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Tufts OpenCourseware
Authors: Kathleen Merrigan, Ph.D., William Lockeretz, Ph.D.


Pillar of Sand: Can the Irrigation Miracle Last? Chap. 9, Thinking Big About Small- Scale Irrigation, pp.201-227 and Chap. 10. The Players and the Rules, pp.228-253, Sandra Postel. (1999).

A New Era for Irrigation, Chap. 6. Future Directions, pp. 169-180, National Research Council (1996).

Crops and Drops, Making the best use of water for agriculture, FAO, 2002. Access at: (22 pages).

Key Questions

Pillar of Sand: Can the Irrigation Miracle Last

  • How does the author link small-scale irrigation development and enhancement of food security?
  • What are the important factors that influence adoption of technology by poor farmers?
  • What factors contributed to the success of the treadle pump?
  • What factors impede adoption of treadle pump technology by farmers?
  • What are the barriers for development of large irrigation projects in Africa?
  • Do traditional systems of irrigation matter in the present day context?
  • Can there by a confluence of traditional irrigation / rain water harvesting methods and modern technology?
  • What is an important non-technological factor in relation to the success of the traditional irrigation or water harvesting practices?
  • What problems plague large scale irrigation projects?
  • Why would it be difficult to price surface irrigation water in developing countries?
  • How can a farmer in the U.S. make use of the water market?
  • What is the major trend in managing irrigation projects in developing countries?
  • What is the outline of the author’s plan for ground water management?

A New Era for Irrigation

  • What factors influence the future of irrigation in the U.S.?
  • How will these affect the American farmer?
  • What major change in the farming structure is expected because of these factors?
  • What major shifts in irrigation related public policy is expected?
  • How is the term “irrigation” redefined to suit the present day context?
  • What ideas do the authors put forward to manage irrigation demand in urban areas?
  • What are the driving forces for modern irrigation technology innovation and adoption?
  • What factors constrain adoption of these technologies? How can these be overcome?
  • Why is irrigation management at watershed levels important?

Crops and Drops, Making the Best Use of Water for Agriculture

  • How much of the water withdrawn for agriculture, domestic and industrial purposes is actually consumed?
  • What are the criteria used for identifying water stressed countries?
  • What is the reason for the drying up of the several large rivers (e.g., Yellow River of China) before they reach the sea?
  • What is the current irrigation efficiency of the world?
  • What is the trend of natural disaster occurrence in the world with reference to time?
  • What type of natural disaster has affected the maximum people and caused the maximum loss in recent years?
  • What are the major reasons for increased flooding?
  • What strategies will help in meeting the future world food demand?
  • How much do rainfed and irrigation agriculture contribute to world food production?
  • The expected increase in water withdrawal for agriculture in 2030 is low compared to the expected increase in irrigated area. Why?
  • What are the key factors in maximizing agricultural output per unit of water?
  • What are the key issues to be borne in mind when involving people in water management?
  • What are the key policies required for increasing water productivity?