Observations in Tanzania indicate that the improvement of traditional smallholder irrigation does not necessarily result in improved water performance, greater equity and reduced conflict. The usual outcomes of such projects is a gain in water for the system being upgraded, especially if located upstream, accompanied by less ability to share water at the river basin scale. This paper concludes that these projects do not commonly understand, match and respond to the complexities of well-developed and evolving smallholder irrigation found in multi-user river basins. Without re-appraisal, the risk is that donors will be unsuccessful with smallholder irrigation and turn away from this sector, as they did with large-scale irrigation.

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