The case for distributed irrigation as a development priority in sub-Saharan Africa

Distributed irrigation systems are those in which the water access (via pump or human power), distribution (via furrow, watering can, sprinkler, drip lines, etc.), and use all occur at or near the same location. Distributed systems are typically privately owned and managed by individuals or groups, in contrast to centralized irrigation systems, which tend to be publicly operated and involve large water extractions and distribution over significant distances for use by scores of farmers. Here we draw on a growing body of evidence on smallholder farmers, distributed irrigation systems, and land and water resource availability across sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) to show how investments in distributed smallholder irrigation technologies might be used to (i) use the water sources of SSA more productively, (ii) improve nutritional outcomes and rural development throughout SSA, and (iii) narrow the income disparities that permit widespread hunger to persist despite aggregate economic advancement.