Is IRRIGATION the answer?

Residents of southern Mozambique rely on a complex set of livelihood activities to be able to live in the arid, harsh climate of the region. The compensation package for resettlement intends to replace the lost land and forest resources with plots for irrigated agriculture. 

All along the banks of the Limpopo river, abandoned irrigation equipment can be seen, where old irrigation tubes are eaten by the sun and broken pumps are found covered in sand. These artefacts, now part of the landscape, are the result of decades of attempts to make irrigation work as a production model.  Most projects work for a short period of time, but the majority fail after a few seasons.  

Following suit, providing irrigated agriculture as compensation for resettlement has proved to be a fiasco. Each step of the way has encountered serious obstacles: securing and clearing land (Milgroom et al., 2014), maintaining infrastructure and developing a structure for and habit of collective irrigation.

Resettled people have lost access to their traditional livelihood activities and they have not been provided with a viable alternative.  Three years after resettlement, the second village resettled still doesn’t have an irrigated field. Eight years after resettlement the first village resettled is now finally producing their first harvest from the irrigated fields, after many failed attempts. An NGO (CEDES) is now paying for the diesel for the pump, and gave them the seeds to plant. They had had been instructed to produce tomatoes to sell, and now there is no market for them—many of them are rotting, or sold at extremely low prices.


This model is unsustainable. It is unclear whether this NGO will be able to subsidize the irrigated fields for all the resettled villages, and for how many years. When they stop paying for the diesel it is likely that the field will be abandoned like so many other failed irrigation projects. The only hope is that there will be enough follow-up to accompany the village in their transition towards communal management of the funds for diesel, and one or two motivated residents will be able to take charge. However, it is unlikely that the village residents make the effort to be self-sufficient if, as soon as one NGO goes, another comes to rescue them. Is this the proclaimed development that resettlement is meant to bring? But most importantly, can an irrigated field replace a complex web of mechanisms that have been used to cope with drought for decades?  It can certainly compliment it, but experience shows that it is not a reliable substitute.


Jessica Milgroom