The Global Water Initiative (GWI) was an action-research and advocacy programme that ran from 2008-17. The project is now closed. This site is no longer being updated, but allows access to GWI outputs until 1 October 2020 when it will also close. After that date, information about the project and core GWI technical publications will continue to be available from the IIED website and Publications Library.

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Quality investments

Our work in West Africa addresses the issue of economic viability of large scale irrigation infrastructure (both state-managed and agribusiness) and looks at whether such systems are economically viable, whether they contribute to household and national food security in the face of climate change, and how they impact on the on the national exchequer.


Do large dams and public irrigation schemes contribute to livelihood security?

Large scale irrigation schemes are expensive and the costs of highly engineered systems can be substantial. Economic analyses indicate that average costs are around $ 8,000 USD per hectare and may rise to $ 20,000 USD per hectare, but the question of whether these investments give a viable economic return is often open. Many of the economic studies currently available are pan-African and lack the specificity required to inform national-level decision-making.

Despite this lack of information, and with past assessments from the 1970s and 1980s indicating mixed achievements in terms of economic returns, governments in West Africa continue to invest billions of dollars in large irrigation schemes. The Dakar Declaration signed by the six Sahelian countries of Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal and Chad in October 2013, calls for:

“[a] substantial increase in investment in agricultural hydraulic to go from 400,000 hectares to 1,000,000 hectares by 2020, at an estimated total cost of more than seven billion U.S. dollars”.
Our work: to inform national-level debates and decision-making around the livelihood impacts and economic viability of large scale dam-irrigated rice production, GWI West Africa is undertaking economic assessments of Sélingué dam in Mali, Niandouba and Confluent dams in Senegal, and Bagré dam in Burkina Faso.

Bridging the gap between agribusiness and smallholders

Many donors have supported large agricultural business investments in land in Africa and assert that this is the way to achieve the productivity levels and economies of scale needed for cost efficient food production.

GWI believes that it is not a choice between either agribusiness or smallholders, but that both are needed. It is important to find ways for them to work together and learn from each other on shared irrigation systems.

Our work: aims to help improve the processes and conditions governing agribusiness investments in irrigation schemes and monitor their impact. As part of this work, GWI West Africa is working with the government of Niger to develop a process for negotiating investments in the new World Bank agricultural ‘growth pole’ being planned at Kandadji dam.

In order to ensure the good ‘quality’ of investments, the following considerations need to be taken into account:

  • The people affected by the investment need to be placed at the centre of the decision-making process
  • Decisions should be taken in a way that preserves the balance between social, economic and environmental considerations