Pamela Katic/IWMI

Giving latecomers a head start

It is widely believed that if more women had access to irrigated lands, societies would be able to reduce poverty considerably. Identifying barriers that inhibit women and youth’s involvement and access to benefits from irrigation in small, medium and large scale schemes is one pathway to progress in closing the gender gap in agriculture.

Through a comparative analysis of irrigation systems and their varying contribution to rural livelihoods, specifically to gender and generational equity, a WLE project, Giving Latecomers a Head Start, aims to identify potential investable solutions in irrigation that can be scaled up and out. This together with potential changes in policy and skill enhancement activities that would provide positive incentives for the sustainable management of ecosystems and the crucial services they underpin for development could ideally give women and youth a ‘head start.’

Partners and relevant stakeholders of the project recently met in Bolgatanga, Ghana from February 25-26 at an inception workshop to discuss why existing investments in irrigation have had such limited impact on improving livelihoods, on including women in decision making, and in effectively retaining ecosystem services. In accordance with the WLE’s gender strategy, the project focuses on research activities that provide opportunities for women to become better decision makers by enhancing their capacity to effectively manage their resources to reduce degradation and to improve their livelihoods. This would be done acknowledging the role of men as significant facilitators and levers of change in the process.

Prior to the workshop, project partners visited potential project activity sites, including small-scale informal irrigation sites in Zanlerigu in Nabdam district (shallow groundwater irrigation) and Googo and Kubori in Bawku West district (river pumping) and the large-scale irrigation scheme of Tono in the Kasena/Nakana District.

Initial observations from these visits showed that

  • informal schemes performed better than the formal schemes: the Tono irrigation dam was virtually dry due to lack of rains, which inhibited any farming.
  • men and male youth were involved in irrigation farming at all sites visited.
  • unavailability of land, the high cost of purchasing and maintaining pumps, and the laborious nature of existing irrigation technologies keep many women from farming during the dry season.
  • women are mainly involved in the harvesting and marketing of the vegetables grown in their husbands’ fields.

Undoubtedly there are numerous challenges impeding women’s access to irrigated land and resources in the White Volta Basin, from their roles in the various schemes to economic and cultural constraints. The project will work to identify irrigation investments and interventions that can increase women’s access to irrigated lands and their benefits from dry season farming. The project will take into account that such farming practices must also preserve the ecosystem services upon which farmers’ livelihoods depend.