Irrigation Institutions

Developing new ways that farmers GOVERN how resources are used and managed at their sites

Atari Design 1.JPG

irrigation institutions help farmers to organize how they interact with their resources, environment, and one other.

Sustainable use of resources and technologies requires that the users create structures for for making choices and sharing that are adapted for their local conditions. Like the technology development process, building these institutions requires trial and error, building on what works from farmers’ perspective.

Farmers in our project have developed innovations to address challenges such as fund-raising for fuel, maintaining and repairing equipment, making access to water more equal, and making sure all members support group efforts.

These innovations are not perfect, finished products, but must continue to be adapted to changing conditions. However, they provide a starting point that farmer groups in other locations can build upon to solve their own unique problems.




Kyekide pipe damage.jpg

Kyekide Install 4.jpg

Sub-Group Based Equipment Sharing

To facilitate sharing equipment in irrigation groups with large numbers of members, smaller groups can be created consisting of members clustered in areas within the irrigation site. Each sub-group appoints representatives to an overall irrigation committee that manages the group’s equipment. This committee schedules which days are allocated to different sub groups, and plans contributions for maintenance from them. Each member’s actual use of the equipment and contributions to maintenance is determined within the sub group.

Challenges Addressed

Land access: By breaking into sub groups, members have better representation and can establish pipes or canals near to their plots. This is in contrast to creating a centralized irrigation scheme where farmers may need to lease plots, sometimes far from their own land, to farm in the irrigation area.

Timing: Often, members may not be available to irrigate at their allocated time. By providing the equipment based on sub groups, members can more easily irrigate plots for their sub group members, whether they are present or not. Many members, especially women may find it easier to access the equipment on their sub group’s allocated day compared to trying to put themselves in a schedule where they may have to compete with more forceful members.

Limitations and Drawbacks

Challenges may arise in the process of allocating days to different sub groups, which may have different numbers of users, and land sizes. It is important that the main irrigation committee has representation balanced among the different sub-groups to develop schedules that are fair to all the groups. In addition, whomever oversees the allocation of shared equipment must be neutral, adhere to rules and schedules, and not be swayed or pressured by individual sub-groups.

Sites Where Used:

Kyekidde, Tente


Womens Land Trust

The land trust has the explicit purpose of providing plots to women in the community by renting larger parcels of land in an irrigable location through a long term agreement with the owner. Women join the land trust by subscribing to the rules and fees of the organization, and are allocated a plot which has irrigation facilities included. Often this is built into an existing women’s group, but could be set up on its own as well.

Challenges Addressed

Land Access: Throughout most of East Africa, women have far less access and control over land than do men. Most women farmers in our groups lease small pots outside their family farms to grow vegetables and earn their own income. In areas with high irrigation potential, land for rent is often expensive and hard to find. Landlords may want to lease out larger blocks (e.g. > one acre) and not be willing to provide the smaller plots women can afford. It may also be difficult for women farmers to negotiate with landlords who usually have more power and may not be used to doing business with women.

The women’s land trust addresses these issues by organizing long term rental agreements. Trusts help members in planning growing seasons and having access to affordable and manageable plot sizes. By allowing women to structure their own payment schedule as needed (yearly, weekly, seasonal, etc), members have much greater flexibility and thus greater success in keeping up with payments.

Limitations and Drawbacks

The innovation requires planning in advance to make sure suitable land is identified. Land may not be available immediately, but funds accumulated over time enable women to be competitive and act quickly when a suitable plot goes up for rent. A land trust requires strong agreement among members as to the terms and conditions of being a member, and often my require communal work to make the plot ready for irrigation (e.g. digging canals, plowing).

Sites Where Used:

Aloet, Kyekidde


Paid Operator System for Operations and Maintenance

The Paid Operator system is a method of operating equipment in a group of many farmers, that appoints only one to three people authorized to set up and take down equipment. This operator keeps track of members’ requests for equipment use in a written schedule and timetable designating who can irrigate and when. Only the operator is allowed to take the equipment from the store to the field, and is responsible for bringing it back in good condition. The operator also keeps track of any damage that occurs, and who is suspected of causing any damage. For these services, the operator is given a small fee for each time they bring the equipment to a member’s plot.

Challenges Addressed

Water Uniformity and Equipment Sharing: Members often use the system beyond their specified time in the schedule, and refuse to give equipment to others when their time expires. Women may especially be at a disadvantage in requesting the equipment when requesting from male farmers. This system gives authority over equipment to an individual who keeps a fairer schedule, and who is financially rewarded when they bring the equipment to the right person at the right time.

Damage to equipment: Farmers often misuse equipment, lose parts, and may take components from other members’ plots to replace their own. With a dedicated operator, one person is responsible for tracking damages, can immediately identify who has caused damages to equipment, and then report this information to the irrigation management committee to take action.

Limitations and Drawbacks

The main drawback is an additional cost of irrigation because the farmers must pay the operator for their work. For farmers who already struggle to raise funds for fuel, this cost could be a further disincentive to irrigate.

Sites Where Used:



Savings Integrated Irrigation Group

The Savings Integrated Irrigation Group is a farmer organization based around irrigation that has an active village savings and loan association (VSLA) as one of its activities. The VSLA involves a weekly meeting with mandatory savings from all members, and offers loans from the savings it raises. These are common as stand alone groups in rural East Africa, but the difference is in using it as a tool that also supports the goals of the irrigation group.

In the irrigation group, the VSLA serves – functions. First savings is a very strong way to ensure all members attend regular meetings. Because the required savings and fines for missing are rules, members are highly incentivized to attend as much as possible. This provides a stronger platform to also discuss and share information about the irrigation system. A second function is to support members financially for irrigation. Members may take out loans for inputs or labor. Some groups have set up a fund specifically for fuel loans, providing a backup for members who may run out of funds midway through the season, or have to deal with emergencies requiring spending of money previously earmarked for fuel.

Challenges Addressed

Finance for Irrigation: Many farmers find it difficult to access credit, and when they do get it, often it is diverted for consumption. By providing all irrigation members with a source of credit specifically for irrigation, members who otherwise would halt their irrigation work are able to continue irrigating, and earning a living.

Attendance, Information Flow, and Contribution: It is common for some members not to attend meetings, contribute to group activities, and therefore do not get information on group work and trainings, and learning from other farmers’ experience. This mandatory weekly savings strongly incentivizes attendance, which allows better flow of information and enforcement of contributions.

 Limitations and Drawbacks

A limitation is that in some areas where there are already many savings groups, members may not want to set aside more resources for another purpose.

Sites Where Used:

Atari, Aloet