The impact of smallholder irrigation and water security on household welfare : the case of Tugela Ferry irrigation scheme in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.
Smallholder irrigation has been promoted across the developing world as a means of poverty reduction and rural development. The potential of smallholder irrigated agriculture in alleviating rural poverty has led the South African government to prioritise and invest in irrigation establishment, rehabilitation and revitalisation. However, the extent to which smallholder irrigation has been able to reduce poverty in the rural areas of South Africa is not well understood. This study, therefore, aimed to contribute to smallholder irrigation literature in two ways. The first objective of this study was to conduct an in-depth impact evaluation of the Tugela Ferry smallholder irrigation scheme on household welfare using the treatment effect and propensity score matching (PSM) methods. Secondly, the study sought to investigate the determinants of household water security, and how the level of water security subsequently affects the farmers’ household welfare. A stratified random sampling technique was used to obtain a sample of 186 irrigators and 70 non-irrigators in the Tugela Ferry area. Descriptive analysis highlighted that although the demographic characteristics of the farmers were not significantly different, the irrigators were characterized by better welfare indicators compared to non-irrigators. The Foster Greer Thorbecke (FGT) poverty indices also indicated that poverty incidence was more pronounced among non-irrigators than among irrigators. The results from the econometric models indicated that irrigation access plays an important role in the welfare of rural households, with irrigators consuming about R2,000 per adult equivalent per year more than the non-irrigators. While irrigation access is important, this study concluded that the poverty reduction effectiveness of smallholder irrigation can further be enhanced by ensuring that the irrigators are water secure. Factors such as age, off-farm income, duration of scheme membership, occurrence of conflicts, method of pumping water, location in the scheme and access to agricultural training influenced household water security. The study recommends that investments in smallholder irrigation should continue for poverty reduction, and that priority should be in ensuring water security not just irrigation participation. The study also recommends the introduction of small motorised pumps among the gravity-reliant irrigators and farmer training on water conservation techniques to improve the farmers’ water security in the smallholder irrigation schemes. Although the study highlighted how perceptions of irrigators could be used to generate the water security index, the water security concept needs further investigation.
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