A significant increase in the global demand of animal products is expected in the near future, because of evolving food consumption patterns in emerging countries. To fulfil the needs, a “Livestock Revolution” should occur and it will have to target in priority smallholder farms in developing countries, as they are the main actors in supply chains of milk and meat. To achieve such an increase in milk yield and live weight gain within numerous farms, new tools of intervention have to be tested. In fact, in many developing countries, State services are currently withdrawing from their traditional support to farmers, and therefore innovative methods should be set-up. They will also require a more responsible implication of the stakeholders in supply chains, particularly with well organized farmers’ associations. In areas characterized by water stress and climate change, this should be a top priority issue in the agenda of agricultural development institutions. As livestock production involves many processes from water to forage biomass elaboration and dietary rations conceptions, it is generally acknowledged that it necessitates important volumes of water. In this article, an example of an intervention research is presented from the Tadla irrigation scheme (centre of Morocco) as an illustration of intensive cattle production in a context of irrigation in a semi arid region (less than 300 mm of annual rainfall). Results related to follow-ups of water productivity through cattle farming and trials to increase the average milk yield per cow are presented. A reflection on the possibilities to use "virtual water" and on the generalisation of such methods to a whole population of dairy farmers in a supply basin (i.e. an irrigation scheme) is finally developed with its consequences on the economic sustainability of smallholder units. Thus, a capacity building process is urgently required to upgrade farmers’ performances. This will induce the adoption of sound on-farm practices, from irrigation systems to soil fertility management and forage biomass production. It will also rely on the continuous design of balanced dietary rations for lactating cows and their impacts on cattle load (number of cattle per ha of forage). Finally, more attention should be paid to the existing farmers’ co-operatives, which would constitute crucial operators in disseminating innovation processes to face the challenges of water shortage in cattle production systems.