Project Overview

Increasing food production through irrigation in the dry season improves livelihoods. Entrepreneurs and farmers in Africa are already using groundwater, river or stream pumping, lowland/inland valley rice water capture systems and private small reservoirs and ponds in emerging irrigation systems.

The Innovation Lab for Small Scale Irrigation (ILSSI) is working in Ghana, Ethiopia, and Tanzania, where small scale irrigation can contribute to national development goals.

The aim of ILSSI is to identify ways of creating opportunities for farmers and other actors across scales. Researchers, with farmers and extension workers, are piloting systems to improve water lifting, conveyance and field distribution. They are also examining mechanisms to improve access to small scale irrigation technologies for both women and men. The project considers scaling technologies and practices with a focus on both the market and environmental sustainability.


Transitioning from subsistence, rainfed systems to commercial irrigation requires enhancing the efficiency of water management and expanding and increasing the use of best-bet technologies. Small scale irrigation technologies must be profitable for farmers and investors and must fit the context of the farm and its biophysical environment as well as the market.  When expanding and increasing the use of irrigation, whether using small, medium or large scale systems, consideration of the practical and sustainable limits of the market and the environment is crucial.

How ILSSI is contributing to solutions

The project team are working on a number of interrelated components to meet these challenges:

  • Piloting; small-scale irrigation technologies that test combinations of water sources (shallow ground and surface water), water extraction technologies (motorized pumps, rope and washer, solar pumps and pulleys), appropriate water application methods (overhead, drip, furrow), and irrigation scheduling tools.
  • Generating biophysical and socio-economic data to assess opportunities and constraints to scaling these technologies and approaches.
  • Identifying potential business models to access small-scale irrigation for men, women and youth.
  • Exploring options for irrigating fodder that supports enhanced livestock production.
  • Ensuring the environmental and economic sustainability of irrigation interventions from farm to watershed scale through an integrated, process-oriented modeling suite IDSS, which includes SWAT, APEX and FARMSIM.
  • Identifying potential pathways leading from irrigation to improved nutrition.

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