Great potential for groundwater irrigation in Sub-Saharan Africa: Policy Brief by IWRA

re-posted from GRIPP

A new policy brief titled  Sustainable Groundwater Development for Improved Livelihoods in Sub-Saharan Africa was published by the International Water Resources Association (IWRA). Based on work carried out by IWMI and partners through the support of the Rockefeller Foundation and WLE, the brief describes the potential and constraints of groundwater irrigation Sub-Saharan Africa.

At least 400 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa source their domestic water supply from groundwater. Yet, this often abundant resource only accounts for around 20% of total irrigation. More widespread irrigation could help reduce rural poverty, improve food security, and counter droughts. The policy brief outlines why this water is untapped, and expands on three key policy messages:

  • There is great potential for groundwater irrigation in much of Sub-Saharan Africa
  • Smallholder farmers are eager to tap reliable new irrigation sources
  • The most critical constraints lie in developing supply chains, finance, and other essential infrastructure.

IWRA also identifies key Issues that need to be addressed:

  • Decentralized supply and maintenance of pumps
  • Smallholder access to reasonable financing options
  • Smallholder access to reliable and low-cost energy sources, particularly solar energy

The brief is based on research by International Water Management Institute (IWMI) and CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE) and other partners. Download here.

Using groundwater to reduce poverty

New study to examine the potential of groundwater to expand irrigation and increase access to safe water in Tanzania

Groundwater flowing beneath the land surface of Tanzania has the potential to provide year-round sources of freshwater to irrigate crops when rains fail and to supply safe drinking water at low cost. There remain, however, key questions regarding the development of this vital resource including how much groundwater can be used sustainably, what groundwater development pathways will best reduce poverty, and how use of groundwater will affect other water sources such as rivers, wetlands and lakes.

Continue reading Using groundwater to reduce poverty

“When wells run dry” Prof. Richard Taylor writes in Nature

“A global analysis reveals growing societal dependence on the use of non-renewable freshwater resources that depletes groundwater reserves and undermines human resilience to water scarcity in a warming world”

Full article available for Nature subscribers (paywall): Nature, 516, 179–180, (11 December 2014) doi:10.1038/516179a

In the short article, Prof. Taylor raises concern about groundwater depletion, as well as declining lake and river levels in many areas of the world, and that raises not only important scientific questions about how and why, but also a crucial problem for society.

Looking at recently published research he notes that there is increasing evidence of non-renewable freshwater use – basically more freshwater is being used and then either lost to evaporation or rendered useless by pollution and increased salt levels.

The finger of blame is pointed firmly at irrigation, but the demand for food will only rise in the coming years and decades. Groundwater, particularly in Africa, has great potential but its use is hampered by poor data and unreliable models and the joker card of climate change.

‘We need to better understand available groundwater storage and recharge responses
to the intensification of rainfall, which is expected to be especially strong in the tropics. Indeed, it is here where increases in freshwater use are projected to be most intense. We also need to reduce human dependence on nonrenewable fresh water through more efficient water use, particularly in irrigation, and by trading in ‘virtual water’, which reduces local freshwater use through the import of food and other products. If we continue along our present trajectory, “when the well runs dry we (shall) know the worth of water”

The Grofutures Catalyst project, which has been green-lighted to become a Consortium project for the next 4-5 years, will tackle some of these issues in detail. More on this project will follow next year.