Participatory research to identify irrigation innovations for horticulture farmers in Uganda


Talk begins at 52:00 in this conference video from Livestream

In a 15-minute TED-style presentation, Kate Scow of UC Davis introduces her irrigation work in eastern Uganda and discusses challenges to participatory research, including tensions between researchers, advocates, experts, and farmers.

She introduces a group of women farmers in eastern Uganda who have targeted vegetable production to improve food security and increase their household incomes. Access to land and land tenure is one of the women's constraints for growing vegetables. Relying on rainfed agriculture to grow vegetables is risky, as rainfall patterns shift and the climate changes. Furthermore using only rainfed agriculture also means the women would miss out on lucrative market opportunities, as vegetable prices soar in the dry season — when irrigation is necessary to grow a vegetable crop.

Irrigation seems like a solution, but it's not common in Uganda (one estimate is that 3% of agricultural land is irrigated). Existing knowledge about irrigation is scarce, and irrigation also requires up-front investment and group mobilization. Irrigation interventions are complex, frequently top-down, and often narrow in focus because they are considered highly technical. Irrigation interventions also often fail, stemming in part because irrigation must be considered in the broader context in relation to the whole farm, household, social norms, community governance, financial investment, land rights, etc. So developing cost-effective and relevant irrigation systems requires an interdisciplinary research approach. 

In the talk, Scow tells two stories of challenges her research project has faced. The first story focuses on an unforeseen land tenure problem that was addressed by technology change. The second story examines a tension between the goals of farmers and researchers that jeopardized an experiment's success. 

This talk was presented at the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals Conference: Research to Action on African Continent, held at the University of California, Davis, in January 2017.

Value Chain

Soil and irrigation