Strategies of smallholder irrigation management in Zimbabwe

E. Manzungu

    Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU


    <p>The smallholder irrigation sub-sector in Zimbabwe, according to literature sources, is under threat due to what are called management problems. Poor water management and low crop yields have been cited, as has also been poor financial and economic viability, resulting in heavy government subsidies. Schemes run by farmers are said to be better managed than those under government management. This study sought to understand the implied management problem in both government and farmer-managed smallholder irrigation schemes in Zimbabwe. The study had its focus operational irrigation management, dealing with what irrigation management actually was, what it involved and did not involve, and how it was executed in practice. This was investigated in relation to water delivery/distribution, field irrigation and crop production and disposal as three distinguishable operational 'levels' in irrigation management.</p><p>The socio-technical approach to irrigation was chosen as the general theoretical framework of the study since it is able to handle both social and technical aspects. A number of concepts were used namely practice, coping strategies, institutionalisation and ideology. Empirical evidence was mainly gathered with respect to Mutambara, Chibuwe and Fuve Panganai irrigation schemes. The study was conducted between 1994 and 1996 and included at least two wet and dry seasons.</p><p>The empirical material demonstrated that water distribution was affected by the water source, the technology, social relations and commoditization of certain crops, which however, combined and recombined differently in each scheme it was concluded formal water allocation should not be emphasized ahead of how actually water is distributed in practice. Farmers were found to be at the very centre of field irrigation as shown by farmers' ability to cope with the demands of timing of irrigation, the amount of water to be applied and the actual application of water in the fields. Apart from the biophysical conditions of the fields, farmer's face challenges in the social realm, particularly socio-economic factors such as lack of draught power and related financial resources to adequately prepare lands for irrigation. There was also a discussion of the causes of the discrepancy between farmers and government officials in relation to operational aspects of irrigation management. These included institutionalization highlighting that certain practices were largely a result of routines having been established and ideology referring to the fact that interventions tend to be based on ideas about what ought to be done ideally, and not on practical realities on the ground.</p><p>The major conclusions of the study were that the state tended to administer rather than manage irrigation schemes. In contrast farmers in all the schemes easily engaged with operational aspects of irrigation management. Farmers, however, had their shortcomings particularly, in relation to factoring extra-local factors. The findings caution against hasty conclusion that farmer management was superior to government management without understanding the coefficients of the actual management in place. It is suggested that irrigation management should be seen as composed of management domains where some actors are more active in one area than others for a variety of reasons. This observation justifies a contingency approach to management originating from organizational theory which can be summarized thus: the beginning of management wisdom is the awareness that there is no one optimum management system.</p>
    Original languageEnglish
    QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
    Awarding Institution
    • Vincent, L.F., Promotor
    Award date15 Dec 1999
    Place of PublicationS.l.
    Print ISBNs9789058081452
    Publication statusPublished - 1999


    • irrigation
    • water management
    • water supply
    • farmers
    • small farms
    • zimbabwe

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