External Event
Virtual seminar

Irrigation Investment Policy: Does Scale Matter?

Online seminar
United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and IFPRI

Irrigation has contributed to increased food production, lower food prices, higher rural employment, and overall agricultural and economic growth. It has been a key component of agricultural intensification and transformation in Asia and has the potential to take on the same role in Sub-Saharan Africa. However, despite some evidence that large scale irrigation schemes are less inclusive, sustainable, profitable, and environmentally friendly, investment in large-scale irrigation has increased following the 2007/09 Food Price Crisis and is expected to further grow as climate change impacts make rainfed agriculture less and less viable and food self-sufficiency strategies grow in importance. Similarly, despite criticism that small-scale irrigation is not scaling nor climate resilient without subsidies and the lack of an enabling environment, such as improved market access, there are ongoing projects.

Regardless of size, the future of irrigation cannot repeat the past: Climate change, rapidly growing non-irrigation demands on water resources, the Ukraine crisis, and the need for much-improved environmental sustainability demand that the environmental footprint of irrigation is reduced. At the same time, irrigated areas and development will need to grow—to allow farmers to navigate highly uncertain climate realities and ensure food production growth, including of costlier, nutrient-dense crops. The irrigation of the future will also need to be more knowledge intensive and should provide better incentive structures that support the world’s key water stewards—farmers. Mutual accountability, inclusivity (such as by ensuring that women farmers benefit equally through proactive policies), and transparency related to irrigation policy are also critical themes that may influence the success of irrigation schemes.

Given the recent confluence of several crises—Climate extreme events, Covid-19, and Conflicts and wars—a policy seminar co-organized by USAID and the International Food Policy Research Institute will discuss the role of policy and size of irrigation in supporting the poorest food producers and consumers in these challenging times. Specific areas of focus, in line with the US Government’s Global Food Security Strategy and Global Water Strategy, include the sector’s role in: 1) promoting inclusive, sustainable agriculture-led economic growth, 2) building resilience among vulnerable populations and households; 3) strengthening food security and nutrition; 4) protecting freshwater resources; and 5) developing supporting institutions.

This seminar is part of AGRILINKS mechanization and irrigation month.

Irrigation’s role in promoting inclusive, sustainable agriculture-led economic growth

Policy Panel

  • Robert Bertram, Chief Scientist, Bureau for Resilience and Food Security (RFS), United States Agency for International Development (USAID), invited
  • Keith Fuglie, Economist, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)-ERS
  • Ashwin Pandya, Secretary General, International Commission on Irrigation and Drainage (ICID)
  • Kristin Penn, MCC Niger Resident Country Director, Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), invited

Irrigation’s contribution to climate resilience, improved nutrition, and conflict mitigation

  • Elizabeth Bryan, Senior Scientist, IFPRI
  • Nicole Lefore, Director, Irrigation Innovation Laboratory for Small-Scale Irrigation, University of Texas A&M
  • Tafadzwanashe Mabhaudhi, Senior Researcher, Agricultural Water Management, International Water Management Institute (IWMI)
  • Peter McCornick, Executive Director, Daugherty Water for Food Global Institute, University of Nebraska

Policy Panel

  • H.E. Dr. Mahmoud Abu-Zeid, President, Arab Water Council
  • Barry Boubacar, Chair, Global Water Partnership West Africa (Senegal), invited
  • Biniam Iyob, Senior Policy Advisor, Bureau for Resilience and Food Security (RFS), United States Agency for International Development (USAID)
  • Wais Kabir, Former Executive Chairman, Bangladesh Agricultural Research Council (BARC)


  • Rajul Pandya-Lorch, Strategic and communications leader in food policy and agriculture development