Prof Jamie Pittock

Fenner School of Environment & Society, ANU

Dr Jamie Pittock (BSc, Monash; PhD, ANU) is Professor in the Fenner School of Environment and Society at The Australian National University. Jamie worked for environmental organizations in Australia and internationally from 1989-2007, including as Director of WWF’s Global Freshwater Programme from 2001-2007. His research from 2007 has focused on better governance of the interlinked issues of water management, energy and food supply, responding to climate change and conserving biological diversity. Jamie directs research programs on irrigation in Africa, hydropower and food production in the Mekong region, and sustainable water management in the Murray-Darling Basin.


Sustainable Intensification: Decoupling Resource Use from Socio-economic Benefits in Southern Africa

Sustainable intensification of agricultural production is needed to feed 10 billion people with limited land and water resources in a changing climate. In Africa, enormous investment in irrigation schemes has resulted in a build – fail – rebuild cycle that has trapped farmers in poverty.

The Australian National University and partners have been supported by ACIAR in the ‘Transforming Irrigation in Southern Africa’ (TISA) from 2013 to 2023 to reboot failing small-holder (average farm size = 0.5 ha; ~15,500 farm households) irrigation schemes in Mozambique, Tanzania and Zimbabwe.

We intervened in two ways. First, farmers were provided with simple to use soil monitoring tools – the Chameleon and Full Stop ( – to manage their water application and soil fertility. Farmers at the head end of canals reduced their water application by half to two thirds, increasing crop yields and generating many other benefits. Second, in a social process, farmers formed agricultural innovation platforms. They identified, prioritized and fixed problems that they could influence, including to: grow more profitable crops, lower input costs, better access markets, and in some cases, undertake further processing. This increased household incomes and catalysed many other benefits. For example, during the COVID crisis, food insecurity in TISA schemes was much less than for non-TISA schemes. This is analogous to the resilience required under a changing climate.

The TISA project illustrates that:

  1. Agriculture systems are complex and require multiple social and technological investments to become more sustainable and profitable;
  2. Empowering farming communities and businesses is key to building profitable agricultural systems that deliver lasting benefits;
  3. Significant decoupling of resource use from production is possible and this increases resilience to shocks; and
  4. Long term (10 years) of research for development investment by ACIAR into community driven research has enabled lasting change.