Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Small-Scale Irrigation (ILSSI)

What is the challenge?

The potential for expanding irrigated agriculture in Africa south of the Sahara is still very large, as only six percent of the total cultivated area is irrigated. A great number of women and children could benefit from this untapped potential if irrigation programs were designed to be gender- and nutrition-sensitive. 

In the region 329 million people lack access to improved water supply and 640 million do not have access to an improved sanitation facility. Lack of reliable water services is a major stumbling block for health and nutrition, as well as a constraint for nutrition-sensitive agriculture. Reliable water access through small-scale irrigation (SSI) can provide greater availability and stability of food supplies during the dry season, enable crop diversification, including micronutrient-rich vegetables and fruits, and can generate income during the lean season. Access to irrigation can also help improve communities’ water supply, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) and support communities’ health status. Finally, reliable water access can also be an important entry point for women’s empowerment. Women tend to invest more than men in household nutrition, education, and health, and therefore, enhancing women’s access to and control over irrigation can have a positive multiplier effect on reducing undernutrition. The time saved as a result of having better access to water can allow women to participate more actively in income-generating, caregiving, and social activities. However, access to irrigation is not without risks: in some cases, irrigation may increase women’s agricultural workload given an extended growing season, or risk other actors dispossessing women of their irrigated plots, since irrigation can raise land value. Finally, poorly designed and managed irrigation can also increase water-related disease, such as malaria, and pollution water sources due to increased use of agro-chemicals. 

Key research questions

  1. What are the links between irrigation, nutrition and gender? 
  2. What are the key constraints to adoption of irrigation technologies and practices by women and men? What are the key constraints to equitable benefits from investment in irrigation and agriculture water management practice by women and men? 
  3. What measures can be taken to reduce constraints to expand SSI by women and men? 
  4. What measures can be taken to ensure equitable distribution of benefits from SSI between men and women? 
  5. What are the economic and environmental consequences of upscaling identified SSI technologies?

Basic information about the activity

The Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Small-Scale Irrigation (ILSSI) is a five-year project that aims to benefit farmers of Ethiopia, Ghana and Tanzania by improving effective use of scarce water supplies through interventions in small-scale irrigation. It is a part of the U.S. Government’s Feed the Future Initiative. The project is led by the Norman Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture at Texas A&M University. The four major project components are:

  • Identifying promising, context appropriate, small-scale irrigation interventions, management and practices for poverty reduction and improved nutrition outcomes;
  • Evaluating production, environmental, economic, nutritional, and gender impacts, trade-offs, and synergies of small-scale irrigation technologies and practices;
  • Identifying key constraints and opportunities to improve access to small-scale irrigation technologies and practices; and
  • Capacity development and stakeholder engagement.

IFPRI’s activities in this project include 

  • Collection of baseline and endline data and analysis of gender, nutritional and health impacts of small-scale irrigation technologies. 
  • Assessment of production, environmental, and economic impacts of promising small-scale irrigation technologies
  • Assessing potential for upscaling of small-scale irrigation technologies to the national levels for Ethiopia, Ghana and Tanzania



Claudia Ringler 
Deputy Division Director & Natural Resource Management Theme Lead
Environment and Production Technology Division


This project is funded by USAID and is implemented under the CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE).


ILSSI Outputs

Other links

The program wide website for the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Small-Scale Irrigation can be found here: http://ilssi.tamu.edu