Irrigation plays a vital role in the productivity of the agricultural sector and food security stability. Access to irrigation increases agricultural production and productivity, allowing farmers to expand the number of planting and harvesting cycles on the same plot, within the same agricultural year. This increase in agricultural production translates into greater food availability at the local and/or national level. Likewise, increased food production translates into higher income to farmers, either through sales or home-consumption1, generating greater food access among rural households.
Irrigation is also a “climate-smart agriculture” practice. Specifically, reducing farmers’ dependence on precipitation cycles for agricultural production diminishes vulnerability to climate change. This affects food production stability. In general, irrigation is a tool that increases rural households’ food security through greater availability, access, and stability of food.
Recognizing the benefits of irrigation, since the mid-90s, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) has supported the efforts of the Plurinational State of Bolivia to expand the area under irrigation and to improve the efficiency and sustainability of water resources. This is accomplished through public investments for the construction and rehabilitation of community irrigation systems. An example of this effort is the national irrigation program with a watershed approach (PRONAREC).
The program aims at boosting income and productivity of small farmers by increasing the area with irrigation and improving the efficiency in the use of water. The program has three components:
1. Construction and rehabilitation of community-based irrigation systems: development of minor irrigation works such as small dams and irrigation channels.
2. Technical assistance: training farmers on agricultural practices, access to markets, adequate use of natural resources, as well as the management and governance of community irrigation systems.
3. Watershed management and governance: training producers in the efficient use of water resources and implementing actions aimed at the conservation of water resources (e.g., reforestation).
As part of PRONAREC’s execution, a rigorous impact evaluation has been designed and implemented, focused on identifying the causal effects of the program by comparing a group of beneficiaries with a control group. Although program beneficiaries are still in the learning process, since the evaluation was conducted approximately two agricultural years under fully functional irrigation systems, the results demonstrate the effectiveness of PRONAREC on four main fronts: technological change, marketing, income, and management/governance of the irrigation system.
Technological change: program beneficiaries have a higher probability of adopting on-farm irrigation (24%), increased the area equipped with irrigation (35-45%), and augmented irrigation investments in their own plots, particularly on equipment and maintenance (160%). In addition, they have a higher probability of using improved or certified seeds (80-90%), and agricultural machinery (7-19%), including tractors (11-20%). In general, we see that the technological change at the community-level, driven by investments in public irrigation infrastructure, has triggered a private technological change among producers. This result is important as private on-farm investments were not financed by the program.
Marketing: the results from the evaluation indicate that the program has strengthened farmers’ access to markets (20-30%). The agricultural transformation process was reinforced by the technical assistance provided to program beneficiaries on marketing practices; in order to strengthen farmers’ links to markets.
Income: the intervention had a significant impact on the value of agricultural production of beneficiary farmers, which increased between US $ 1,250 to US $ 1,550, representing an increase of 60-70%. In addition, a boost on total household income is also observed (35-45%), which is mainly derived from agricultural sales.
Management and Governance: there is evidence that PRONAREC has improved the management and governance of community irrigation systems. First, we find an increase in the probability that water users’ associations are formalized (12-15%) as well as in the participation of farmers in the associations (5%). Second, we see an improvement in the structure and organization of irrigation systems governed by water users’ associations. Specifically, there is a higher likelihood that beneficiary associations count with water management statues and regulations (50%), norms for irrigation shifts (57%), and technical manuals for the operation and maintenance of the systems (42%).
This evaluation’s key learning point is that financing community irrigation infrastructure and technical assistance can trigger a process of modernization and technological change. These results suggest that community irrigation systems can produce a virtuous cycle to improve agricultural productivity, food security, and management/governance of natural resources.
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