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FEATURE STORY September 14, 2020

Knowledge, Empowerment and Techonology – Supporting Micro-Scale Irrigation in Uganda


  • A new program in Uganda helps farmers improve crop production and adapt to climate change.
  • Smallholder farmers will benefit from financing, local expertise, and online and offline training.
  • Program has the potential to be transformational.

Agriculture is the lifeblood of Uganda’s economy. It employs 70% of the population and contributes a quarter of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). But while Uganda possesses abundant freshwater resources, a lack of water infrastructure and increasingly erratic rainfall due to climate change are just two of the challenges faced by its farmers.

“Increasing uncertainties in rainfall and the long, prolonged drought has led to high levels of food insecurity and malnutrition in our communities,” explains Alex Kisadha, Senior Agricultural Engineer in the Luuka District in Eastern Uganda.

Irrigation supplies water for crop production and means crops can grow all year round so farmers can grow more and different kinds of food to eat and to sell. It can help feed a growing population, provide employment opportunities for young people and support farmers adapting to a changing climate with more variable rainfall.

That is why the World Bank is supporting the Ministry of Agriculture and 40 local governments across Uganda through the Micro-scale Irrigation Program as part of  the Uganda Intergovernmental Fiscal Transfers Program for Results (UgIFT). The World Bank Board of Directors today approved $300 million in additional financing to the UgIFT to boost local governments (LGs) service delivery in education, health, water and environment, and micro irrigation, including in areas hosting large populations of refugees. The Micro-scale Irrigation Program will help farmers buy irrigation equipment at a lower cost, teach them how to use the irrigation equipment and when and how to water their crops. 

 A survey from CGAP (Consultative Group to Assist the Poor) revealed that smallholder farmers perceive weather to pose the greatest risk to their agricultural activities. Irrigation can help farmers deal with less predictable rainfall patterns caused by a changing climate: “We have climate change impacts so to mitigate them, we have to use irrigation,” says Sarah Namubiru, Senior Agriculture Officer in the Luwero District in the Central Region of Uganda. “And when we use irrigation, we shall increase production and productivity.”

This is one of the reasons why the government of Uganda is making irrigation a priority, with their goal of irrigating 1.5 million hectares of land within the next two decades a key pillar of the National Irrigation Strategy.

The Micro-scale Irrigation Program will contribute to making that vision a reality with a strong focus on three areas in particular:

Breaking Down Barriers

The Micro-scale Irrigation Program is led by the Department of Agricultural Infrastructure Mechanization and Water for Agricultural Production of the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry, and Fisheries (MAAIF). Photo credit: MAAIF

The program helps break down two of the biggest barriers to small-scale irrigation.

The first is financing. Although investing in micro-scale irrigation may yield benefits for farmers in the medium and long-term, farmers may require financial support in the short-term. Government subsidies reduce the cost of equipment and help farmers take the first steps toward growing more, diversifying their crops and selling their products. The government pays between 25% and 75% of farmers’ irrigation equipment, with the farmer paying the remaining portion. This could include a pump to take water from a nearby stream or a hose to distribute the water in the plot. The Program is expected to benefit mainly smallholder farmers, as support is capped to one hectare per farmer.

The second is knowledge. The program funds awareness-raising activities that help farmers understand how irrigation can improve productivity and help them earn a decent income.  Once they receive new equipment, farmers will be trained on how to use and maintain the irrigation equipment as well as when and how to water their crops.

Empowering Leadership at the Field Level and Local Level

The Program is run by the District. The Micro-scale Irrigation Program is part of Uganda’s National Irrigation Policy. This Policy aims to create 1.5 million hectares of irrigated land by the year 2040. Photo Credit: MAAIF

The Micro-scale Irrigation Program puts decision-making power directly in the hands of smallholder farmers, who apply for the Program, choose the preferred irrigation technology, provide co-payment, and own the irrigation equipment as well as the responsibility for its operation and maintenance. Providing the farmers with the resources they need to increase food production and improve their livelihoods can help unleash their potential.  

Farmers will work closely with local institutions, harnessing their context-specific expertise.  This decentralized approach is particularly important as it allows for consistent in-person dialogue which is not possible without locally-based staff. Farmers will benefit from visits from district officials who can help explain the options available to them and advise on the most appropriate irrigation technology for the local conditions and needs. These could include solar pumps, sprinklers and drip systems, and soil, water and nutrient monitoring tools. Farmer field schools will be established and organized by local bodies.

Eng. Ronald Kato Kayizzi, Acting Commissioner for the Department of Agricultural Infrastructure Mechanization  and  Water for Agricultural Production of the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry, and Fisheries, says such local leadership is an essential component of the Micro-scale Irrigation Program: “There is on-going support to District Local Governments to recruit and skill Agricultural Engineers to improve service delivery as well as building the smallholder farmers’ resilience and capacity to cope with environmental shocks. The Agricultural Engineers being part of the core frontline extension staff plays a critical role in bridging the gaps between the core extension services staff and farmers, in addition to improving the technical assistance linkages needed between the equipment suppliers, other private sector actors and farmers. “

Because one-third of households in Uganda are female-headed, women are specifically targeted and engaged in all elements of capacity-building and training, and special considerations are made to ensure they play a central role.  

Utilizing Digital Technologies

The Micro-scale Irrigation Program supports farmers to purchase and use individual irrigation equipment. The Program supports farmers in purchasing the irrigation equipment through a matching grant scheme, in which the cost of the equipment is co-financed by the farmer and the government. Photo credit: MAAIF

The COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic struck as this program was being developed, which meant training had to be repurposed and reconfigured for online delivery. While the delivery method and platform changed, the objective of the training remained the same – to help local staff such as engineers or extension practitioners support farmers in accessing the program and using their equipment in the most effective ways possible. Six online modules cover everything from how irrigation extends the growing season to how to prepare for farm visits.

An App has been developed for use by local government staff to register farmers, record farm visits, track applications and record the installation of equipment. The IrriTrack app helps local staff support farmers and is linked to a national Management Information System to help monitor and evaluate progress. It also helps ensure a consistency of approach, even when working with a diverse range of local actors.

Ann Bulya, Agriculture Officer in Kayunga District of Central Uganda, believes the program has the potential to be transformational: “The farmers can achieve their dream of transforming subsistence farming into market-oriented farming by achieving irrigated agriculture through the micro-scale irrigation system, which otherwise they would not be able to access. This will help them improve productivity, the quality of produce as well as production and therefore increase farmer income and better their livelihoods at large.”


Learn More about the Program: 


Resources from the Water GP’s multi-donor Trust Fund the Global Water Security & Sanitation Partnership (GWSP) are helping to develop the field-level leadership element of the program