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Evaluation of institutional integration, farmer participation and performance in smallholder irrigation schemes in KwaZulu-Natal Province, South Africa.

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Smallholder irrigation schemes (SIS) are pivotal in sustaining livelihoods and creating employment in rural communities of South Africa. The South African govern ment has made efforts to rehabilitate and revitalize such schemes; however, current realities of poor scheme performance, low farmer participation and dilapidated infrastructure raise questions about providing the irrigation improvements. SIS beneficiaries are usually low-income farmers faced with various production constraints, whose success rests on the schemes’ institutional environments. The government adopted the Irrigation Management Transfer to foster collective responsibility and rule compliance and to improve the performance and to decentralize the management of SIS. However, in many cases, the lack of awareness of formal institutions and stakeholder involvement hinders the effective management of the schemes. Given the shortcomings of the SIS, this study evaluates institutional integration, farmer participation and SIS’ water-user performance. The study's specific objectives were to assess the institutional integration in the SIS governance in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) Province, South Africa; to assess the determinants of the household-level perceptions of scheme governance; to evaluate the determinants of farmer’s participation in the management of SIS and lastly; to estimate water-use performance in SIS The study adopted qualitative and quantitative techniques to address the objectives. Data were collected from 341 households across four SIS in KZN. Focus group discussions and key informant interviews were held to obtain more information on scheme governance. The chosen schemes have different features such as institutional arrangements, farmer composition, and production challenges, and are representative of the average SIS in South Africa. The study evaluated the horizontal and vertical institutional integration of water governance in SIS Stakeholder interactions in the schemes were assessed through Exploratory Social Network Analysis to identify, categorize, and investigate stakeholder challenges. The Management Transition Framework, an interdisciplinary framework for evaluating water systems, management processes and multi-level governance regimes, was adopted to analyse institutional integration. Considering that good governance is a prerequisite for the effective management of common-use resources, the determinants of perceptions of governance were evaluated using the multiple regression model. Principal Components Analysis, Structural Equation Modelling, and multiple regression were used to generate participation in management indices, evaluate the relationship between management constructs and evaluate the determinants of water-users’ participation in SIS management, respectively. Furthermore, the study assessed the performance of water-users across the four SIS, given their different institutional arrangements. Technical Efficiency was used as a proxy for water-user performance and was measured using Cobb-Douglas and Trans-log production functions. A Stochastic Meta-Frontier Analysis (SMFA) method was employed to measure the overall efficiency of water-users across schemes and determine technical gap ratios. In assessing institutional integration in SIS governance, the study found that information asymmetries hindered horizontal integration. Simultaneously, the fiscal and capacity challenges, low accountability, and transparency amongst stakeholders led to the lack of vertical integration. The results indicate a lack of integration in SIS governance. Empirical results show that farmers that are satisfied with the informal institutions, being the rules and norms set locally to govern the scheme farmers, value the involvement of the traditional authorities in scheme management, including their contribution in rule enforcement. Age, agricultural training, water adequacy, participation in scheme activities, psychological capital and land tenure have a positive effect on perceptions of governance. The study found that irrigators who participated in the regulation and control of SIS also participate in information sharing activities. Furthermore, participation in SIS management is composed of four management constructs that have different determinants. The study found that governance perceptions, land tenure security, credit access, and co-operative membership are determinants of participation in the management of SIS. In evaluating water-user performance, the SMFA results yielded an overall average meta-efficiency of 0.85, which is relatively high. The efficiency model results showed that perceptions of governance, farmer psychological capital, land tenure security, credit access, co-operative membership, and gender significantly affect water-users’ performance. The study recommended the need for stakeholders to understand existing institutions and their roles, i.e., The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Department of Water and Sanitation, extension officers. Synergies and improved coordination among institutions are prerequisites for effective governance. Additionally, transparency and accountability should be improved to attain vertical integration. Awareness of formal institutions and stakeholder involvement should be encouraged to foster farmer participation in SIS management. Improved stakeholder engagement and inclusion of informal institutions in policy formulation can achieve integration and better water management in the schemes. Farmers should receive and participate in agricultural and irrigation training to increase their participation in irrigation scheme management, which can foster the sustainable use of water. Interventions should strengthen institutions and focus on the empowerment of farmers through relevant training, land tenure security, and credit access. Furthermore, improved water supply adequacy and its availability for use in the schemes should enhance its productivity.


Doctoral Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg.