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Cécile Brugère
Fisheries and Aquaculture Department
FAO, Rome, Italy

Brugere, C. 2006. International research support for integrated irrigation and aquaculture development. In M. Halwart & A.A. van Dam, eds. Integrated irrigation and aquaculture in West Africa: concepts, practices and potential, pp. 151–156. Rome, FAO. 181 pp.


A brief review of the mandates of some international institutions dedicated to research and development on agriculture and natural resource management and interested in supporting research on integrated irrigation and aquaculture systems is given. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the International Programme for Technology and Research in Irrigation and Drainage (IPTRID), the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), the WorldFish Center (formerly known as ICLARM), WARDA (the Africa Rice Center), and the Inland Valley Consortium (IVC). All have specific agendas and specific approaches to achieve their missions, but all share the common goal of improved well-being for households and environmental sustainability across the globe and support integrated approaches to water management, implicitly supporting integrated irrigation-aquaculture development.


To successfully promote and achieve integrated irrigation aquaculture (IIA) development, it is essential that international institutions working towards rural development, food security and poverty alleviation have complementary mandates and promote harmonized policies and coherent actions. Each organization follows a specific agenda towards poverty reduction, but they may diverge in the achievement of their objectives: improving irrigation efficiency or water productivity. The former can be carried out in the limited sphere of agronomists and irrigation/water management engineers, whilst the latter calls for an integrated multi-disciplinary approach (economists, fisheries/ aquaculture specialists, industrialists, etc.).

This section looks at the mandates and objectives of international agencies regarding irrigation water development, allocation and use to assess the strategic environment in which IIA will take place and its compatibility with current irrigation and aquaculture development policies.


The FAO recognizes the need to devise policies and laws to enhance water productivity at the individual, local and river basin levels and go beyond the “crop per drop” paradigm (i.e. irrigation efficiency) by increasing agricultural production per water unit, while creating jobs and incomes with limited water supplies (FAO, 2002a). To achieve this, the organization is promoting basin-wide integrated water resources management (IWRM) policies, which ensure that downstream water users are not penalized by upstream interventions (FAO, 2003a), and is calling for a “re-invention” of agricultural water management that increases productivity, promotes equal access to water and conserves the resource base (FAO, 2003b).

However, the contribution of irrigation to food security is crucial and what is also needed, according to the FAO, is “improved efficiency in the use of irrigation water” through the use of water saving methods such as drip systems and increased drainage that increase yields while reducing water-logging and salinisation (FAO, 2003c). Despite the potential for aquaculture development in saline areas, salinisation is a growing threat to the world's grain harvests and its prevention may lead to priority given to the use of sprinklers and drip irrigation methods (FAO, 2002b). Whilst the FAO's global aim supports integrated systems and multiple uses of water such as irrigation and aquaculture, it also suggests that IIA as an activity may not be suitable everywhere because of its requirements for irrigation development/rehabilitation in areas where water saving methods may be more adapted.

Specifically, IIA falls under the responsibility of the Land and Water Division in the Natural Resources, Sustainable Development and Technology Department and the Inland Water Resources and Aquaculture Service (FIRI) in the Fisheries and Aquaculture Department. The mandate of the Land and Water Division of the FAO is to provide “advisory and technical services to FAO Members to ensure a more productive and efficient use of land and water resources and plant nutrients in order to meet present and future food and agriculture demands on a sustainable basis”.

