Peru needs to modernize its irrigation systems to ensure competitive, sustainable agriculture

September 17, 2013


Highland farmers in Peru check their irrigation equipment and water systems.

Ministry of Agriculture of Peru (MINAG) – Irrigation Sub-sector Program - PSI Sierra

  • According to a World Bank study, Peru needs to strengthen the institutional framework associated with the country’s irrigation systems to ensure that the institutions responsible can fulfill their functions.
  • A support system should be established to help water users’ organizations (WUOs) address their real needs.
  • There is considerable potential for modernizing irrigation infrastructure, both at the farm level and with respect to withdrawal and distribution systems; however, this will require increased planning of public investments and promotion of private investment.

Irrigation in Peru is crucial for stimulating the economy, reducing poverty and increasing food security. The sustainable use of water enables many families in rural areas, where more than half of the population lives in poverty, to engage in subsistence agriculture.

In addition, irrigation is essential for the sustainable management of water resources and adaptation to climate change: it accounts for approximately 80% of water usage and makes crops more resistant to droughts.

Despite these advantages, irrigation in Peru still faces many technical, institutional and financial constraints. María del Castillo, advisor to the Ministry of Agriculture, explains that “some farmers do not include water in their production costs; they do not know exactly how much water they use or how many liters per second they should use for watering. This lack of knowledge may cause many of their crops to die.”

Another disadvantage is the limited guidance that WUOs receive. According to Marie-Laurie Lajaunie, a World Bank expert in water and irrigation management: “Compared with the resources the government has allocated to improving and expanding irrigation, the efforts invested in improving technical and management capabilities of users and their organizations have been quite modest and sporadic.”

" The emphasis should be on withdrawing and distributing water resources. According to law, this is the responsibility of the water users’ organizations. These organizations need training so that they can assume full responsibility for water control. "

Jorge Zuñiga Morgan

Executive director of the Ministry of Agriculture’s Irrigation Sub-sectoral Program.

Irrigation in Peru

A group of experts met in Lima to analyze the situation of irrigation in the country and to evaluate the results of the study The future of irrigation in Peru (s). The ultimate goal is to design policies that can benefit thousands of rural residents while at the same time safeguarding one of their most valuable resources: water. According to the study, Peru currently has nine major types of irrigation systems, which can grouped in three agro climatic zones in the country. Having a variety of systems hinders the implementation of a single solution to the country’s irrigation problems.

This diversity makes it necessary to develop flexible solutions that take local characteristics into account.  The government and the WUOs in the field should work together to improve irrigation systems and control of the country’s water resources.

“The emphasis should be on withdrawing and distributing water resources.  According to law, this is the responsibility of the water users’ organizations. These organizations need training so that they can assume full responsibility for water control,” says Jorge Zuñiga Morgan, executive director of the Ministry of Agriculture’s Irrigation Sub-sectoral Program.

The water experts gathered in Lima in early September recommended the following:

  • Take advantage of the reform that the Ministry of Agriculture is implementing to strengthen its role in the sector and to fill institutional gaps with respect to the training and supervision of WUOs. This should be accompanied by a national irrigation and drainage strategy.
  • Provide advice and technical assistance to address the real needs of these organizations and provide them with a legal framework that facilitates resource management.
  • Establish a technical center for training in irrigation and drainage systems to serve all organizations involved, including the WUOs and the government.
  • Develop projects to improve irrigation systems, financed by a national fund that promotes public-private co-financing.

Experiences in other countries

Other countries have implemented successful experiences in this area. In Chile, for example, the government has introduced several laws to stimulate private investment, which facilitates the growth and modernization of the water resource sector. Over the past 13 years, private investments have increased from US$ 30 million to US$ 82 million.

In Argentina, the 1994 Constitution transferred water control to the provinces. This enabled provincial and municipal governments to administer natural resources such as water.

In that country, Mendoza Province has made noteworthy advances in irrigation. Irrigation services and much of the investment in infrastructure are covered by user fees, without the need for support from the provincial government. However, much of the initial financing to achieve the sustainability of these projects was made with support from international cooperation agencies.

 “The tariff system should be simple and in the hands of users. They should administer the part that corresponds to them and verify that the system works. This allows for increased transparency and flexibility in the distribution of water,” says Juan Pablo Yapura, cabinet chief and coordinator of Argentina’s 2020 Water Plan.