The high population growth rate of the African continent has led to an increased demand for food and is in danger of outstripping agricultural production. In order to meet this need, many governments have sought ways of improving food production by initiating large-scale irrigation projects, involving reclamation of arid and semi-arid areas for the cultivation of crops. Although crop irrigation promises one solution to alleviating hunger and encourages economic growth, irrigation has often been blamed for aggravating disease in local communities. Malaria is one of the major tropical diseases associated with irrigation schemes, and changes in the transmission pattern of this disease following irrigation development have been a perennial subject of debate. It has often been assumed that high numbers of malaria vector Anopheles mosquitoes (Diptera: Culicidae) resulting from irrigation schemes lead inevitably to increased malaria in local communities. However, recent studies in Africa have revealed a more complex picture. Increased numbers of vectors following irrigation can lead to increased malaria in areas of unstable transmission, where people have little or no immunity to malaria parasites, such as the African highlands and desert fringes. But for most of sub-Saharan Africa, where malaria is stable, the introduction of crop irrigation has little impact on malaria transmission. Indeed, there is growing evidence that for many sites there is less malaria in irrigated communities than surrounding areas. The explanation for this finding is still unresolved but, in some cases at least, can be attributed to displacement of the most endophilic and anthropophilic malaria vector Anopheles funestus Giles by An. arabiensis Patton with lower vectorial capacity, as the latter thrives more than the former in ricefields. Similarly, among members of the An. gambiae complex, some cytotypes of An. gambiae sensu stricto are more vectorial than others. For example, the Mopti form has high vectorial capacity and breeds perennially in irrigated sites, whereas the savanna form is often sympatric but more seasonal. Also we suggest that many communities near irrigation schemes benefit from the greater wealth created by these schemes. Consequently irrigation communities often have greater use of bednets, better access to improved healthcare and receive fewer infective bites compared with those outside such development schemes. Thus, in most cases, irrigation schemes in Africa do not appear to increase malaria risk, except in areas of unstable transmission. However, developers should take the opportunity to improve health-care facilities for local communities when planning irrigation schemes wherever they occur.