Traditional cultivators throughout Nigeria used elemental irrigation systems long before the colonial period. These systems included seasonally inundated depressions in upland areas of the south and parts of the middle belt that received heavy rainfall, shallow swamps, and seasonally flooded riverine land. In the north, shadoof irrigation was also used along rivers, and some use was made of wells. Smallholders were using traditional methods to irrigate about 120,000 hectares in the 1950s and about 800,000 hectares in the late 1970s.
In 1949 the Northern Region established the first government irrigation agency. By the end of the 1960s, government projects-- all relatively small--brought 9,000 hectares under irrigation. The severe Sahel drought of 1972-74 resulted in the expenditure of large sums for irrigation development by the federal government and by some state governments during the third plan, 1975-80. In 1975 the federal government established the Ministry of Water Resources and in 1976 created eleven river basin development authorities with responsibility for irrigation and the comprehensive development of water resources. Major irrigation projects after the mid-1970s included the South Chad Irrigation Project in Borno State, the Bakolori Project in Sokoto State, and the Kano River Project.
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