Agricultural water interventions (AWI), e.g. in-situ soil and water conservation strategies, irrigation, and damming of rivers to increase groundwater recharge, have been suggested as important strategies to improve yields in tropical agriculture. Although the biophysical implications of AWIs have been well investigated, the coupling between the biophysical changes and the economic implications thereof is less well understood.

The study found that on average, AWI significantly improved farm incomes by enabling the cultivation of a high value crop during the monsoon season (cotton), supplementary irrigated to bridge dry spells and replacing a traditional crop (sorghum), and also by enhancing the capacity to produce dry season, fully irrigated vegetable crops, in this case exemplified by onion. AWI combined with cotton resulted in more than a doubling of farm incomes compared to traditional sorghum-based systems without AWI during normal and wet years (i.e. for 75% of the years). Interestingly, it was observed that the difference between the AWI system and the no-intervention system was larger during years of high average rainfall compared to dry years.

It was also found that access to irrigation was more important for farm income than crop choice and AWI per se, and thus farms with access irrigation benefitted more from AWI compared to farmers lacking access to irrigation.

In conclusion, the authors suggest that in order to assess equity aspects in terms of farm income generation following the implementation of an AWI project, there is a need for income analyses at the farm level, since income estimates at the watershed level may mask important differences in economic benefits between farms.

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