Irrigation-based livelihood challenges and opportunities : a gendered technology of irrigation development intervention in the Lower Moshi irrigation scheme Tanzania

K. Kissawike

    Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU


    This thesis is a study of a modernised irrigation scheme in Tanzania. It aims to
    understand how irrigation and agricultural technologies have interacted with local
    society to transform production, paying particular attention to gender relations and
    changes for women farmers. The thesis seeks to contribute to a better understanding
    of what kinds of livelihood and production changes (negative and positive)
    eventuate under ‘modernised’ irrigation systems, and how these contrast with
    conditions under the older local irrigation systems the scheme has replaced. The
    central research question of the thesis is to understand how irrigation modernisation
    in the 1980s shaped, and has been reshaped by, the livelihood needs and options of
    water users. The thesis analyses the initiatives and interactions of agents at various
    levels – i.e. international, national, community and farm levels – as they attempt to
    make use of and adjust to the technical and operational demands of a modern
    scheme. In methodological terms, this thesis is guided by a technographic approach,
    as advocated by Richards (2002), Richards (2007) and Bolding (2005). A
    technographic approach ‘focuses on the complex interactions between social groups,
    collective representations, innovation processes, technical artifacts and nature’. In
    this case technography is applied to a socio-technical institution, the Lower Moshi
    irrigation scheme, located in semi-arid lowland terrain at the foot of Mount
    The research work took place over three seasons. In addition to careful
    examination of project documentation, and interviews with project staff, the study
    also undertook a randomised sample survey of 300 farmers in the four main project
    area settlements, and made detailed observational studies across the agricultural
    cycle of a smaller number of farm holdings owned and operated by both men and
    women farmers. Since only about 30% of farmers within the scheme actually
    cultivate irrigated plots sampling was designed to ensure proper representation of
    non-irrigating farmers, since the activities of this poorer (non-irrigating) group is
    crucial to the understanding the socio-economic dynamics of the scheme more
    generally. Finally, some attention was paid to off-scheme communities. Many of the
    technical problems experienced by the scheme (notably, the failure to distribute
    water in volumes originally planned) relate to concurrent socio-economic and
    technical changes taking place in up-stream communities, in particular, and an
    account is offered of some aspects of these off-project agro-technical changes, and of
    the disputes that then arose over water rights.
    The thesis first offers an historical summary of irrigation in the Kilimanjaro
    region, based on secondary sources and project documentation. In this part of Africa
    the mountains are wet and forested, and the surrounding plains are dry. The Chagga
    people (Wa-Chagga) were densely populated on the mountain, farming the wetter
    slopes intensively in the 19th century, and it was an aim of colonial government to
    resettle “excess” population in the plains. Some development of irrigation took place
    from the 1920s to encourage this relocation of population, and a diverse population
    (mainly but not exclusively Wa-Chagga) settled in Lower Moshi district to farm,
    assisted by possibilities of irrigation. After independence, the Japanese government
    offered funding and technical assistance to the Tanzanian government to modernise,
    re-develop and extend irrigation in Lower Moshi, and a new scheme came into
    operation in the 1980s, with a strong emphasis on intensive rice production, using
    high-yielding (Green Revolution) semi-dwarf varieties such as IR54.
    22 7
    The central finding from this part of the analysis (covered mainly in Chapters 1
    and 2) is that the planners did not sufficiently take into account that irrigation in
    Lower Moshi and among Wa-Chagga and neighboring populations was no new
    thing. Many of the technical and social problems the scheme subsequently faced can
    be traced to the fact that farmers were already familiar with irrigation techniques and
    had developed traditional institutional arrangements to handle water rights and
    labour burdens. Farmers outside the scheme undercut it by being quick to adopt
    some project innovations, and to adapt their own practices accordingly. They also
    diverted water from flowing into the scheme, arguing that access to water from the
    mountain was an established traditional right under British rule, and still respected
    by the independent government of Tanzania. The scheme thus failed to develop the
    area originally intended, and is chronically short of water, undermining the
    confidence of farmers within the scheme in its management procedures. A further
