Impact of Irrigation on Agricultural Productivity, Nutrition, Health and Women’s Empowerment in Ghana

What is the challenge?

There is great potential for the expansion of small-scale irrigation in sub-Saharan Africa, given that the vast majority of smallholder farmers still depend on rain-fed agriculture despite high seasonal and inter-annual rainfall variability. Ensuring efficient and effective water management through irrigation is essential for raising agricultural productivity levels and achieving food security. Yet the benefits of irrigation go beyond impacts on yields, with large potential benefits for nutrition security, health, and women’s empowerment. In particular, women and children could benefit from this untapped potential if they have access to the technology and control over its use. 

There are several potential pathways through which irrigation can influence nutrition, health and gender outcomes in Africa. 1) Irrigation may encourage crop diversification and the production of more diverse foods for household consumption (e.g. in irrigated kitchen gardens). 2) Irrigation may provide greater income through the sale of cash crops, which may be used to purchase food. 3) Irrigation may improve water supply, sanitation and hygiene to the extent that water is used for multiple purposes. 4) To the extent that women adopt irrigation technologies and have control over their use, irrigation may empower women by reducing their time burden to collect water, increasing their control over productive assets and output. However, irrigation may also lead to reductions in nutrition, health, and women’s empowerment if it disproportionately encourages mono-cropping in areas where markets are not well developed, or irrigation water source exacerbates the breeding of mosquitoes, or the lucrative income form irrigation further marginalizes women from having access to productive land. Research on how to enhance the positive and reduce the negative linkages between irrigation and nutrition is urgently needed.

Key research questions

  1. This project explores the extent to which the above pathways or hypotheses are true in the case of Ghana. In particular this activity will address the following research questions
  2. What is the impact of irrigation on production? Key indicators to be examined include: productivity of key crops, crop mixes, and income from production. 
  3. What is the impact of irrigation on nutrition and health? (Key indicators include dietary diversity, child stunting and wasting and the incidence of disease)
  4. What is the impact of irrigation on women’s empowerment and time burden?
  5. What are the key constraints to adoption of irrigation technologies and practices by women and men? 

Basic information about the activity

In order to analyze the impact of irrigation on agricultural productivity, nutrition, health, and women’s empowerment, IFPRI is partnering with International Development Enterprises (iDE) in Ghana to roll out an irrigation intervention involving the introduction of water extraction technologies (motor pumps) in the Upper East Region, one of the poorest and most food insecure regions of the country. Agricultural households constitute the vast majority of households in the region. Farmers typically cultivate small plots of land during one growing (rainy) season per year, given limited access to irrigation. Agricultural production is characterized by limited use of inputs and farmers face significant credit constraints, which hinder intensification of production. Given the potential for irrigation to expand the production calendar into the dry season and increase agricultural output beyond the subsistence needs of farm households, this project aims to speed adoption of motor pumps by providing preferential loans to small groups of five farmers (800 in total) in eight villages. Farmers would also benefit from access to loans to purchase agricultural inputs, such as fertilizer and seed. 


  • iDE, Bolga, Ghana
  • University for Development Studies, Tamale, Ghana



Dawit Mekonnen 
Associate Research Fellow
Environment and Production Technology Division


This project is funded by the CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE) and linked with the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Small-Scale Irrigation (ILSSI).