In the Fisheries and Aquaculture Department, FIRIreviews and evaluates the use of inland water resources for fisheries, and promotes their better management; it promotes the use of improved techniques and systems for the culture of fish and other aquatic organisms in fresh, brackish and marine waters; and, it promotes sound environmental conservation practices in lakes and rivers. Its work is guided by the 1995 FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries which maintains as a general principle that “States should consider aquaculture, including culture-based fisheries, as a means to promote diversification of income and diet. In so doing, States should ensure that resources are used responsibly and adverse impacts on the environment and on local communities are minimized” and more specifically that “States should produce and regularly update aquaculture development strategies and plans, as required, to ensure that aquaculture development is ecologically sustainable and to allow the rational use of resources shared by aquaculture and other activities.” In this context, FAO has been assisting member countries in identifying and evaluating suitable IIA systems through studies and reports as well as several missions and workshops to evaluate and promote IIA since the early 1990s (see Coche, 1998; Halwart and Gupta, 2005; Moehl et al., 2001; Redding and Midlen, 1991; and several authors, this volume).


The mandate of the International Programme for Technology and Research in Irrigation and Drainage (IPTRID), a multi-donor trust-fund programme hosted by the FAO, is to “reduce poverty and enhance food security, while conserving the environment” through a “more efficient use of water in agriculture”.

By identifying agricultural water management problems, IPTRID offers objective solutions and strategies adapted to each country's specific needs and priorities. This is exemplified in their Field guide on irrigated agriculture for field assistants in Malawi (Cornish and Brabben, 2001), which reviews objectively the advantages and disadvantages of each irrigation method to facilitate farmers' choices, and takes into account physical as well as socio-economic characteristics. In congruence with poverty reduction strategies, IPTRID promotes irrigation designs that are sensitive to environmental and societal conditions, and developments focused on smallholder schemes to benefit the poor (Hasnip et al., 1999).


The mission of the International Water Management Institute is to “improve water and land resources management for food, livelihoods and nature”. Among the objectives of the institute are the identification of larger issues related to water management and food security, the promotion of management practices that can be used by governments and institutions to manage water and land resources more effectively and address water scarcity issues, and the clarification of the link between poverty and access to water.

While IWMI's earlier thrust was to improve irrigation management and efficiency, the institute has now moved towards improving agricultural water productivity (e.g. Guerra et al., 1998; Molden, 1997) to encompass multiple, including non-agricultural, uses of water (e.g. Renwick, 2001; Bakker et al., 1999). This was reflected in the recent change of the institute's name (from International Irrigation Management Institute) and currently by its strategic research priorities focusing on integrated water management for agriculture and competing uses of water in river basins and the institutional and policy implications of enhancing the productivity of water. However, IWMI is also working towards identifying and evaluating water and land use innovations for poor communities. Among these are water saving methods such as treadle pumps, bucket and drip irrigation and water-harvesting initiatives, not all suitable to support IIA activities.


The goal of the International Rice Research Institute is to“to improve the well-being of present and future generations of rice farmers and consumers, particularly those with low incomes” by “generating and disseminating rice-related knowledge and technology of short- and long-term environmental, social, and economic benefit and helping enhance national rice research and extension systems”.An International Platform for Saving Water in Rice (IPSWAR) was created in April 2002 and IRRI's scientists have carried out experimental work to develop field methods to reduce water use (Tabbal et al., 2002) and to assess the effect of irrigation savings on rice production (Bouman and Tuong, 2001).

However, concerned with growing demand for rice, the same scientists did not advocate irrigation saving methods at all cost (Bouman and Tuong, 2001). They found that, although water productivity (rice produced per unit of water applied) was increased, land productivity (rice yields) was reduced, and unless the water saved was used to irrigate previously un-irrigated land, field-level water savings could potentially threaten global rice production. Tabbal et al. (2002) pointed out that field-level water savings do not necessarily lead to water savings at the system level as downstream water can be re-used for irrigation or other purposes, and that the massive adoption of water saving methods in rice farming could result in drops in groundwater tables and increased percolation losses. In the past, IRRI together with the WorldFish Center and national partners has supported integrated irrigation aquaculture through the Asian Rice Farming Systems Network.

