Innovations in irrigation systems in Africa
This special issue of the Irrigation and Drainage journal aims to compile a series of insights related to innovation in irrigated agriculture. Irrigation is essential to improve harvest security and to realize production in arid areas. Anticipating an increasing occurrence of climate extremes with prolonged dry spells and more severe droughts and heatwaves, there is an even greater need for irrigated agriculture in Africa. However, irrigation in Africa is not fully exploiting its potential, especially for smallholder farming. In many areas where smallholder farmers are practising irrigation, the yields obtained are still often comparatively low and farmers face a plethora of obstacles to substantially improving crop water productivity. Overall, there is a need to make better use of the existing infrastructure. Therefore there is a need to improve irrigation in Africa through innovation. Past efforts have, however, demonstrated that changing irrigation practice in smallholder farming systems faces numerous challenges. It is essential to start from the actual farmers’ needs, ideas and possibilities for innovation. However, innovating smallholder irrigated farming is not a straightforward task. Smallholder farmers are locked within a complex network of interdependencies that affects power relations and access to finance, information and markets. Many obstacles preventing innovation in irrigation are often outside the farmers’ sphere of influence and thus requiring a transformation of the environment. It became apparent that efforts to advance innovation for smallholder irrigated farming must remain a priority. Further emphasis should also be given to learning how to innovate the enabling environment itself. The key challenge will be to involve policy and decision makers, who are not afraid to put farmers in a stronger position of power, and who actually want to advance an inclusive green growth within their country.