Published on The Water Blog

Towards a new generation of irrigation investments

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Significant and responsible public and private investments in irrigation are vital for delivering on the 2030 Agenda  – from reducing poverty, improving food and nutrition security and boosting agricultural production, to strengthening rural livelihoods and managing land and water resources sustainably. 

Irrigation has made a major contribution to global agricultural production and food security over the past 50 years.  Currently, more than 40 percent of global agricultural products are produced on irrigated land, which constitutes close to 20 percent of the total global arable land. To meet the requirements of the world population, which is projected to be more than 9 billion people by 2050, food production needs to increase by 70 percent globally and by 100 percent in developing countries, and irrigation is expected to be a major contributor (FAO, 2012.  World Agriculture towards 2030/2050: the 2012 Revision. FAO, Rome).

Further development and improvement of global irrigation will have to meet multiple challenges and emerging needs, including increasing water access and competition among water users calling for more efficient and productive water use. Moreover, rapid agricultural restructuring and transformation requires more reliable, flexible and diversified water services.  The shift from the first generation “green revolution” to sustainable agriculture intensification highlights the importance of social and environmentally sustainable irrigation interventions. In addition to all these, climate change has brought and will bring more impacts, requiring the adoption of climate-smart irrigation principles (FAO.2018. Compendium on climate-smart irrigation: concepts, evidence and options for a climate-smart approach to improving the performance of irrigated cropping systems. FAO, Rome).

In view of the above, irrigation, as the biggest source of water usage – accounting for 70 percent of global freshwater withdrawal - needs balanced investments in infrastructure as well as in irrigation–related policies, institutions, water governance and management, to maximize desired benefits and to minimize unintended negative consequences on other resource users or ecosystem services. Evidence-informed good irrigation practices and innovations are also becoming fundamental for developing modern irrigation systems.

Numerous approaches and tools have been developed and practiced by various partners in recent years to improve irrigation practices, which could be disseminated and scaled up in future irrigation investments. In this context, the Guidelines on Irrigation Investment Projects launched this year by FAO, highlight experiences and lessons learned from global irrigation investment operations.

These Guidelines were produced by an inter-agency team, including irrigation specialists from FAO, the World Bank, IFAD, ICID, and independent experts.  It’s structured around three main parts:

Part 1, Trends, lessons and issues, provides a brief overview of the sector development trends and challenges, major lessons learned from investment operations in the last decade and key issues to be addressed in future irrigation investments.

Part 2, Processing Investment projects, discusses the key steps and phrases of a typical investment project cycle, suggests suitable innovative approaches and tools, and provides practical guidance on how to incorporate or apply them at each stage of the investment project cycle.

Part 3, Innovative approaches and tools provides a brief description of potential ways to achieve improved irrigation practices, including water governance, water accounting and auditing, irrigation modernization planning and design, ET-based water management, and selected methods for economic evaluation of irrigation investments.

The Guidelines are intended for national and international professionals involved in the preparation and implementation of irrigation investment operations.  They neither provide a substitution for any existing project operational manuals of financing institutions, nor offer in-depth technical details of approaches and innovations considered. These Guidelines are a practical reference that help navigate information about the emerging modern concepts and approaches, based on new technological and management options and tools that can be used in designing effective irrigation interventions. I invite you to read the Guidelines and share your thoughts with me by leaving a comment below! 


*The views expressed in this blog are those of the author alone. Publication does not imply endorsement of views by the World Bank.*


Rimma Dankova

Senior Adviser FAO Investment Centre

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