Tom Higginbottom presents ‘have irrigation developments in Africa delivered the benefits they promised?’.

Tom is a Postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Mechanical, Aerospace and Civil Engineering at the University of Manchester. His research uses Earth-observation and geospatial analysis to evaluate physical and human drivers of environmental change. His current research is investigating the impact of dams on agriculture in developing nations as part of the GCRF FutureDAMS project.

In this presentation, Tom discussed findings from an ongoing FutureDAMS study that quantifies how the size of large-scale irrigation schemes successfully compares to the initial project proposals, and what factors contribute to any observed discrepancies. The study combines novel data on the size of proposals, obtained from planning documents, with satellite-derived cropland maps for 80 African irrigation schemes constructed between 1945 and 2008. Factors that contribute to underperformance of irrigation projects include:

  1. over optimistic proposals, which are unrealistically large in order to generate investment;
  2. large schemes being overly complex, in technology and maintenance, and therefore being difficult to manage, and
  3. governance capacity for developing and handling large investments being limited and hindered by inefficient bureaucracy.

These findings highlight that major issues remain for large-scale irrigation development in Africa. If dams and large-scale irrigation schemes are to be a helpful component of future development strategies for poverty alleviation and food production, these issue require urgent attention.

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