DFATD / Ethiopia / Irrigation / IWMI / LIVES / Vegetables / Water / WLE

On-farm smallholder irrigation performance in Ethiopia: From water use efficiency to equity and sustainability

The performance of smallholder irrigation schemes are challenged by several factors: among which water insecurity and low land and water productivity are the main ones.

This working paper evaluates the on-farm management of nine smallholder irrigation schemes from four regional states in Ethiopia. The schemes are diverse in several aspects and we clustered them into three typologies: Modern, semi-modern and traditional. Indicators such as land productivity (LP), crop water productivity (CWP) were used in evaluating performances.

The results illustrates apparent variability of LP among schemes; scheme typology and reaches. The lowest value of LP was estimated for the traditional schemes and inter-scheme variation was also notable. For example for onion, the value for LP ranged between 7.13 and 14.55 tonnes/ha. For tomato the range was even wider: 0.9–10.29 tonnes/ha. The Meki scheme showed the highest land productivity for onion and tomato with the magnitude of 14.55 and 10.29 tonnes/ha respectively. For irrigated cereals (maize and wheat) LP values showed a similar trend as for vegetables. For example the LP value for maize range between 0.65 and 3.92 tonnes/ha and for wheat the range was narrower (0.6 and 1.56 tonnes/ha).

Generally these values are less than the values reported as sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) regional average suggesting the need to address yield limiting factors in smallholder schemes in Ethiopia. Water productivity by water supplied at field levels (WPf) for cereals was generally on the lower side; it is somewhat on the higher side for vegetables compared to observations from SSA.

Schemes and reaches with higher land productivity do not necessarily shows higher WPf. Modern schemes and head irrigators have usually higher land productivity but low water productivity. The opposite holds true for the traditional irrigation and tail irrigators. The traditional schemes and tail irrigator normally suffer from water shortage and most often practicing forced deficit irrigation and also select crops with low water requirement. Hence they save water while trying to minimize impact on the yield through crop selection. Implicitly future direction of improving smallholder irrigation need to acknowledge this reality and put efforts to save water on head irrigators and increase land productivity under traditional and tail irrigators and promote sustainability and equitable share of water in smallholder irrigation.

Probably alternatives such as valuation of water and a consumption-based water charge need to be taken into account in efforts to discourage over irrigation and enhance equitable water management by smallholders. It is also important to note that smallholder water management decisions are complex and so are the values for their performance indicators. Therefore, any development efforts dealing with smallholder irrigation need to disentangle and understand this diversity and ensure interventions are context specific

Download the working paper:

Haileslassie, A., Agide, Z., Erkossa, T., Hoekstra, D., Schmitter, P. and Langan, S. 2016. On-farm smallholder irrigation performance in Ethiopia: From water use efficiency to equity and sustainability. LIVES Working Paper 19. Nairobi, Kenya: ILRI.

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