Partnership for agricultural water for Africa

Data-driven improvement of water use efficiency in small-scale irrigation

International Conference and 69th International Executive Council Meeting of the International Commission on Irrigation and Drainage (ICID)

15-15 August 2018

In Africa, reliance on irregular rainfall is one of the major causes of continent-wide low crop yields. In irrigated areas, the insufficient irrigation infrastructure and the lack of harmonized water-management lead to considerable water losses that is eventually translated into lower productivity levels. Irrigation systems are under pressure not only to produce more with less water, but also to ensure socio-economic advantages, to adopt changing climate conditions while taking account of resource efficiency. Improved Agriculture Water Management (AWM) plays a key role in addressing these issues above. Crop water productivity and water use efficiency are considerable measures of AWM, therefore, finding approaches to enhance them is particularly important in small-scale agriculture both at system and farm level.

Many of the developing countries suffers from significant data gap, while accurate information is essential to understanding the high-efficiency mechanisms of each irrigation system. As such, stakeholders are encouraged to set up accessible and affordable database on every aspect of agricultural water use to maximize water use efficiency. Traditional irrigation systems can achieve their full potential through flexible water delivery systems that are supported by state-of-the-art measurement methods. To test the smallholders’ ability to accurately measure water discharges and to optimize their productivity, FAO and its partners introduced a range of measurement techniques including traditional systems and ICT-based measurement of surface velocity. 

Jointly organized by the Land and Water Division (CBL) of FAO, AgWA and their partners, the Side event on “Data-driven improvement of water use efficiency in small-scale irrigation” was hosted by the International Commission on Irrigation and Drainage in Saskatoon on Wednesday, 15 August 2018. The main objectives of the side event were to introduce the experiences of data-driven improvement of water use efficiency and crop productivity in West and East Africa. The event discussed how the data acquisition can support the identification of the most appropriate means to expand knowledge on water use and to translate it into management rules for efficient water use. It also covered the socio-economic and technological challenges of employing innovation in small-scale irrigation schemes. Finally, the event introduced the approach of Flexible Water Services addressing the above-mentioned issues of AWM using case studies from Burkina Faso and Uganda. More specifically, the event aimed to:

  1. Underpin the importance of water data acquisition in agricultural water use demonstrating the adverse effects of data gaps; 
  2. Recommend methods and technologies for establishing datasets and converting them into management rules; 
  3. Discuss the strengths and weaknesses of approaches and methodologies to improve water use efficiency and crop water productivity and their scaling-out; 
  4. Share lessons learnt in AWM from the results of real case studies in Africa.

The side event, with around 40 participants, reached general acknowledge that data acquisition is essential requirement to improve AWM, although most of the developing countries has not established system accordingly yet. Both physical and non-physical AWM interventions in Africa were presented to demonstrate experiences and pathways for improvement in agricultural water use. FAO developed crop growth model (AquaCrop) and the organization’s methodology for irrigation modernization (MASSCOTE) are broadly accepted and adopted tools to enhance crop water productivity and water use efficiency. The speakers demonstrated their applicability also at small-scale level through the showcases of 

Burkina Faso and Uganda. Beyond the design supporting tools, ICT employed at management and farm-level has a high potential to provide water use efficiency measures for farmers. Discharge measurement application and its implementation in Uganda drew attentions to the challenges of deploying technologies. It was generally accepted that ICT has numbers of exploitable potential, but implementation and obtained data interpretation must be assisted to reach clear understanding.

Apart from the physical interventions and technology, the speakers pointed out that farmers and farmers’ associations (Water User Associations) can improve water use efficiency with “soft” measures such as adequate irrigation management in collaborative manner, optimum irrigation scheduling and economic incentives for water use efficiency. The main driving factor of farmers’ involvement in irrigation management is education, therefore, capacity-building is deemed to be appropriate mean to encourage farmers to apply more water use efficiency activities. Finally, the event introduced the measurable effects of participatory irrigation management (PIM) on farmers’ productivity and profitability. The session agreed on the important role of PIM in achieving enhanced water use efficiency.