Working Paper 4: Does irrigation have an impact on food security and poverty? Evidence from Bwanje Valley Irrigation Scheme in Malawi

The purpose of this study was to assess the impact of irrigation on household food security and poverty using a case study of Bwanje Valley Irrigation Scheme in Malawi. Data used in the analysis were collected from 412 households – 169 participants in the irrigation scheme and 243 non-participants. Due to the non-random selection of participants into the irrigation scheme, the study used endogenous switching regression to correct for sample selection bias. Propensity score matching was then used to measure the impact of irrigation on food security and poverty. Daily per capita caloric intake and agricultural income were the proxy measures used to measure food security and poverty, respectively. Despite farmers selling paddy rice at the farm gate on an individual basis and operating in an environment with inadequate water supply, the findings revealed that irrigation had a positive impact on annual agricultural income and daily per capita caloric intake. The impact of irrigation on household annual agricultural income was different among the participants, with those cultivating both rice and maize under irrigation earning more agricultural income than their counterparts growing rice only. The results also showed a positive impact of irrigation on daily per capita caloric intake, with both groups of irrigating farmers realizing similar improved levels of caloric intake over farmers that did not participate in the irrigation scheme. In addition, traditionally marginalized groups – households headed by youth, female-headed households, and low-income households – earned more agricultural income than what they would have earned if they did not participate in the irrigation scheme. The recommendations from the study are that irrigation interventions should be up scaled to other areas with potential irrigable land and should promote the growing of more than one crop. In addition, irrigation schemes should promote bulk marketing of processed rice through contract relationships with institutions (i.e. schools, prisons, hospitals) and private traders.

By Rudolf Nkhata, 2014

This publication was supported by the MaSSP Bunda Grant Scheme Program.