In Africa, agriculture forms the backbone of most of the continent’s economies, providing about 60% of all employment [1
]. During the last decade, per capita agricultural production has not kept pace with population growth [3
]. Irrigation is a very old practice, dating back to the earliest civilizations of humankind. It served as one of the key drivers behind growth in agricultural productivity, increasing household income and alleviation of rural poverty, thereby highlighting the various ways that irrigation can impact poverty [5
].To meet food requirements by 2020, the Food and Agriculture Organization for United Nations (FAO) [8
] estimated that food production from irrigated areas will need to increase from 35% in 1995 to 45% in 2020. This indicates that access to water for irrigation will become an issue of global concern and competition in the future, especially in the arid and semi-arid regions of the world.
Irrigation use in Ethiopia dates back several centuries, and continues to be an integral part of Ethiopian agriculture. In Ethiopia, modern irrigation began in the 1950s through private and government-owned schemes in the middle Awash Valley where big sugar, fruit and cotton state farms are found [1
]. In Ethiopia, irrigation development is a priority for agricultural transformation, but poor practices of irrigation management discourage efforts to improve livelihoods, and expose people and the environment to risks [2
]. Irrigation projects have been failing mainly because of insufficient participation by beneficiaries and insecurity of land tenure. Socioeconomic, cultural, religious and gender-related issues pose a problem to full and equal participation by beneficiaries [2
]. Moreover, the poor performance of irrigation in the country, systematic and holistic evaluation of irrigation management in general and of small-scale irrigation in particular is lacking [12
]. The main purpose of irrigation development in the 1960s was to provide industrial crops for agro-industries in the country. The agro-industries were established by foreign investors and had the objective of increasing export earnings.
In most parts of Ethiopia, production from rain-fed agriculture has been highly fluctuating, corresponding to the amount and distribution of rainfall [16
]. When there is too little rainfall with uneven distribution, crop failure is unavoidable. In spite of all this, agricultural growth still contributes to the improvement of food security conditions and household empowerment in the country. However, as it now stands, droughts occur far too often and food security in all its extent could not be sustained. Irrigation would have to be introduced in a significant way for a sustainable attainment of food security and rural transformation at the national level [14
Agriculture is comprises the principal land use and remains the major source of livelihood for the rural poor people in Ethiopia [1
]. Irrigation is one of the possible means of feeding the rapidly growing population. Consequently, numerous modern and large-scale irrigation schemes have been established in the country. As a result, there is a growing interest in small-scale irrigation (SSI) development for food as well as for rural development. The development of SSI schemes managed and controlled by farmers is seen as a viable and practical alternative to large-scale conventional schemes. SSI in the Ethiopian context refers to smallholder farms with the size of scheme amounting to less than 200 ha. SSI schemes can be adapted easily to suit local socioeconomic and environmental conditions [18
The adoption of sustainable water management and irrigation development programs, as well as strong linkages with private sectors and markets with institutional support are essential; these could provide plenty of opportunities in terms of a coping strategy for climatic change, poverty reduction, wealth creation, growth of economy and reducing the environmental impact of agricultural expansion to marginal land under rapid population growth [14
SSI development is one of the components of water resource development. Ethiopia has large water potentials that could be used for a wide range of irrigation development programs. It has 12 major river basins with an annual water runoff volume of more than 122 billion cubic meters [11
]. In addition, the groundwater potential is estimated to be more than 2.6 billion cubic meters [12
Currently, about 3% to 5% of the irrigable land is irrigated while the irrigation potential has been estimated to be about 4.3 million hectares of arable land [13
] Irrigated agriculture is becoming increasingly important in meeting the demands of food security, employment, rural transformation and poverty reduction. For Ethiopia, increasing agricultural productivity, enabling households to generate more income, increasing their resilience as well as transforming their livelihoods stands out as the most pressing agenda now and for the coming decades. SSI is a policy priority in Ethiopia for rural poverty alleviation, climate change adaptation and growth [20
Like the national scenarios, in large parts of Gubalafto district, agriculture is also increasingly susceptible to climatic hazards. The principal feature of rainfall in most parts of the district is seasonal character, poor distribution and variability from year to year (1030 to 990 mm) [22
]. Yasin [22
] also noted that erratic distribution of rainfall has been the major climatic factor affecting crop yields in the study areas. Thus, designing SSI schemes is necessary and could bring social, cultural and economic importance to the beneficiaries. This depicts the fact that if we maximize our efforts to utilize the untapped water resources for irrigation development, we will be able to improve the household livelihood and overcome the challenges of food insecurity within the shortest time possible [13
Since the 1970s, recurrent drought, unreliable and poor distribution characters of rainfall has resulted in crop and pasture failure. These have in turn brought about food shortage and famine, particularly in the northern part of the country including the study district. In response to these, irrigation practices have been introduced since the 1970s.Currently, there are four modern and 231 traditional irrigation schemes with a total of 534 and 191 hectares of the land irrigated by modern and traditional irrigation systems, respectively. However, there are very limited studies focusing on the performance of SSI schemes. To date, there are no recent studies on the impact of SSI on household’s livelihood development in northern Ethiopia, particular in the studied district. Moreover, previous detailed field investigations about the role of the SSIs have focused mainly on the livelihood improvements of irrigators, and the main problems faced by irrigators during SSI operations are thus required. After detailed investigations of the impact of the practices, recommendations for improving the system, especially regarding how SSI practices are likely to be successful and sustainable, will be drawn. Therefore, the objectives of the study were: (i) to assess the contribution of SSI implementation for household livelihood improvement; (ii) to identify the major challenges faced during the application of SSI practices in the selected SSI schemes.
Conceptual Framework of the Study
In order to enhance small-scale irrigation schemes to improve households’ livelihood, many factors must be considered: high water and labour supply, provision of credit services and agricultural chemicals, good irrigation infrastructure and management practices, support of government and development agents (DAs) are all very essential. Therefore, by using these inputs, we can increase rural people’s household incomes, livelihood diversification, agricultural intensification, productivity, employment opportunities, income variance and resilience to risk, and participation in community decisions. Therefore, keeping other variables constant, all these and other outputs of SSI developments combined have the capacity to achieve livelihood development in rural areas, thereby reducing the present chronic food insecurity problem in particular and poverty in general (Figure 1
). Smith [23
] supports this concept as illustrated in Figure 1
4. Conclusions and Recommendations
Small-scale irrigation (SSI), both directly and in-directly, has a great impact on enhancing farmers’ livelihoods through different dimensions, such as diversification of crops grown, as well as increased agricultural production, household income, employment opportunity and participation in community decisions. It was proved that the sampled irrigator households’ annual average income has improved. Therefore, using irrigation has an impact on improving the income levels of the irrigator households of the study area, ultimately affecting the irrigator community. The increment of input cost, shortage of irrigation water, and absence of transportation were found to be the major challenges of SSI. It was found that non-irrigator farmers are not in a position to utilize the advantages of SSI as they are not aware of it. The district Agricultural Development Office should develop a campaign to propagate the advantages of the SSI system to the farmers through development agents; by setting up farmer training centers on improved agronomic practices, crop protection aspects, irrigation practices, and product marketing; and by offering a credit service to allow rapid progress in the introduction of technologies and farming practices, price bargaining power and profitability of SSI schemes.