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


  • Harrison, Elizabeth


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.

Suggested Citation

  • Harrison, Elizabeth, 2018. "Engineering change? The idea of ‘the scheme’ in African irrigation," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 111(C), pages 246-255.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:wdevel:v:111:y:2018:i:c:p:246-255
    DOI: 10.1016/j.worlddev.2018.06.028

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Kikuchi, Masao & Mano, Yukichi & Njagi, Tim & Merrey, Douglas & Otsuka, Keijiro, 2019. "Economic Viability of Large-scale Irrigation Construction in 21st Century sub-Saharan Africa: Centering around the Estimation of Construction Costs of Mwea Irrigation Scheme in Kenya," Discussion paper series HIAS-E-87, Hitotsubashi Institute for Advanced Study, Hitotsubashi University.

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