Bruce Lankford

Systems & people-centred water and irrigation

Irrigationalism and irrigationism

Although my own work on this has been limited to a message sent to an e-conference on irrigation in Sub-Saharan Africa in 2003, I was very fortunate to have supervised a PhD student David Blake on his work on irrigation in Thailand.

The message to the e-conference can be seen here – the first two paragraphs from it are pasted here:

I’d like to post a few observations that consider how we tackle irrigation in Sub-Sahara Africa. This addresses our capacity within the irrigation profession to transcend our certainty of what irrigation is and what it provides that then leads us to develop solutions that are either overly irrigation-focussed or not irrigation-focussed enough. This narrow base of certainty also allows us to be rather easily knocked from our perches – thus the current vacuum in competent engineering so that it is given equal validity to non-technical solutions. To me, the distinction is not between irrigationism and rainfedism – though that exists, but between irrigationism and irrigationality. (Humour me for a moment).

Irrigationism, I would argue is a rather narrow, highly ‘fixed’ way of going about improving irrigation with irrigation-based production and individual irrigation systems at its heart. On the other hand, irrigationality is, to me, a more situation-cogniscant, conditional, cautious method of progressing towards irrigation-based livelihoods situated within complex river basins and economies. With the former, irrigationists pursuing irrigationism, are on safe and ‘more normal’ irrigation territory less able to recognise wider contexts and systems and less likely to pursue long-term, highly technocentric problem-solving. By contrast, irrigationality is quite happy with focussing on non-irrigation issues as a means to generate interest in irrigation, as it is with delving deeply into irrigation-focussed technical issues to resolve poor performance or in questioning fundamental theories on which irrigation is assessed (e.g. on efficiency/productivity).

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