Multidimensional analysis of nexus technologies II: dynamics of traditional and modern irrigation systems

Mayor Rodriguez, B. (2019). Multidimensional analysis of nexus technologies II: dynamics of traditional and modern irrigation systems. IIASA Working Paper. Laxenburg, Austria: WP-19-013

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Project: Forecasting Societies Adaptive Capacities to Climate Change (FUTURESOC, FP7 230195)


From a technological perspective, irrigation is a dynamic field undergoing a shift from a horizontal expansion of the area equipped for irrigation (or “total irrigation market”) to a vertical transition of the technology mix in search of higher intensification and efficiency (more crop per drop). As a result, the “irrigation market” is currently experiencing a gradual transformation process from traditional flood irrigation towards more efficient pressurised irrigation technologies (sprinkler and drip). The results of this study suggest that these substitution dynamics will continue in the future, favouring the most recent and efficient technology, i.e. drip irrigation. A logistic projection of historical growth predicts drip to reach the highest growth rate among all technologies by 2035, and start a fast expansion over not only flood irrigated areas, but also sprinkler irrigated areas.

The cost and size dynamics of irrigation projects are less clear given the extremely high context dependency and variability of some critical factors determining irrigation project costs, as well as the important differences across regions. Economies of scale also vary across regions, and are estimated to be higher for rehabilitation and modernization projects than for new development projects, with scale factors of 0.6 and 0.97 respectively. Regarding the learning effects, the limitations in data quality and completeness do not allow to derive clear quantitative and technology specific estimates of learning trends. Nevertheless, some positive learning is detected in rehabilitation projects since 1990 and certain cost reductions at the application technology level are reported by consulted irrigation technology experts.

Focusing on the regions of interest for ISWEL case studies, South Asia may see a rapid expansion of drip irrigation through both private modernization initiatives at the small-medium scale and public large scale rehabilitation-modernization interventions on historical surface schemes. Thanks to the active local irrigation technology industry and off farm infrastructure stock, irrigation technology costs will remain lower than in other areas and could be subject for learning related cost reductions in the future. Meanwhile, projects in Africa may develop in the line of expanding the irrigation potential through mainly medium-large scale surface irrigation schemes. The costs of these new schemes are expected to be on the high edge of historical average ranges, due to the increasing complexity of suitable locations and thus of the systems offsetting the potential effects of economies of scale brought about by an increase in project size compared to the historical interventions. Meanwhile, sprinkler technology and particularly centre pivot seems to be a suitable option already expanding within the emerging commercial farming, due to the lower costs and the potential for technology sharing.

Item Type: Monograph (IIASA Working Paper)
Research Programs: Transitions to New Technologies (TNT)
Depositing User: Luke Kirwan
Date Deposited: 13 Jan 2020 11:36
Last Modified: 27 Aug 2021 17:32

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