Large, centralized irrigation schemes, often built around big water storage dams, were a major component of the Green Revolution that helped boost food production and reduce famine risks for millions of people, especially in Asia. But they have often proven environmentally destructive and, especially in Africa, expensive.
By contrast, decentralized irrigation – small individual systems designed to serve a single or community farm – can often be better tailored to local conditions, purchased and operated by private farmers, and avoid the environmental and social downsides of big dam-and-canal systems.
The emergence and spread of affordable pumps and other technologies that enable farmers to irrigate their small plots has begun to boost harvests and family incomes in some of the world’s deepest pockets of hunger, including parts of sub-Saharan Africa.
For millions of poor farm families in sub-Saharan Africa, access to water makes the difference between hunger and a full belly, between a well-nourished child and one stunted by malnutrition, and between a productive livelihood or one mired in poverty.