Avoiding the Mistakes of the Asian Green Revolution in Africa

by Isaiah Esipisu (via the Inter Press Service)

DODOMA, Tanzania, Jul 11 2019 (IPS) – Research scientists are studying groundwater resources in three African countries in order to understand the renewability of the source and how people can use it sustainably towards a green revolution in Africa.

“We don’t want to repeat some of the mistakes during the green revolution that has taken place in Asia, where people opted to use groundwater, then groundwater was overused and we ended up with a problem of sustainability,” said Richard Taylor, the principal investigator and a professor of Hydrogeology from the University College London (UCL).

Through a project known as Groundwater Futures in Sub-Saharan Africa (GroFutures), a team of 40 scientists from Africa and abroad have teamed up to develop a scientific basis and participatory management processes by which groundwater resources can be used sustainably for poverty alleviation.

Though the study is still ongoing, scientists can now tell how and when different major aquifers recharge, how they respond to different climatic shocks and extremes, and they are already looking for appropriate ways of boosting groundwater recharge for more sustainability.

“Our focus is on Tanzania, Ethiopia and Niger,” said Taylor. “These are three strategic laboratories in tropical Africa where we are expecting rapid development of agriculture and the increased need to irrigate,” he told IPS.

In Tanzania, scientists from UCL in collaboration with their colleagues from the local Sokoine University of Agriculture, the Ministry of Water and Irrigation and the WamiRuvu Basin Water Board, have been studying the Makutapora well field, which is the only source of water for the country’s capital city – Dodoma.

“This is demand-driven research because we have previously had conflicting data about the actual yield of this well field,” said Catherine Kongola, a government official who heads and manages a sub section of the WamiRuvu Basin in Central Tanzania. The WamiRuvu Basin comprises the country’s two major rivers of Wami and Ruvi and covers almost 70,000 square kilometres.

She notes that scientists are using modern techniques to study the behaviour of groundwater in relation to climate shocks and also human impact, as well as the quality of the water in different locations of the basin.

“Groundwater has always been regarded as a hidden resource. But using science, we can now understand how it behaves, and this will help with the formulation of appropriate policies for sustainability in the future,” she told IPS.

Already, the World Bank in collaboration with the Africa Development Bank intends to invest some nine billion dollars in irrigation on the African continent. This was announced during last year’s Africa Green Revolution Forum that was held in Kigali, Rwanda.

According to Rajiv Shah, the president of the Rockefeller Foundation, boosting irrigation is key to improving agricultural productivity in Africa.

“In each of the areas where we are working, people are already looking at groundwater as a key way of improving household income and livelihoods, but also improving food security, so that people are less dependent on imported food,” said Taylor. “But the big question is; where does the water come from?”

Since the 1960s, during the green revolution in Asia, India relied heavily on groundwater for irrigation, particularly on rice and wheat, in order to feed the growing population. But today, depletion of the groundwater in the country has become a national crisis, and it is primarily attributed to heavy abstraction for irrigation.

The depletion crisis remains a major challenge in many other places on the globe, including the United States and China where intensive agriculture is practiced.

“It is based on such experiences that we are working towards reducing uncertainty in the renewability and quantity of accessible groundwater to meet future demands for food, water and environmental services, while at the same time promoting inclusion of poor people’s voices in decision-making processes on groundwater development pathways,” said Taylor.

After a few years of intensive research in Tanzania’s Makutapora well field, scientists have discovered that the well field—which is found in an area mainly characterised by seasonal rivers, vegetation such as acacia shrubs, cactus trees, baobab and others that thrive in dry areascan only be recharged during extreme floods that can also destroy agricultural crops and even property.

“By the end of the year 2015, we installed river stage gauges to record the amount of water in the streams. Through this, we can monitor an hourly resolution of the river flow and how the water flow is linked to groundwater recharge,” Dr David Seddon, a research scientist whose PhD thesis was based on the Makutapora well field, told IPS.

Taylor explains that Makutapora is known for having the longest-known groundwater level record in sub-Saharan Africa.

“A study of the well field over the past 60 years reveals that recharge sustaining the daily pumping of water for use in the city occurs episodically and depends on heavy seasonal rainfall associated with El Niño Southern Oscillation,” Taylor said.

