Congress Resources: Papers, posters and presentations

< Return to abstract list

Diffusion Of Small-scale Pump Irrigation Technologies: Evaluating Adoption Processes In Malawi

Congress: 2015
Author(s): Jean Mtethiwa (Bedfordshire, UK), Keith Weatherhead, Jerry Knox
Cranfield University1

Keyword(s): Sub-theme 10: Management of water resources,
AbstractDiffusion of small-scale pump irrigation technologies: evaluating adoption processes in Malawi

Jean Kamwamba-Mtethiwa1 , Keith Weatherhead2 and Jerry Knox2

1Corresponding Author, Natural Resources College, Lilongwe, P.O. Box 143, Lilongwe, Malawi. E-mail: or

2Cranfield Water Science Institute, Cranfield University, Bedford MK43 0AL, United Kingdom


More than 70% of Sub Saharan Africa's (SSA) poor live in rural areas and mostly depend on agriculture for their livelihoods (You et al., 2011). However, with the current existing challenges, small-scale irrigation development is considered one of the important strategies for increasing agricultural production. Evidence from Asia shows that success in improving food security and poverty was through provision of irrigation infrastructure (Fujiie et al., 2011). In Malawi, the rain-fed agricultural productivity has failed to keep pace with demand for food by the growing population. The decline in productivity has been due to loss of soil fertility, natural calamities such as floods and droughts and inability of farmers to buy chemical fertilizer and other agricultural inputs (FAO, 1996). This has led to poverty and food insecurity. In order to remedy the situation, irrigation development is a government priority. Small-scale irrigation pumps are among the technologies increasingly being promoted for smallholder farmers such that over a third of their estimated irrigated area is under pump technologies. However there is limited research evidence to supporting their suitability.

In order to inform policy debates, it is essential that empirical evidence is gathered. This will ensure that the focus is not solely on supporting the adoption of pumps but rather their continued use and success. We contribute to this by examining and evaluating the opinions of the stakeholders on factors influencing adoption and non-adoption of small irrigation pumps in Malawi.


In this study, data collection employed mixed research approach. Quantitative and qualitative data were concurrently collected during a field survey conducted between August and December 2013. Guided by the diffusion of innovation theory (Rogers, 1995), semi-structured interviews with 116 farmers from the two districts in Malawi was completed. The selected districts represented the major agro-ecological zones of the country where small-scale irrigation pumped systems are potentially applicable, namely Lilongwe, the middle altitude warm plains zones and Ntcheu representing both the middle and low altitude. Questions related to pump description, reasons for adopting, socio-economic characteristics of the farmers and the limitations encountered with the pumped systems were explored. Descriptive statistics were used to report demographic characteristics (sex, age, education level, household sizes, size of the irrigated land, pump year of adoption) whilst content analysis techniques were used to code and analyse the farmers' transcripts. To ensure reliability, intended meaning of the codes were agreed by the independent reviewers.

Results and discussions

Two pumps, treadle and motorized, managed by either individuals or groups of farmers were identified. The study showed a rapid increase in the adoption of individual motorized pumps and a steady adoption rate for individual treadle pumps. Most of the adopters were males, middle aged (36-50 years), at least educated to primary school level and had large number of household members. The socio-economic characteristics of the adopters concurred with the related studies by Mangison (2008) and Adeoti (2006).The majority of the individual owned motorized pumps were acquired privately and their adoption was mainly driven by pumps' technical characteristics such as increased irrigated area, increased water flow, reduced labour and their simplicity to use. Conversely, incentives such as free or subsidised and/or loan pumps influenced the uptake of the group motorized and treadle pumps. Interestingly, most of the group schemes were not functional during the time of the study. Most individual motorized pumps farmers graduated from using treadle pumps whereas the majority of group farmers changed from traditional irrigation methods suggesting that individual farmers had experience with pumped irrigation systems. A lot of stakeholders were in support of treadle pump irrigation systems and were providing the farmers with materials and services including free farm inputs and capacity building on various activities such as pump technical management, repair and maintenance. This explains the reason for steady adoption of treadle pumps. On the contrary, most farmers indicated that they would prefer having individual motorized pumps to the other pump types.

Conclusion and implications

Two pathways, innovation characteristics (diffusion of innovation theory) and the availability of external support are the main drivers in the adoption process of small irrigation pumps. We argue that farmers motivated by pump characteristics will continue using pumps or upgrade to advanced technologies if their initial expectations for adopting the pumps are satisfied whilst farmers that were driven by the incentives such subsidised and free pumps to adopt them will require continued support in order to continue using the pumps. Sustainable strategies that support self-motivated farmers in promoting small scale irrigation pumps are encouraged. 1.Adeoti, A. I. (2008), "Factors influencing irrigation technology adoption and its impact on household poverty in Ghana", Journal of Agriculture and Rural Development in the Tropics and Subtropics, vol. 109, no. 1, pp. 51-63.

2. Fujiie, H., Maruyama, A., Fujiie, M., Takagaki, M., Merrey, D. and Kikuchi, M. (2011), "Why invest in minor projects in sub-Saharan Africa? An exploration of the scale economy and diseconomy of irrigation projects", Irrigation & Drainage Systems, vol. 25, no. 1, pp. 39-60.

3. Food and Agriculture Organization (FA0) of the United Nations (1996) Socio-Economic and Production System Study of Wetland Use. Malawi Smallholder Irrigation Subsector Programme. Main Text and Working Paper 1. Report No. 96/100IFAD-MLW

4.Mangisoni, J. H. (2008), "Impact of treadle pump irrigation technology on smallholder poverty and food security in Malawi: a case study of Blantyre and Mchinji districts", International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability, vol. 6, no. 4, pp. 248-266.

5. Rodgers 1995, Rogers, E. M. (1995). Diffusion of Innovations. 4th Ed. Free Press, New York.

6. You, L., Ringler, C., Wood-Sichra, U., Robertson, R., Wood, S., Zhu, T., Nelson, G., Guo, Z. and Sun, Y. (2011), "What is the irrigation potential for Africa? A combined biophysical and socioeconomic approach", Food Policy, vol. 36, no. 6, pp. 770-782.

2011 IWRA - International Water Resources Association - - Admin