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Water Quality
Water Management and Irrigation Systems
Survey on modernization of irrigation schemes
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Irrigation Sector Reform
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Modernization of Irrigation Systems
Modernization of Irrigation Systems
Survey on modernization of irrigation schemes


The International Programme for Technology and Research in Irrigation and Drainage (IPTRID) together with the Water Resources Development and Management Service (NRLW) of FAO has recently undertaken a survey on the state of the art of the irrigation modernization processes taking place in the world.

Many irrigation schemes worldwide have reached an unsustainable management level with decaying infrastructure and a reluctance or incapacity of users to contribute to their up-keeping. The gap between actual and expected performances led countries to undertake different types of actions: technical and managerial improvements at different levels (at farm, scheme and watershed level), institutional reform with irrigation agencies restructuring and transfer of irrigation management to farmers and/or private entities. In this context, the concept of "modernization" of irrigated schemes is broadly applied.

Eighteen selected cases around the world where the process of modernization of irrigation systems has actually taken place, actual irrigated area ranging from 400 to 45000 ha, have been documented until now. For each case study, the technical, managerial, institutional and financial aspects of the process that took place were studied.


The overall objective of the survey was to identify common features of successful modernization initiatives, analyse both favourable and constraining conditions that were present, and the methodologies used. The results are to be used as feedback mechanisms for those governments or other organizations planning to undertake an irrigation modernization process.

The IPTRID / FAO-Water collaborative initiative: irrigation modernization survey

In early 2002, the IPTRID, a multi-donor Trust Fund programme of FAO, upon review and in line with its activities, decided on the need to document and analyze the efforts that were taking place, world wide, in relation to modernization of irrigation systems. With that in mind, a survey on selected cases of irrigation modernization was designed and its implementation begun. Subsequently, the Land and Water Development Division enlarged its involvement with the active participation of the Water Resources, Development and Management Service (NRLW). The activity became known as the Irrigation Modernization Survey Initiative.

Introduction to the modernization case studies

For a better understanding of the Case Studies, it is important that the reader be provided with some background information, albeit brief, concerning among others, the definition of irrigation and its history, the concept of irrigation modernization and the role that it is called to play; and last but equally important, the changing role of irrigated agriculture which in turns leads to modernization.

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The irrigation modernization process

The world community is facing today a situation of increasing competition for the water resource among its many sectors while at the same time having to meet food demands of its population through agriculture, a major water consumer. Improved performance of irrigation systems is called to be part of the solution. This note provides a brief summary of the factors that need to be taken into consideration in an Irrigation Modernization process that in turn can be part of a strategy to ensure enhanced water productivity while sustaining the environment. The note looks at the justification and objectives of an irrigation modernizations process and describes those elements that are to be taken into consideration as part of that process.

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Addressing causes for irrigation modernization

An in-depth analysis of the irrigation modernization process that took place under each case study needs to be centered around four main questions:
i) What were the CAUSES that led to the modernization of the irrigation system?
ii) What type or kind of INTERVENTIONS took place as part of that process?
iii) What were the IMPACTS derived from the interventions ?, and
iv) What LESSONS were derived or learned ?

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Contents of the survey

The surveys were prepared by consultants that are familiar and in direct contact with the irrigation schemes they analysed. The case studies cover the following aspects:

  • Brief description of the modernized irrigation scheme, including the main biophysical and organizational features;
  • A detailed description of the steps followed in the process of modernization;
  • The causes that led to modernization;
  • An analysis of the impacts of modernization on aspects such as governance, water rights, and system performance;
  • A set of conclusions, recommendations and lessons learnt from the case study.
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