Water Permit Systems in Africa Limit Food Production, Widen Inequalities, IWMI Report Finds
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The International Water Management Institute (IWMI) has published research results showing that water permit systems in Africa are criminalizing small farmers who are unable to obtain permits, thus limiting agricultural production and economic growth.

The IWMI study covered five African countries: Malawi, Kenya, South Africa, Uganda and Zimbabwe.

The permit systems, introduced in colonial times, favored white settlers rather than the native populations, and since independence have continued to favor large-scale irrigated farms, mines and industries.

15 November 2018: The International Water Management Institute (IWMI) has published research results showing that water permit systems in Africa are criminalizing small farmers who are unable to obtain permits, thus limiting agricultural production and economic growth.

The study covers five African countries: Malawi, Kenya, South Africa, Uganda and Zimbabwe. The permit systems, introduced in colonial times, favored white settlers rather than the native populations, and since independence have continued to favor large-scale irrigated farms, mines and industries.

The legal status of micro-scale users is weaker than that of permit holders who have much greater impact on the water system.

The research report notes that, while colonial law did recognize the existing customary regimes governing water rights, in practice, large users were accorded greater priority. The authors observe that, since independence, the governments have expanded permit systems to cover all water users. They note that while micro-scale users, such as agriculture smallholders, are exempted from needing a permit, their legal status is weaker than that of permit holders who have much greater impact on the water system.

The authors propose a number of related solutions: giving customary laws covering water use equal legal standing with the formal permit system; regulating water users according to their scale of impact on water resources; and continuing to issue water permits as a tool to regulate water users that have the highest levels of impacts.

In conjunction with the IWMI report, the Pegasys Institute and partners have published a guide for water managers, setting out options for improving water user rights systems to better support inclusive rural development and farmer-led irrigation, while also ensuring the sustainable use of limited water resources. The authors link this with creating an enabling environment for the achievement of SDG target 2.2 to end all forms of malnutrition, address stunting and wasting of children under the age of five, and address the nutritional needs of girls, women and older persons. [Publication: A Hybrid Approach to Decolonize Formal Water Law in Africa] [Publication: Establishing Hybrid Water Use Rights in Sub-Saharan Africa: A Practical Guide for Managers] [IWMI News Article] [CGIAR News Page]

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