Assessing the performance of smallholder irrigation and deriving best management practices in South Africa
University of KwaZulu-Natal, Bioresources Engineering, School of Engineering, Scottsville, Pietermaritzburg, South Africa; University of KwaZulu-Natal, Agricultural Economics and Farmer Support Group, Scottsville, Pietermaritzburg, South Africa
The performance of smallholder irrigation schemes is multidimensional and can be looked at from different perspectives. This study assessed the technical performance of the Mooi River irrigation scheme (MRIS) to derive a comprehensive set of best management practices (BMPs). This was done acknowledging that the farmer is now the water manager, in line with participatory irrigation management (PIM) and irrigation management transfer (IMT) concepts. Five performance indicators related to water supply and delivery and agricultural performance were assessed through the field measurement method during spring and summer of the 2010/2011 season. Farmers were interviewed through a questionnaire to gather suggestions on ways to improve the performance of their scheme. Their responses helped in the selection of the BMPs for the scheme which were then ranked using the analytic hierarchy process (AHP). The results show a scheme average conveyance efficiency of 86.4%, maximum dependability of irrigation interval between water applications of 2.57 in spring and the scheme relative irrigation supply of 1.48. Agricultural performance indicators-output per unit irrigation supply and water productivity (ET)-were found to be 0.64 and 5.37kgm-3, respectively. Irrigation scheduling was the most preferred BMP by the farmers, while volumetric measurement of irrigation water used by each block was the least preferred. This study concludes that water management in smallholder schemes is poor, thus affecting performance of these schemes, and that farmers are aware of the problems and possible solutions to perennial problems hindering performance in smallholder schemes. The study recommends deepening farmers' participation in policy formulation and derivation of BMPs. © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.