Engineering change? The idea of ‘the scheme’ in African irrigation

Harrison, Elizabeth (2018) Engineering change? The idea of ‘the scheme’ in African irrigation. World Development, 111. pp. 246-255. ISSN 0305-750X

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Despite a growing recognition of the significance of farmer-led irrigation, externally engineered and induced schemes remain a popular model for irrigation development in sub-Saharan Africa. These have had a mixed record, and many have been widely critiqued. Nonetheless, schemes that were initiated under colonialism have been rehabilitated and new schemes are still being developed. This paper interrogates the continuing attraction of this model for irrigation, asking how and why it persists. Is the fact that engineering is so central to irrigation schemes another example of ‘high modernism’, as Scott might argue? Analysis of the history and current policy-making context of a new irrigation scheme in Malawi suggests a picture that is more complex, in which practical engineering considerations combine with narratives of modernisation and political imperatives to create momentum and lock-in. Understanding this, and why lessons from the past inadequately shape future-directed planning requires interrogation of the positionality of those involved, including state, donors and private sector actors and the political, economic and discursive fields in which they operate.

Item Type: Article
Keywords: Irrigation Schemes Development Africa Malawi
Schools and Departments: School of Global Studies > Anthropology
School of Global Studies > International Development
Research Centres and Groups: Sussex Centre for Migration Research
Subjects: J Political Science > JQ Political institutions and public administration (Asia, Africa, Australia, Pacific Area, etc.) > JQ1870 Africa
Depositing User: Elizabeth Harrison
Date Deposited: 03 Aug 2018 14:08
Last Modified: 03 Aug 2018 14:08

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Project NameSussex Project NumberFunderFunder Ref
Innovations to Promote Growth among Small-scale Irrigators in Africa: An Ethnographic and Knowledge-Exchange ApproachG0983ESRC-ECONOMIC & SOCIAL RESEARCH COUNCILES/J009415/1