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Food security and groundwater

Photo credit: CGIAR 

Sprinkler irrigation in Ghana.Photo Credit: Nana Kofi Acquah/IWMI.

Is groundwater the key to increasing food security in Sub Saharan Africa?

Sub Saharan Africa is currently experiencing a food crisis due to drought. The World Food Program estimates that 10 million people in the region will require food aid in the coming year.

How can water resources be better used to ensure food security in these arid and semi arid areas?

One particularly promising way is to explore groundwater irrigation. It is a growing sector, and as surface water becomes more variable and uncertain, it provides an important buffer for farmers. It also responds to their water demand in a more flexible and reliable way, which would allow them to increase their yields and mitigate the effects of extreme water shortages.

An important vehicle to promote poverty alleviation, especially in rural areas, groundwater irrigation can provide much needed food, as well as rural employment. Crop yields in areas that are currently already using this resource, either solely or in combination with surface water, are typically much higher than those using surface water irrigation alone.

At the moment, groundwater is a largely untapped resource in sub-Saharan Africa, with only 1% of cultivated land being equipped for groundwater irrigation in all of Africa, as compared to 14% in Asia. There are sufficient groundwater stores in many parts of the continent so the potential to increase use for irrigation is quite high.

Ease of extraction and demand are uneven, however, and renewability of groundwater must be considered in order to make any groundwater irrigation schemes beneficial and sustainable over the long term. This requires a good estimation of upper limits for sustainable irrigation and most appropriate geographic areas for development.

The question then is: where does it make sense to develop renewable groundwater irrigation?

Read the full article: CGIAR

Published by

Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.