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Engineering and water governance interactions in smallholder irrigation schemes for improved water management.

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Smallholder Irrigation Schemes (SISs) in South Africa have reported below expectation performance, despite massive investments. A diagnosis of the SISs poor performance indicates prevalence of infrastructural deficiencies, as well as poor institutional setup. The government’s Irrigation Management Transfer (IMT) initiative compounds the problem. IMT placed irrigators in self-governance, which inadvertently made irrigators carry the burden of scheme Operation and Maintenance (O&M) costs. This study sought to investigate and evaluate how technical design principles i.e., technical aspect of irrigation design, interact with irrigation water governance for SISs in KwaZulu-Natal Province. The study hypothesized that the existing current water control infrastructure does relate to the water governance frameworks in the selected study sites. The study was carried out in Tugela Ferry Irrigation Scheme (TFIS) and Mooi-River Irrigation Scheme (MRIS). An infrastructure condition assessment was carried out followed by a root cause analysis. Questionnaires were then administered to relevant stakeholders to rate the degree of identified causal factors. Key informants ranked how water governance and infrastructure aspects are related. The data was processed using a fuzzy theory approach. Finally, structured questionnaires were administered to irrigators to establish how water governance impacted on water adequacy for crop production. A binary logit regression model was employed to process the data. Assessments revealed the poor condition of the infrastructure, such as deep cracks in canals and missing latches on hydrants. The study revealed that TFIS had a strong institutional setups according to the Closeness Coefficients(𝐶𝐶𝑖 = 0.18), and clearly defined goals and objectives for the scheme operation. However, other governance aspects such as procedures (𝐶𝐶𝑇𝐹𝐼𝑆 = 0.17, 𝐶𝐶𝑀𝑅𝐼𝑆 = 0.16) were not strong. MRIS (𝐶𝐶𝑀𝑅𝐼𝑆 = 0.20) had a good standing on rules and regulations as compared to TFIS (𝐶𝐶𝑇𝐹𝐼𝑆 = 0.14). Eight water governance related statistically significant variables that influenced water adequacy were identified. The eight variables were irrigation scheme (𝑝 = 0.000), location of plot within the scheme (𝑝 = 0.008), training in water management (𝑝 = 0.012), satisfaction with irrigation schedule (𝑝 = 0.000), irrigation training (𝑝 = 0.085), farmer knowledge of governments aims in SIS (𝑝 = 0.012), availability of water licenses (𝑝 = 0.002), and water fees (𝑝 = 0.022). A descriptive analysis showed that 24% and 86% of the farmers in MRIS and TFIS respectively, had adequate water. The study concluded that the SISs lacked an O&M plan and the farmers were not willing to opt for collective action and iii cooperate in Water Users Association (WUAs) and Irrigation Management Committees (IMCs). Some of the water governance aspects were discordant with infrastructure characteristics and requirements, consequently, impacting on the water adequacy for the irrigators. Overall, the study proved the hypothesis that the water control infrastructure does not relate with the water governance framework. This study recommends that the stakeholders involved in SISs, i.e., government, extension workers, NGOs, should aid the irrigators in policy articulation. In addition, the WUA and IMCs should provide incentives to motivate farmers to actively participate in scheme O&M.


Masters Degree, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban.