Sand in the Engine: The Travails of an Irrigated Rice Scheme in Bwanje Valley, Malawi

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    The establishment of the Bwanje Valley Irrigation Scheme (BVIS) in Malawi is a striking example of informed amnesia in development assistance. Despite the lessons learned earlier concerning a process approach to participatory irrigation development in Africa, in the case of BVIS outside interveners designed an irrigation system and parachuted it into Bwanje Valley as a black-boxed technology. Using a sociotechnical approach, this article analyses the travails of this irrigation scheme, showing that the conventional irrigation factory mindset is ill-suited for creating durable water networks. Achieving tangible improvements in rural livelihoods is better served by the interactive prototyping of water networks in situ, ensuring that new irrigation schemes are embedded in existing landscapes and complementary to existing livelihood strategies rather than supplanting them.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)197-226
    JournalJournal of Development Studies
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 2009


    • colonial irrigation
    • water management
    • agriculture
    • technology
    • africa
    • independence
    • policy

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