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Irrigated agriculture makes only a modest contribution to cereal production in West Africa. Since independence, the development of irrigation schemes in the region has been mainly motivated by the desire of the different countries to achieve the objective of food security. Government agencies were omnipresent at all levels and in all sectors of agriculture. For some years now, governments have been disengaging rather rapidly from agricultural production and the provision of support services to farmers. Farmer organizations, which have become more involved in the management of irrigation schemes, are confronted with problems for which they had never been prepared.
The sustainability of irrigation systems is directly linked to questions related to the management and maintenance of common infrastructure. Appropriate technical, institutional and organizational solutions must be found in order to improve the performance of farmer-managed irrigation. Indeed, managing irrigation systems is complex, and the necessary skills to ensure good management are not only numerous and diverse but also, in general, beyond the capacity of the present managers of irrigated schemes. We are witnessing, more and more, the emergence of new categories of stakeholders (service providers), who provide farmer organizations with assistance in management tasks (accountancy, technical advice in agriculture and hydraulics).
To accompany this trend towards enhanced professionalism and to improve the performance of the management of irrigation systems, research was undertaken in close collaboration with farmers and leaders of farmer organizations to develop tools in support of irrigation system management. In this paper, different decision-support tools are described and methods for land-use planning proposed with a view to helping rural communities to better manage their irrigation systems and environments.