Enduring Controversy: Small Reservoirs in Sub-Saharan Africa

J.P.J.N. Venot, M. Hirvonen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


This article draws from the fields of anthropology of development and sociology of science to bring new light on the discourses and dynamics of agricultural water management in Sub-Saharan Africa. Specifically, it investigates the persistence of a long-standing and apparently contradictory narrative that posits small reservoirs as a solution to the region's agricultural water challenges, despite recurrent reports of their low performance. The prevalence of small reservoirs is due to their role as “anchoring devices”; they embed a narrative of “having great potential” but in ways that intersect multiple interests and development discourses. The gap between intention and practice that characterizes small reservoirs marks a stable interpretation of their nature and outcomes in the face of conflicting evidence. Understanding the interactions between discourse, policy formulation, and implementation that sustain development projects departs from a linear vision of development. It paves the way toward improved agricultural water management
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)883-897
Number of pages15
JournalSociety & Natural Resources
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • small-scale irrigation
  • performance
  • poverty
  • policy

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