Supporting the national programme for sustainable small-scale irrigation

Project description

Title: Supporting the national programme for sustainable small-scale irrigation
Commissioned by: German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ)
Country: Mali
Lead executing agency: Ministry of Rural Development
Overall term: 2008 to 2023

Traditional methods of preparing rice – parboiled rice (French: riz étuvé) in the Inner Niger Delta, Office du Niger, Ségou region © GIZ / PASSIP


Half of Mali’s rural population lives below the poverty line and is malnourished. Due to climate change and rapid population growth, the traditional methods of rain-fed farming are unable to guarantee sufficient income and food for the population. However, Mali possesses large water reserves, and these can be used in small-scale irrigation schemes to develop and diversify agricultural production as well as improve nutrition.

In early 2012, the Government of the Republic of Mali adopted its National Programme for Small-scale Irrigation. However, as the state actors and public and private service providers lack the know-how to implement this programme, small family farms have so far only enjoyed the benefits of improved irrigation systems to a limited extent. The yield from agricultural production is low, and it is not sufficient to sustainably improve the food situation.


State and private service providers are supporting small family farms in introducing small-scale irrigation to improve their economic situation and food and nutrition security.


In addition to financial support from the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), the project has been funded by a number of other organisations as well: the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) provided assistance from 2011 to 2014, the European Union became involved in April 2014, and the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development has been contributing funding since October 2014.

The German Government has initially financed the irrigation infrastructure by providing funding for the construction of micro-dams and the establishment of irrigation schemes. It has also supported cultivation in these areas throughout the first two years, focusing primarily on rice and vegetables.

In cooperation with the responsible ministries, the project is supporting to generate the appropriate framework conditions, and training the technical staff of the ministry and decentralised services in how to implement and monitor it. With support from a consulting consortium led by AFC the project has also worked with training institutions to develop curricula and teacher training courses to improve the level of training among staff of small-scale irrigation service providers.

Farmers need to learn how to cultivate their land sustainably, how to store, process and market their agricultural produce – such as rice and vegetables – properly, and how to improve their diet. The project and agricultural extension staff organise training sessions to disseminate this knowledge among the rural population. This is gradually enabling people to use the economic potential of small-scale irrigation to make their farms profitable and improve their diet. The project works mainly with famers from the Inner Niger Delta in the Timbuktu and Mopti regions, Dogon Country, and the Koulikoro/Bélédougou and Sikasso regions.


The strategic planning basis for developing small-scale irrigation in Mali is the National Programme for Small-scale Irrigation, which was devised with support from the project and adopted by the Council of Ministers in early 2012.

The National Department for Rural Engineering is coordinating the activities of the various national and international organisations working to promote small-scale irrigation among family farms. Its employees are now able to handle all matters relating to small-scale irrigation.

The Manual of Good Practices in Small Scale Irrigation and a technical manual on minimum standards of micro-dams are now available.

Over 90 per cent of the irrigation systems set up in the Inner Niger Delta are cultivated intensively by Small family farms. Since switching from the traditional farming methods, the farmers have been able to triple their rice yield and have maintained a stable yield level averaging 5.8 tonnes per hectare, even during the political crisis in 2012 and 2013.

Onions and shallots can be cultivated on the irrigable land around the micro-dams that have been built in Dogon County. They have achieved an excellent average yield of 27 tonnes per hectare per year.

In Bélédougou, the farmers have quadrupled the rice yield on their irrigation plots around the micro-dams and river weirs to 4 tonnes per hectare. The tomato yield is between 26 and 32 tonnes per hectare.

As a result of the increase in the proportion of vegetables being cultivated, considerably more women are now working in agriculture. In the Koulikoro/Bélédougou region and Dogon County, the proportion of women is 30 per cent, while in the Inner Niger Delta, where the main crop is rice, that proportion is just six per cent.

The total rice production around the irrigation schemes and mares (floodplain-depression ponds) in the Inner Delta is currently 120,000 tonnes per year.

In Dogon County, farmers produced 498 tonnes of vegetables on the 16.6 hectares of newly created irrigation plots around the six micro-dams that were completed by the end of 2012. The completion of another five micro-dams and cultivation of the surrounding land should increase this volume to 925 tonnes of vegetables.

To provide the basis for broad, high-quality initial and further training on all key aspects of small-scale irrigation, the project has worked with four regional agricultural training centres in the Kayes, Koulikoro, Ségou and Sikasso regions to develop four curricula with a total of 46 modules. There are also 92 regionally adapted versions of these modules that take into account the specific conditions in each particular region. The project partners taught 39 of these modules in a total of 48 training courses, which involved 98 trainers and reached 260 participants from state and private consultancy institutions. The proportion of women on these courses rose from an initial five per cent to 33 per cent. A further 100 women would like to participate in the courses in the near future and have created their own network.

Small-scale irrigation system in the town of Diré in the Timbuktu region © GIZ / PASSIP PMN

According to a random survey, around 55 per cent of the 92 experts trained have so far held their own further training courses to pass on the knowledge they have learned. 90 per cent of the course participants say the modules provide highly useful information that has not previously been accessible. Private agricultural service providers are using the new content in their consultancy work.