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Home > Basin > Limpopo > Limpopo Project on Water Governance (L4)


L4 carried out a basin-wide, cross-scale analysis of the governance structures that determine access to and control over water resources within the Limpopo Basin. It recognized that governance structures determine whether or not there will equitable access and control of water resources. It became clear from the empirical evidence that fair and just systems are prerequisites to poverty reduction among rural communities and that the evidence of fairness and justice is the structure of the management systems that control access of water resources.

The project found that communities can and should decide what works best for themselves. This requires a participatory approach to research, design and implementation. Policies and institutions need to be downwardly accountable to citizens who are affected by the policies. Participatory design works better because there is buy-in from farmers into new technology and innovation. Authorities want quantitative rather than qualitative data but qualitative data is able to capture important attributes such as hope, self-esteem and dignity that are outcomes of equitable and just sharing of and access to agricultural inputs.

Good governance requires co-ordination with institutions beyond just the agricultural sector. Women are visible in water management structures but have little voice in strategic decision making. So gender is still a major concern in accessing and controlling benefits from water. There is tension around the meaning of equity and this affects the distribution of resources. There is also duplication of institutions without clear lines of accountability. Adhoc institutions have been created for innovation with poor co-ordination with existing ‘older’ structures.  Both formal and informal institutional arrangements constrain or promote access to water, and influence the success of the various interventions that have been and are being tried in the basin.

NGO’s and CBO’s are viable institutional support structures but they are under-utilised. There are patron-client relationships between the state and communities but NGO’s and CBO’s who are close to the ground are helpful in neutralising power and bias because they are able to engage with farmers in such a way that they level the playing field

Joint Venture Schemes are seen as vehicles for alleviate poverty in the Limpopo but poor farmers do not benefit adequately from these schemes.

  • The research conducted under the L4 project has influenced policy in the Limpopo River basin. For example, the project contributed to the new Zimbabwe Irrigation Policy, which is currently under review. In South Africa, where the project engaged the Limpopo Department of Agriculture, research outputs have informed policy and practice on the ground by emphasizing the need for co-ordination and aligning policy to reality on the ground. The project has put ‘intangible’ goods such as hope and self-esteem on the map and introduced these notions into the idea of governance.


View all L4 outputs on CG Space.


WaterNEt, International Water Management Institute, University of Zimbabwe

Project Leader

Jean-Marie Kileshye Onema ([email protected])