According to Lister Kongola, a retired hydrologist who worked for the government from 1977 to 2012, the demand for water in the nearby capital city of Dodoma has been rising over the years, from 20 million litres in the 1970s, to 30 million litres in the 1980s and to the current 61 million litres.

“With most government offices now relocating from Dar Es Salaam to Dodoma, the establishment of the University of Dodoma, other institutions of higher learning and health institutions, and the emergence of several hotels in the city, the demand is likely going to double in the coming few years,” Kongola told IPS.

The good news, however, is that seasons with El Niño kind of rainfall are predictable. “By anticipating these events, we can seek to amplify them through minimal but strategic engineering interventions that might allow us to actually increase replenishment of the well-field,” said Taylor.

According to Professor Nuhu Hatibu, the East African head of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, irrigation has been the ‘magic’ bullet for improving agricultural productivity all over the world, and “that is exactly what Africa needs to achieve a green revolution.”

 

Photo: Richard Taylor, a Professor of Hydrogeology from the University College London (UCL) (far left) is the principal investigator in a project to study groundwater resources to understand more how to use the resource to alleviate poverty. Credit: Isaiah Esipisu/IPS

Improving Groundwater Management and Welfare in Kenya

Data collection at a busy handpump – Kwale County, Kenya

Groundwater and the poor are easily ignored. Hidden underground or of low political priority, the motivation and ability to improve groundwater management and welfare are often constrained by capacity, resources and governance structures. In much of Africa, the political calculus is changing as severe but unpredictable droughts, increasingly decentralised decision-making, and growing water competition are emphasizing the critical nature of groundwater as a buffer to drought, driver of economic growth, and vital resource for the poor and marginalised.

On the south coast of Kenya, today’s situation reflects regional trends with over half a billion dollars of new investments by mining, agriculture and urban development raising concerns about managing and allocating groundwater to protect the resource base and ensure the poor are not marginalised by more powerful interests. As part of the Unlocking the Potential of Groundwater for the Poor,the Groundwater Risk Management for Growth and Development project has convened researchers from the UK, Kenya and Spain with national and county Government of Kenyan partners and water-related industry.

Yesterday, the Kwale County Government Water Minister, Hon. Hemed Mwabudzo, convened the final project workshop in Diani with over 30 stakeholder partners to discuss 15 recommendations for policy action across four thematic areas (View full Policy Briefing).

Breakout discussion groups at Gro for GooD Final Stakeholder Workshop – 22 Nov 2018

First, geological and geophysical analysis has identified two palaeo-channels (ancient, buried rivers) with significant groundwater resources to contribute to water-related growth and provision of water services to people. Results highlight wider UPGro findings of the critical nature of extreme rainfall disproportionately contributing to recharge replenishing aquifers after droughts. Protecting recharge zones is essential for sustainable management of this ‘new’ resource, and coupled with monitoring and enforcement, can avoid land use planning mistakes. Due to the proximity to the coast, unregulated groundwater abstraction may lead to saline intrusion which underlines the potential importance of the opportunity that Kenyan partners now have to continue the Environmental Monitoring Strategy developed and tested by the project.

Geological map of Kwale County (Surveyed by D.O. Olago, J. Odida, and M. Lane, 2018) ©University of Nairobi

Second, the 2016-17 drought showed the exceptional and unpredictable stress that can suddenly be placed on groundwater resources. The hydrogeological model developed by the project provides the first system-level tool which can be used to support improved management and allocation of resources across multiple and competing groundwater users. This requires improved inter-agency cooperation between the Kwale County Government, Water Resources Authority, National Drought Management Authority, Kenya Meteorological Department and other stakeholders. Immediate steps to deepen priority, shallow dug-wells used by communities would reduce the risk of them drying up and avoid significant social costs, largely borne by poor people. Emergency supplies need to be planned and budgeted for, in the absence of adequate planning, which is a costly response but necessary as expensive vended water costs are absorbed by those least able to pay or least responsible for governance failures.

Third, three rounds of socio-economic surveys were administered in 2014, 2015 and 2016 across 3,500 households across Lunga Lunga, Msambweni and Matuga sub-Counties. Analysis which models the most significant factors to improve household welfare identified four key areas for interventions: a) end open defecation, which occurs in around one third of households, b) increase education attainment from primary to at least secondary level, c) accelerate access to energy services, and d) improve rural water services.

