Endogenous irrigation in arid Zimbabwe: farmer perceptions of livelihood benefits and barriers to scaling

Moline Chauruka, Annelieke Duker*, Pooja Prasad, Pieter Van der Zaag

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

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In Zimbabwe, farmer-led irrigation is far more widespread than planners and policy makers realise. Along the Shashani sand river, in the arid to semi-arid lands of south-western Zimbabwe, diverse farmer-initiated irrigation ventures exist. This qualitative case study focuses on bucket irrigation, in which very small vegetable fields of up to 450 m2 are fenced by tree branches, and irrigated with water from scoop holes in sandy river beds. Farmers initiate and operate their fields with no external assistance. This study presents the benefits of bucket irrigation as an often-overlooked form of farmer-led irrigation development. Through this qualitative and strongly observational study, 26 bucket irrigation farmers and 4 non-irrigators were interviewed using semi-structured interviews where farmers’ perceptions and experiences were captured. We investigate what drives and sustains bucket irrigation, its significance to rural livelihoods under harsh economic and climatic conditions, and the barriers towards scaling this type of farmer-led irrigation development. The results show that drivers for bucket irrigation stem from economic hardship and are gendered. Women are motivated to irrigate mainly by the need to produce vegetables for household consumption, whereas men pursue irrigation due to a lack of employment. Bucket irrigators experience enhanced food security, and have more secure income, contributing to improved wellbeing. Furthermore, despite the desire to scale, the farm size is mainly constrained by fencing and energy for transporting water, which is a result of a persistent lack of financial capital to invest in irrigation technologies. We conclude that bucket irrigation acts as an important livelihood strategy, and that it significantly enhances farmers’ resilience to economic and climatic shocks. Bucket irrigation should not be overlooked in policies that advocate scaling of irrigation. Bucket irrigators have the potential to expand and benefit significantly if supported with innovative financial mechanisms that enable investments in the required technology and knowledge.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)355-362
Number of pages8
JournalWater SA
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • bucket irrigation
  • ephemeral river
  • sand river aquifer
  • scaling
  • smallholder farmer


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