    important finding is that women were largely excluded from the associations
    involved in traditional irrigation water management (apart from providing labour on
    specific occasions) and gendered notions of task and property rooted in local
    tradition have continued to influence land inheritance and water rights within the
    modern scheme.
    Actual as opposed to planned workings of the scheme are addressed in Chapters 3
    and 4, and an account is offered of the introduction of new agricultural technology.
    Impacts or changes in relation to crop production, hired employment and other
    production strategies, and income distribution among population are discussed,
    along with impact on livelihoods. The scheme has had a highly layered impact.
    Those able to secure plots with reliable water do, indeed, make money out of
    intensive rice production, but the percentage is rather small, since the project is not
    able to irrigate reliably, or at all, many areas within the scheme. Farmers in tail end
    areas with unreliable water, or able only to farm land the project has never succeeded
    to irrigate, lack the capacity to influence management to change water distribution in
    their favour. The scheme lacks capital to invest in technical solutions to inadequate
    water distribution, but in any case the major problem lies in reduced flow, in part a
    product of up-stream diversions by non-scheme farmers. The project management
    has failed to assert its legal water right, since the government agrees that traditional
    rights also apply. Scheme management and maintenance suffer as a result. Farmers
    without water do not see why they should help maintain the scheme or pay dues.
    Some solve their problems by becoming “free riders” and acquire water by illegal
    means; others focus on (less profitable) dry-land crops. A range of these conflicts is
    examined, including contradictions between different classes of scheme settlers, e.g.
    wealthier farmers with better access to the scarce water and poorer farmers
    (including women plot owners) found in tail end areas. A complex interaction of
    modern property regimes and customary values in the modernisation process is
    reported. Irrigation project managements in Africa need to take account of these legal
    and cultural complexities.
    Intra-household gender relations are a specific focus in the later chapters of the
    thesis (5-6). Women play a crucial role in the agricultural labour process, both in
    irrigated and non-irrigated agriculture. They are (by custom) the major providers of
    household food, while husbands focus on earning cash for other household expenses.
    The introduction of a cash crop (rice) complicates this division of responsibility.
    Women continue to provide labour on irrigated plots, but men assume the main
    decision making role. A small number of women has acquired rights to irrigated land
    on the scheme (through purchase or inheritance) but a majority are in the position of
    farm workers or tenants. Irrigated rice increases women's labour burdens and
    responsibilities, since this is a cash crop and they still have to work on household
    food crops as well. The scheme has continued to show many of the problems of
    public irrigation development in Africa since the 1970s discussed in the introduction.
    However, the situation in Lower Moshi is not as reported for parts of (West) Africa,
    where women have been supplanted by men in (modernised) rice farming. Here
    women never enjoyed rights over irrigated crops. What has happened on the scheme
    is that their burdens have intensified. In cases where women have no husbands they
    tend to be among the poorest farmers residing within the scheme, with little reliable
    water or farming only rain-fed crops. In short, the scheme has widened the gap
    between rich and poor, and intensified existing gender inequalities, in regard to
    ownership of plots, agricultural output, division of labour, and coping strategies. The
    thesis also shows that there are strong gender differentials in water rights and in
    participation in water management. Alienation of women from management and
    repair undermines scheme renewal. Irrigation management must develop a stronger
    focus on gender issues to overcome challenges of inequitable water access, if it is to
    provide any wider opportunities for better livelihoods, food security and nutrition in the area.
    Original languageEnglish
    QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
    Awarding Institution
    • Wageningen University
    • Richards, Paul, Promotor
    • Vincent, Linden, Promotor
    • Zwarteveen, Margreet, Co-promotor
    Award date30 Jun 2008
    Place of Publication[S.l.]
    Print ISBNs9789085049135
    Publication statusPublished - 2008


    • development
    • irrigation
    • irrigation systems
    • water allocation
    • modernization
    • sustainability
    • gender relations
    • irrigated farming
    • water management
    • participation
    • tanzania
    • africa south of sahara
    • gender
    • scarcity
    • livelihoods

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