Improved agriculture in the Drought Prone Uplands (DPUs) depends critically on better water conservation and management. However, there is a high degree of uncertainty surrounding issues of water availability, allocation and local rights. Despite broad similarities in the goals of many programmes, there has been a lack of consistency and coherence among them. The focus of this paper is on the difficulties of developing a coherent analytical framework that would enable questions of technical and institutional choice to be addressed systematically. It is aimed primarily at development agencies interested in strengthening the effectiveness of programmes in DPU areas. Issues relating to the scaling up of appropriate approaches and technologies and the search for an effective research and development approach are also addressed.