropower generation, water transport, water recreation and tourism, industrial and health. Access to land and water is open to all, although procedures for acquisition have to be followed. In recognition of the importance of the irrigation sector and its needs for a suitable legal framework, the Government is in the process of revising the Water Act to accommodate the needs of the irrigation and other water- using sectors.

Two land tenure systems, customary tenure and statutory tenure, exist according to the draft Land Policy of 2002. Customary land forms the bulk of Zambia’s land (94 percent) and is under traditional chiefs and their headmen. Statutory land is under state control and comprises 6 percent of the total land.

A first Irrigation Policy is under preparation, of which the first draft is already available. In retrospect, the National Development Plan of 1989-1993 placed emphasis on the development and promotion of small-scale and large-scale irrigation programmes through developing dams, irrigation infrastructure, gravity-driven irrigation systems and economically sustainable irrigation systems for small-scale farmers, expanding the electricity grid to cater for the irrigation areas, preparing a National Water Resources Master Plan and expanding the area under irrigation.


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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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