Participatory research and development with smallholder farmers in Uganda to improve small-scale irrigation

We work with farmers to plan, test, and adapt technical and social innovations to fit irrigation needs of both women and men farmers


Participatory Research and Development

Thoughtful participatory approaches ensure that technologies address unique local needs.

Farmers ultimately decide whether to use, or not use, any innovations developed. Simply introducing and providing trainings for technologies without engagement with the community can set up an innovation for failure. Farmers are far more than “beneficiaries”; they are the most important research partners.

Our project interacts with local farmer committees elected by the local irrigation community to go through a cycle of adaptation. This involves:

Discussing and diagnosing current irrigation challenges (to both men and women)

Considering different technologies or management strategies to improve the situation

Testing the innovation with the real users

Making improvements based on farmer feedback

Technical expertise on the principles of irrigation and available technologies is critical, but may fall short from realizing its potential value without inclusion of the experience, knowledge and creativity of farmers.


Empowerment of Women in Irrigation

Women work in irrigation but rarely guide the design and operation of the systems they work in

Women are developing irrigation technologies and institutional structures at their sites that meet their needs.

Women are actively involved in all aspects of irrigation: in testing and adapting technologies, as leaders and members of management committees, and in creating governance structures for accessing land and water that are fair and equitable.

Women working together with men leaves nobody out, ensures more sustainable innovations, and nurtures the expectation in communities that women have a voice.



Developing Innovations in Irrigation Rules & Norms

Innovation is about more than technology alone

Local institutions provide the rules and norms that determine how farmers access and share land, water, technologies, and the benefits of their work.

Focusing solely on technologies will not solve water management challenges in the long term without addressing how communities agree to develop and share their resources.

Farmers at each site work with our project to create governance strategies and local institutions adapted to their local environments and cultural conditions.



Climate-Smart Farming

Smallholders’ farms are more resilient to climate change WITH IMPLEMENTATION OF LOW-COST, FLEXIBLE irrigation technologies

At the heart of climate-smart agriculture is having access to water when it is scarce and being able to manage water when there is too much: flexible small scale irrigation technologies are key to this.

Whereas farmers used to be able to predict the start, end, and intensity of seasons relatively well, this has become a growing challenge making it hard for farmers to produce food and income in the same ways they used to. Small scale irrigated horticulture feeds families and is a year-round income generator, with potential for continuous yields and profitability during times of water scarcity.

Uganda has many small water sources that could be used for small, farmer managed irrigation. By working with farmers in 6 diverse farming systems and agro-ecologies, we are adapting technologies and approaches to help smallholders use these water sources effectively.



Student and Farmer Capacity Building

Practical Skills for Farmers and Young Professionals

Our project provides learning opportunities for farmers and young agricultural professionals in practical, not classroom conditions.

Graduates of agriculture and engineering need hands-on, real experience to learn the realities of smallholder agriculture, which differs from their textbook knowledge. We provide internships for students, support them to develop technologies with farmers, and hire them as assistants in the research & development process so that they gain skills that fit the needs of East African smallholders.

We also provide training to farmers on horticulture and irrigation management, and set up demonstration plots where farmer can try new ways of managing their irrigated horticulture with minimum risk.