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 changes based on aspects the farmers like or dislike
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 involved in the process of developing irrigation technologies and governance at their sites that meet their needs.
Our irrigation communities include women in all aspects of irrigation: ensuring involvement of women in testing and modifying technologies, as leaders and members of management committees, and in setting up governance means for accessing land and water that are fair and equitable.
Women working together with men ensures more sustainable innovations, and builds an expectation in communities that women have a voice.
Developing Innovations in Irrigation Rules & Norms
Innovation is about more than technology alone
Local institutions are 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.
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.