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Agriculture, Groundwater use and governance

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Chapter framing question: What are the options and consequences for using groundwater in agriculture?”

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(contributed documents)

Groundwater will be an enduring gauge of this generation’s intelligence in water and land management” (Tushaar Shah, 2001). Groundwater is a secure source of supply and has always been used by most of the economic activities, particularly for urban supply and industrial use. As farmers invest in individual water supply, groundwater becomes a preferred resource option. Asia today uses some 500 m3 of the total 750 m3 of groundwater uses for agriculture. Between 1970 and 1995, the rapid growth of groundwater irrigation in South Asia and the North China plains was at the heart of an agrarian boom. This placed asia’s groundwater socio-ecology under siege. Groundwater depletion, pollution and water quality deterioration now causes concerns that are fueled by worries about their environmental consequences. However, equally important concerns are raised by the fact that agrarian economies and millions of rural livelihoods now depend upon groundwater irrigation. In Africa, South and central America groundwater resources are still underdeveloped but are getting a growing interest.

Chapter purpose: To bring the most important messages from the field of groundwater to the water, food and environment communities.


Groundwater is a promising but limited resource. It seems urgent to understand what is happening and its extent. It is why the Comprehensive assessment decided to have a specific synthesis chapter on groundwater use. That chapter aims to address questions such as:

  • What is happening across the developing world with regard to groundwater use?
  • What are the options and consequences for using groundwater?
  • How is groundwater “governed” today (advantage and drawbacks)?
  • How can we sustainability develop and manage groundwater to benefit poor communities?

A participatory process for preparing the synthesis

This chapter is prepared by a “groundwater chapter author team” lead by a small writing team (Tushaar Shah, Jake Burke, Karen villvolth) . That team met in India (21-24 February 2005) to review key trends, the state of the art of groundwater use, and key responses to the situation. An extended team is also preparing a synthesis book on groundwater governance in agriculture, that will be a key basis for the CA synthesis chapter.  In particular, the workshop identified critical issues -   Key messages on groundwater & water management in agriculture. An online discussion inviting a large network of experts from diverse disciplines and background was organised late June.

Join the discussion and chapter preparation process

--> go to ca forum-groundwater

CA- research projects on groundwater

CA research project - Governing Ground Water Comparative Analysis of National Institutions and Policies in Asia and Africa
Timeline for the Groundwater synthesis work