Bolivia to boost farm productivity through irrigation improvements

The project will directly benefit more than 20,000 farmers by improving or increasing the areas under irrigation

The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) has approved a loan of US$158.4 million to improve small farmers’ income in Bolivia’s rural areas.

“Expanding irrigated agriculture has been declared as a government priority, considering the dry conditions of most of the

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Bolivian highlands and the expected effects of climate change,” Luis Hernando Hintze, Natural Resources Specialist at the IDB, told The Source. “Additionally, most irrigation systems are small and community–managed in high poverty areas, hence financial resources for the improvement of existing systems or developing new ones are a significant constraint at the local level.”

The project, which represents the third stage of Bolivia’s Irrigation Program with a Watersheds Approach, will directly benefit more than 20,000 farmers by improving or increasing the areas under irrigation. In particular, the programme aims to provide or improve irrigation systems in 25,000 hectares of farmland using efficient water-use technologies, and to support the development of local water resource management plans over the next four years.

Agriculture is the main source of income for a very large group of small farmers that show low levels of productivity compared with the rest of Latin America. Less than 10 percent of agricultural land in Bolivia is under irrigation, and this situation has been identified as an important constraint for achieving yield improvements and stability.

“The use of efficient water–use technologies is very limited among small farmers in Bolivia, although existing irrigation programmes have been promoting sprinkler and drip irrigation during the last years,” added Hintze. “Considering the government objective of increasing agricultural land under irrigation and, at the same time, the scarcity of the resource, the promotion of water efficient methods are among the strategic guidelines orienting the investments in this sector. By using these technologies communities managing small systems will be able to expand the area under irrigation and, in some cases, incorporating areas that otherwise will remain idle.”

The agriculture and livestock industry is the main economic activity for 77 percent of Bolivia’s rural population and accounts for 13 percent of the country’s GDP. Irrigation coverage improvements can dramatically boost farm productivity. It is estimated that currently 41 percent of the country’s area experiences water resource deficits.

“At the local level water resource management plans will identify ways to improve the sustainability of water sources, map all traditional water uses and the needs of the communities, help identify irrigation projects to be financed, contribute to increased efficiency in the use of water for agriculture production, and support efforts oriented towards adaptation to climate change,” said Hintze.