Fourth, linked to improving rural water services and drought resilience, the project has been part of a wider initiative to design and test a performance-based maintenance service for rural water supply infrastructure since 2014. The FundiFix model guarantees repairs to broken infrastructure in three days based on community, school or clinic payment contracts. Currently, 85 handpumps are registered serving 13,000 people, including 4,000 school children, with 99% of repairs completed in less than a day. A Water Services Maintenance Trust Fund was established in 2014 to address the funding gap and test a hybrid financial model blending user, investor and government support. To date, users are paying with private sector support from Base Titanium Limited and doTERRA. These two companies have long-term investments in the county in mining and agriculture and have been founding investors to incubate the model to avoid the traditional approach of building infrastructure with no maintenance provision wasting resources and leaving the poor no better off.

Stakeholders from government, academia, communities, private sector and NGOs discussed these recommendations to identify priority actions against the feasibility of delivery in the next three years. The findings (see bubble figure below) identify the preferences from those stakeholders present. Action is already being taken by county government which has reviewed the project findings and is developing a plan to test the northern                 palaeo-channel resources in four locations. With a strong evidence base and clear policy messages, wider action is being planned to improve groundwater and welfare outcomes in Kwale County with lessons and methods under consideration nationally.

Download full presentation from Gro for GooD project Final Stakeholder Workshop – 22nd November 2018

Prepared by the Gro for GooD team

Project partners:

University of Oxford (OU) – Grant NE/M008894/1University of Nairobi (UoN)

Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT)

Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (UPC) Groundwater Hydrology Group

Rural Focus Ltd. (RFL)

Water Resources Authority – Kenya

Kwale County Government

Base Titanium

KISCOL

Project contacts

Prof. Rob Hope, University of Oxford, UK – robert.hope@ouce.ox.ac.uk

Eng. Mike Thomas, Rural Focus Limited, Kenya – mike@ruralfocus.com

:: New UPGro paper :: Rainfall and groundwater use in rural Kenya

Thomson, P.; Bradley D,;Katilu;Katuva J.;Lanzonia, M.; Koehler J.; Hope, R. Rainfall and groundwater use in rural Kenya, Science of The Total Environment, Volume 649, 1 February 2019, Pages 722-730

Key Points

  • As part of the Gro for GooD study in Kwale County, Kenya, UPGro researchers noticed then when comparing data collected from 266 Smart Handpumps and 19 raingauges that:
    • there was a 68% reduction in pump use on the day immediately following heavy rain, as well as
    • a 34% reduction in groundwater use during the wet season compared to the dry season, suggesting a large shift from improved to unimproved sources in the wet season.
  • This data was compared to household survey data collected by the researchers, and the relationship between rainfall and pumping was modelled and tested.
  • In this area rainwater harvesting was widespread and only 6% of households reported handpumps as their sole source of drinking water in the wet season, compared to 86% in the dry season.
  • Whilst rainwater harvesting can be a safe source of water it requires the collection and storage to be well designed and built.
  • This work provides empirical evidence that the existence of improved water supplies does not guarantee their use and health benefits may not be as expected.

Gro For Good workshop: 23 March, Kwale County, Kenya

Gro4goodThe Groundwater Risk Management for Growth and Development (GRo for Good) project is holding a workshop on 23rd March 2015 in Kwale County, Kenya as part of the Africa-wide UPGRo programme funded by NERC, ESRC and UK DFID.

Improved understanding of groundwater risks and institutional responses against competing growth and development goals is central to accelerating and sustaining Africa’s development. The coastal aquifer system in southern Kwale faces a unique set of challenges to balance the water use demands of irrigated agriculture and mining with existing demands from tourism and community water supplies. An international research team led by the University of Oxford has been conducting research in Kwale since 2013, with the aim of providing evidence to support the Kwale County Government as it responds to the challenges of improving water security under rapid climate, economic, environmental and political change.

The workshop will present groundwater and poverty research conducted to date by the Oxford-led team. The aims of the new GRo for GooD project will be outlined and discussed with the County Government and other stakeholders with a view to addressing the shared goals and interests and developing long term collaboration to improve groundwater security and reduce poverty.