Modern Irrigation: More than Techniques


In the last decades, modern irrigation technology has introduced unprecedented concepts and techniques for its improvement and coping with unrelenting changes in the sector. But adapting to or learning these concepts and techniques has been slower than projected. This is especially the case in developing countries, where the gap between available technology in them and applied technology in developed countries is wide. Impediments include technical gaps, disadvantageous cultural perspective, administrative and behavioral obstacles. Studies suggest solutions, such as rehabilitation, process improvement, and modernization. The World Bank group recommended a mixture of education, awareness upgrade and the right initiative as the formula for radically revising the management of water resources to speed up the adoption of modern concepts and techniques and benefit from them.

Problem Statement

Modern irrigation technology in the form of hardware and software techniques has made significant strides and contributions to system operations these years (Renault, 1998). These include information techniques, measurements, computer facilities, and canal control concepts. But benefits from these techniques have been slower than projected. Irrigation managers, especially in developing countries, contend with obstacles that present the vast difference and gap between available technology and applied technology. Modernization has become basic to irrigation but modernization concepts have changed. A radical revision of water resources management is called for to speed up the adoption of modern concepts and techniques (Renault, 1998).


Irrigation modernization is not simple rehabilitation. It refers to a technical and managerial upgrade of schemes along with the introduction of institutional reforms (Renault, 1998). It is aimed at improving the use of resources and delivery of water to farms. These are labor, water, and economic and environmental inputs. Attempts at achieving a given level of successful performance at modernization led to the discovery of the unexpectedly slow adoption of information technology techniques in recent years. This is more so the case in developing countries where irrigation managers must contend with challenges caused by the gap between their available technology and applied technology in developed countries (Renault, 1998).

Succeeding in modernizing irrigation requires an alignment among its key elements, mainly water rights, appropriate infrastructure and institutions, consistency among the many uses of water within every basin and managerial objectives in the pursuit of modernization (Renault, 1998). These objections that must serve as a framework include increasing water productivity, enhancing cost-effectiveness, making irrigation deliveries more reliable and flexible, exploring other uses of water, and boosting know-how and workforce development (Renault, 1998).

But impediments stand on the way to the implementation of these objectives. These are mainly the technical gaps between what are needed to apply improved methods and available resources; insufficient funds due to the gap in the cost of the equipment to be used in applying the improved method and the low level of savings from water and services; manpower and bureaucratic obstacles, and, most importantly, the lack of knowledge in choosing or developing modernization measures. The last is what designers and managers encounter with modernization. This lack of knowledge appears to be the consequence of poor past choices or the failure of attempted modernization initiatives (Renault, 1998).

Other reasons for the slow adaptation and absorption of know-how in modern irritation technology are administrative and behavioral in nature (Plusquellec et al, 1994). Among them are pressure from lending institutions to reduce the duration of implementation; weak economic pressure by irrigation agencies and low motivation among consultants to introduce innovations; resistance to novelty and change and risks and dogged preference for outdated know-how and methods by managers and engineers and others involved; and the inexperience of planners and irrigation departments on operations and services. But factors that fundamentally account for the slowness are a lack of sufficient knowledge about technology and irrigation and a cultural factor. This lack of knowledge proceeds from insufficient training in school to industrial practice; insufficient knowledge about farm needs by designers, planners and administrators themselves; and the sore paucity of authoritative studies on the efficacy of modern irrigation methods; the lack of training needs, particularly on agronomic and engineering principles and technical designing and operating water-delivery control systems. The cultural factor is a country’s misplaced pride or resistance to accept new knowledge and perspective. This attitude prevents them and institutions from realistically appraising current conditions and practices (Plusquellec et al, 1994).


      Three types of intervention may be considered in redesigning water resource management to hasten the adoption of modern irrigation concepts and techniques for overall improved performance (Renault, 1998). These are rehabilitation, process improvement, and modernization Rehabilitation means repairing, renewing or restructuring something, which has shown signs of failure or inefficiency in delivering its purpose. It is applicable to a physical or conceptual structure, like a management style. Process improvement refers to intervention or an infusion that does not alter management rules. An example is the use of new or modern techniques. And modernization is the more complex form of intervention. It introduces basic and somewhat radical changes in management rules covering water resources. These may be in the form of physical changes in infrastructure or management style or both (Renault, 1998).

Plusquellec, Burt and Wolter (1994) believe that a mix of education, awareness and initiative is the formula for the successful modernizing of irrigation systems. New designs, the applicable design tools, equipment and communication systems may be in place but will be useless unless and until designers and planners become very familiar with, or experts on, them and use them. New or modern designs emanate from a workable and well-defined operational plan. They fully use advanced concepts in engineering, economics and social science in recognizing their basic components and determining feasible solutions. Some designs are simple while some are sophisticated. The tools, equipment and communication systems should be the last step in the process (Plusquellec et al, 1994).

Modern irrigation firms should reorganize and/or redesign their processes in addressing the new demands presented by irrigation (Renault, 1998). This requires the most cost-effective response to the service and should consider the spatial distribution of two things. The first is the effective demand for water service, which may substantially differ according to user requirements and other considerations. The other consists of the characteristics of a given physical infrastructure. Among these are the condition of canal delivery, the water depth, structures, the quality of monitoring and operations. The spatial differentiation of the engineering process should bring about the most cost-effective solutions and aptly respond to demand. This demonstrates the central position of the flexibility of water service in modernization of irrigation (Renault, 1998).


Modernizing is a continuing process of absorbing and adapting to goals and challenges as they present themselves (Renault, 1998). Agricultural and economic conditions are ever-evolving along with social demands. What is considered modern today may not be feasible or responsive to present needs, which can go beyond the technical aspect. The new need can be inferred as to keep up with or, better yet, to outpace, the speedy pace of adaptation to continuously upgrading concepts and techniques. In order to do this, modern management must insure that its physical and institutional structures cope with the present environment, aptly respond to social needs and adjusted to cope with short-term changes flexibly (Renault, 1998). The management of water resources must be radically revised to speed up the adoption of modern concepts and techniques in irrigation.


Plusquellec, H.; Burt, C. and Wolter, H. W. (1994, May). Modern water control in irrigation.

The World Bank. International Bank for Reconstruction and Development. White paper. Retrieved from

Renault, D. (1998, Oct). Modernization of irrigation systems: a continuing process. Proceedings of the 5th ITIS network international meeting, October 28-20, 1998. Retrieved from