WorldFish Center

In the face of depletion of natural fish stocks and the reliance of populations on fish for food and employment, the WorldFish Center's (formerly known as ICLARM) mission is to reduce poverty and hunger by improving fisheries and aquaculture” by being the “science partner of choice for delivering aquaculture and fisheries solutions in developing countries”.This can be carried out through increases in productivity of fisheries and aquaculture systems, protecting the aquatic environment, saving aquatic biodiversity and improving policies for the sustainable development of aquatic resources. Research is carried out on the integration of freshwater fisheries and aquaculture in land and water management practices. The promotion of community-based rice-fish culture on the floodplains of South and Southeast Asia has been a success and has benefited the landless poor (WorldFish Center, 2001a; 2001b). Fishponds used to irrigate vegetables were also developed in Malawi through farmer-scientist research partnerships (WorldFish Center, 1999). A new programme for Africa and West Asia was set up in April 2001 targeting the fisheries of three priority aquatic production systems (rivers and floodplains, lakes and reservoirs and coastal areas) and aquaculture (WorldFish Center, 2001c).


WARDA is the Africa Rice Center. Its mission is to “contribute to poverty alleviation and food security in Africa, through research, development and partnership activities aimed at increasing the productivity and profitability of the rice sector in ways that ensure the sustainability of the farming environment”. With its rainfed rice, irrigated rice and rice policy and development programmes, WARDA's research aims to increase the sustainable productivity of intensified rice farming systems in the arid, semi-arid, warm sub-humid and warm humid tropics of West Africa.

West African farmers in rainfed areas cannot grow the semi-dwarf rices, which were developed by IRRI and have revolutionized production in Asia, because they are not adapted to local conditions. The development of new rice varieties by WARDA in the 1990s lead to the release of the “New Rice for Africa” (NERICA), a crossing of indigenous African rice with exotic Asian rice, resistant to diseases, drought and soil iron toxicity. Its adoption is spreading fast across the drylands of the African continent through the African Rice Initiative. WARDA is, in collaboration with IWMI, part of the System-wide Initiative on Malaria and Agriculture (SIMA), which aims to develop and promote methods and tools for malaria control through improved agricultural practices and proper management and utilisation of natural resources. This includes, for example, the use of intermittent irrigation to reduce mosquito breeding in flooded rice, or the use of crop pest predators as an integrated pest management technique. At the same time WARDA is interested in exploring the potential of integrating aquaculture into irrigated rice production systems (FAO/WARDA, 2005).


The Inland Valley Consortium (IVC) is a research consortium hosted by WARDA. It is “a platform for regional cooperation to promote the sustainable development of inland valleys” and “a partnership of diverse institutions to create critical mass and jointly plan and implement an integrated research program of common interest”. Consortium members work towards the characterisation of the constraints and technical needs for inland valley development, development of low-cost water management systems and testing of agronomic technologies.

For or against IIA?

None of the above organizations has developed specific policies nor carried out research specifically related to the development of integrated irrigation and aquaculture activities. If each has its own agenda and specific approaches to achieve its mission, they nonetheless all share the common goal of improved well-being for households and environmental sustainability across the world. This supports the current call for integrated approaches to water management. Regardless of how irrigation is practiced, its development is no longer seen in isolation from other issues but in conjunction with broader perspectives of increased food production, environmental sustainability and poverty alleviation. While some institutions are focusing on water and its management, others are emphasising its specific uses (e.g. irrigation for rice production), which, if taken narrowly, could conflict with the promotion of multiple water use policies in irrigated rice growing areas.

However, no mandate stands against the promotion of IIA: the limitation of water savings in farming is acknowledged and multiple water users platforms are promoted to overcome single purpose management of irrigation systems (Meinzen-Dick and Bakker, 1999). Local contexts have to be taken into account to determine opportunities for irrigation and aquaculture. In areas where, for example, markets for fish and fish products are strong, and demand high, water saving irrigation technologies may be less appropriate than the promotion of IIA activities. In addition, IIA may not be contradictory to irrigation control methods as water from fish ponds can be used in irrigation drips, as illustrated in Prinsloo et al. (2000).


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