Farmer organisations and government agencies managing large scale irrigation systems in West Africa need to collaborate to agree on a vision for agricultural services that increases scheme viability while meeting the needs of different types of farmers. However, there is no institutional mechanism in place that enables different groups of actors – with different levels of power – to engage at a strategic level or to negotiate and take forward such a common position.
Governments need to improve access to seasonal credit if they want a return on investment in large-scale irrigation for rice farming. Large dam-irrigated rice cultivation projects are only justifiable if producers can obtain high yields, but to do this they need to adopt rice varieties with high genetic potential and make intensive use of fertilisers and pesticides. The majority of small producers do not have access to credit to purchase all the inputs required.
Analysis of land allocation strategies in irrigated agriculture schemes in West Africa yields lessons which can guide the design and implementation of current and forthcoming projects. Allocation of insufficient land makes the main purposes of large dam projects – to combat poverty and to increase national cereal production – more difficult to achieve. Research by the Global Water Initiative (GWI) at three dam project sites in West Africa shows that the area of land allocated per family is usually about 1 hectare (ha).
Large scale projects such as dams often involve displacing people. Obtaining the agreement and the collective consent of affected groups to compensation measures, in a written form which has legal authority, is not an easy undertaking. Recent experience with the Kandadji Programme, supported by the Global Water Initiative (GWI), shows how, at relatively low cost: (i) the consent of affected groups can be obtained through a collective process, and how (ii) this agreement can be embodied in a document which, in principle, is legally valid proof of the commitment.
On 21-23 January 2013, partners from ECOWAS, the Global Water Initiative, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) organised a conference in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.
It was attended by about 50 participants from West Africa representing civil society organisations, river users, state technical services, dam construction and management organisations, basin organisations, researchers, legal experts and regional and international organisations.
To meet the growing national demand for rice, governments in West Africa are promoting a model of agricultural investment which is oriented towards specialisation and intensification in rice farming, with the aim of increasing both production and productivity. For family farms, by contrast, rice production has to be part of a wider strategy to strengthen subsistence livelihoods and manage risk, by diversifying their sources of capital.
Large irrigation dams in West Africa are not delivering on their promise to significantly reduce the US$1 billion per year of rice imports to the region. Many smallholder farmers cultivating the land irrigated by large dams are struggling to make ends meet. Agricultural advisory services are meant to support these farmers, not just by providing technical advice, but also by connecting them with other service providers along the value chain. But there are large gaps between what is provided and smallholder farmers’ actual service needs.
Between 2007 and 2012 GWI financed rural water supply programmes across eight countries in the East and West Africa regions, including construction of new and/or rehabilitated rural water schemes and establishment of water committees.
This briefing from IIEDs 'Reflect and act' series showcases our work to improve development outcomes for people affected by the construction of the Kandadji Dam in Niger. It highlights lessons on policy and practice that can be applied across West Africa as a new wave of dams is designed and built.