Is the Revitalisation of Smallholder Irrigation Schemes (RESIS) programme in South Africa a viable option for smallholder irrigation development?
Smallholder irrigation in South Africa comprises only 3% of the irrigated area. Despite this relatively small area share, Limpopo Province is using the development of smallholder irrigation as a way of developing rural areas and correcting historical imbalances. Unlike the smallholder irrigation developed in most African countries, which focuses mainly on food security through subsistence production, Limpopo Province aims to develop commercial smallholder irrigation. Plots in this model are not fragmented. Initially the farmers are paired with a strategic partner knowledgeable about both the operation of irrigation and the crops grown. After 3 years the strategic partner transfers all ownership to farmers. We use gross margin analysis from one production cycle to assess the financial viability of this model. We conclude that there is potential for the model to be financially viable if farmers can get access to cash flow support in the form of credit which they can pay off at the end of a production cycle. This could be an innovative way of smallholder agricultural water management and of transforming poor subsistence farmers to commercial producers and thereby correcting historical imbalances.
Keywords: smallhoder irrigation, financial viability, gross margin, South Africa