Irrigation has been a priority on Ethiopia's agricultural agenda
The government of Ethiopia has promoted irrigation as a means to reduce poverty among smallholders in the face of climate change and variability and population growth. Investment in irrigation comprises over one-third of the total budget of the Ministry of Agriculture’s Agricultural Growth Program (WB 2015). Between 2004 and 2015, the area under agricultural water management increased three times (FAO 2016).
In addition to physical and technological investments, a focus has been given to building and reforming institutions in the irrigation sector. However, concerns remain regarding the overall performance of irrigation both for human well-being and the environment.
However, concerns remain regarding the overall performance of irrigation both for human well-being and the environment.
Using data from 464 irrigating farm households (with a total of 2,166 irrigated and rain-fed plots), this study assessed the institutional set-up and the technologies used in various types of irrigation systems and examined their impact on profit generation, farmers’ empowerment, and environmental sustainability.
The irrigation sector at the higher institutional level
At the national and regional levels, the policies, strategies and legal instruments are well- specified, and the relevant institutions and organizations have been established. However, at each administrative level organizations encounter problems due to weak enforcement capacity, overlaps in mandates, duplication of effort and absence of an integrated system of information and resource management.
Trade-offs between income, empowerment, and environmental sustainability
Currently, there are multiple scales of decentralized irrigation water management systems and irrigation technologies in use in Ethiopia. The irrigation water management systems constitute privately managed system, users (farmers) managed system, jointly (users-and-agency) managed system and open access irrigation water management systems. One significant finding of the study is that farm plots served by pump irrigation systems reap higher returns and display a greater number of sustainable land management practices compared with farm plots supplied by gravity irrigation, regardless of the management systems they are in.
Furthermore, the average vegetation biomass observed for plots under all types of irrigation water management system has increased since the adoption of irrigation by farmers. The highest Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) score is noted in plots under privately managed irrigation systems with pump technologies.
In this study, irrigation empowerment at the local level is defined as the ability and capacity of rural farm households in acquiring information, making decisions, participating in, and strengthening local organizations in developing, using, allocating and managing of irrigation water. Regarding collective empowerment the results of this study suggest that groups of farmers practicing gravity irrigation are more likely to contribute to the initial establishment and the day-to-day operation and maintenance of the irrigation system, whereas they are less likely to be formal members of water users’ associations. Households who have plots in openly accessed pump irrigation system are relatively less satisfied with the water use and management system, compared to other alternatives.