Towards sustainable irrigation and drainage through capacity building

Research output: Contribution to conferenceConference paperAcademic


Capacity building is not something new, it has been a leading issue in development for many years. But despite all the commotion, capacity building remains a concept of enormous generality and vagueness. The calls for capacity building in irrigated agriculture suffer from these same vague generalities. The result is confusion over what capacity, and a lack of it, actually means and confusion over what course of action is needed to provide it. This paper attempts to define more clearly what capacity building means for irrigated agriculture by reviewing the conceptual thinking of social scientists over the past decade and case studies that provide good examples of capacity development in irrigation and drainage. Although a simple definition is unlikely, one principle that is important to understanding what capacity building means is very clear both from the literature and from the practical examples, the methods used to build capacity are essential to its success. It is the reason why many people now use the term capacity development rather than capacity building as it transfers the emphasis from the end result to the process of achieving it. This is the connection between the more `concrete¿ aspects of capacity building such as individual training, establishing irrigation organisations and changing the legal system etc and the less tangible aspects that suggest it can only be done in response to internal initiatives with local ownership and leadership over a flexible time frame. The way in which donor aid and technical cooperation contribute to this process thus become critical issues. A simple definition may not be achievable but it is possible to make a clear statement about the territory of capacity development. For this a framework is proposed that bridges the gap between the conceptual thinking of social science and the activities of a well-functioning water sector. This may also be a useful tool for pin-pointing areas that need attention, for facilitating discussions between partners in development so there is clarity of purpose on areas of constraint and what needs to be done and for locating points of entry for donor support. The case studies help to refine the meaning of capacity development from a practical perspective and demonstrate how donors and technical cooperation can contribute positively. Elements are drawn from these experiences to support the development of a broader national strategy. Recommendations are made for the production of guidelines on capacity development that are specific to irrigated agriculture. A consultation process is suggested to obtain more information on a range of recent capacity development initiatives, formulate the contents of guidelines to reflect the issues raised by the proposed framework and examine ways of managing this new knowledge to improve its accessibility, particularly to developing countries.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2003


  • irrigation
  • drainage
  • development projects
  • development aid
  • international cooperation

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