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Too big to handle, too important to abandon: Reforming Sudan’s Gezira scheme

journal contribution
submitted on 2023-10-09, 07:58 and posted on 2023-10-15, 10:32 authored by Anna Goelnitz, Mohammad Al-Saidi

Participatory irrigation management (PIM) has been broadly promoted by public administrators and donor organizations. The reasons for this push include performance failures of state-controlled irrigation schemes and the need to improve irrigation productivity for meeting rising food demands. A popular reform for increasing participation and ownership is represented by Irrigation Management Transfers (IMTs). IMTs mean replacing the government with the civil society (farmers) in irrigation management, and they go beyond working with the public sector as in PIM. These widely implemented reforms produced mixed experiences. Besides, the evaluation of IMT cases is reliant on scarce quantitative data. IMTs are also difficult to replicate due to methodological issues. However, qualitative research can engage with stakeholders’ perceptions and narratives, especially the most relevant target group, namely farmers. We provide in this study stakeholders’ opinions and attitudes towards several waves of IMT reforms in the Gezira scheme in Sudan. This mega-scheme is of high developmental and socio-cultural importance for the country ever since the independence from the British Empire. Using a perception survey and in-depth interviews with key informants, we illustrate the failure legacies to reform the Gezira scheme by enhancing farmers’ participation through Water User Associations (WUAs). While both farmers and experts have suggested a poor implementation, inadequate farmers’ involvement and unclear objectives of the reforms, the reforms’ recurrent failures are explained within complex historic and political contexts. There are long-standing legacies of development missteps of the Gezira scheme, with no clear and ultimate triggers of performance deterioration. Besides, splits in professional cultures, power imbalances, political instrumentalization (of farmers) and the lack of farmers’ awareness or capacities are salient factors for understanding the poor state of the Gezira scheme. It is difficult for stand-alone irrigation management reforms to be successful. Such reforms need to be embedded within a comprehensive policy package that prioritizes irrigation governance and proposes sound regulations based on clear roles, consensus-making and prior consultation.

Other Information

Published in: Agricultural Water Management
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  • English



Publication Year

  • 2020

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This Item is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

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  • Qatar University
  • College of Arts and Sciences - QU
  • Center for Sustainable Development - QU

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