IWMI in West Africa

IWMI’s regional office for West Africa, based in Accra, Ghana, works closely with countries in the Economic Community of West African States and regional initiatives to respond to water challenges and priorities. Our partners include national and local governments, research institutes, universities, private sector enterprises, civil society and nongovernmental organizations, farmer associations and development organizations. IWMI’s strategy is centered around three strategic programs – Water, Food and Ecosystems; Water, Climate Change and Resilience; and Water, Growth and Inclusion – each supported by high-quality science and digital innovation.Olufunke Cofie, Country Representative, IWMI, Ghana

  • Farmer with a bag of fortifer in Kpong Irrigation Scheme, in Asutuare in Ghana.
    Farmer with a bag of fortifer in Kpong Irrigation Scheme, in Asutuare in Ghana.
  • Farmer with a bag of fortifer in Kpong Irrigation Scheme, Asutuare in Ghana.
    Farmer with a bag of fortifer in Kpong Irrigation Scheme, Asutuare in Ghana.
  • A farmer with a bag of fortifer in Kpong Irrigation Scheme, Asutuare in Ghana
    A farmer with a bag of fortifer in Kpong Irrigation Scheme, Asutuare in Ghana
  • A woman farmer inspecting a sprinkler
    A woman farmer inspecting a sprinkler
  • Women farmers at a Central Region Tuba Irrigation Scheme
    Women farmers at a Central Region Tuba Irrigation Scheme
  • Man fetching water from a reservoir in the Central Region Tuba Irrigation Scheme in Ghana.
    Man fetching water from a reservoir in the Central Region Tuba Irrigation Scheme in Ghana.
  • Centre pivot irrigation in the Northern Region of Yagaba.
    Centre pivot irrigation in the Northern Region of Yagaba.
  • Fishermen drawing their net on the Weija Lake in the Central Region of Ghana
    Fishermen drawing their net on the Weija Lake in the Central Region of Ghana
  • A fisherman casting his net at Tono dam, Upper East Region in Navrongo, Ghana.
    A fisherman casting his net at Tono dam, Upper East Region in Navrongo, Ghana.
  • Women transplanting tomatoes at a farm located in the Upper East Region in Navrongo, Ghana.
    Women transplanting tomatoes at a farm located in the Upper East Region in Navrongo, Ghana.
BackgroundWater, Food and EcosystemsWater, Climate Change and ResilienceWater, Growth and Inclusion
West Africa is the poorest region on the continent. Heavily dependent on subsistence agriculture, the region is plagued by low levels of productivity and food insecurity stands at nearly 50%. Massive migration from rural to urban areas is currently underway – particularly involving young men – and it is expected that 63% of West Africans will live in cities by 2050. Rapid urban expansion has left cities with inadequate infrastructure and sanitation services, causing land degradation and water pollution. It has also given rise to an increasing ‘feminization’ of agriculture, which is complicated by persistent inequity in women’s access to and control of productive assets. The region is highly vulnerable to climate change. Increasing temperatures, accompanied by erratic rainfall and prolonged dry spells and floods, are likely to reduce crop yields with serious implications for food security at a time of significant population growth: West Africa’s population of over 400 million is set to more than double by 2050.
Most farmers in West Africa are smallholders who rely on rain-fed agriculture to satisfy their basic food needs. Irrigation policies and initiatives in the region tend to target large-scale production. As a result, smallholders lack access to technologies, finance and knowledge about water management. By ensuring that water is used more efficiently, IWMI supports sustainable agricultural intensification and the increased resilience of farming systems. Together with our partners, we design, test and scale low-cost approaches to integrated water resources management that support social equity, economic efficiency and environmental sustainability. By developing and evaluating solutions that save and conserve water, IWMI contributes to making small- and large-scale irrigation development more efficient, profitable and resilient. We use geospatial analysis and develop business models to demonstrate the potential benefits of solar irrigation for smallholders in off-grid rural areas. Flood and drought monitoring systems developed by IWMI are used by governments to implement long-term resilience measures and respond to emergencies. We advise policy makers and participate in stakeholder dialogues with the goal of establishing institutional and financial arrangements for a resilient and sustainable agriculture sector.
 With plans underway to combat the impacts of climate change in West Africa, farmers are learning to adapt to shorter agricultural seasons and longer and more frequent dry spells, as well as increasing rainfall intensity, which damages crops and causes more frequent flash floods. IWMI is helping by providing farmers in the region with climate-smart water solutions, promoting insurance packages for floods and droughts, and fostering the establishment of climate-resistant water storage facilities. We quantify the projected impacts of climate change on water resources to inform national climate change mitigation and adaptation plans. IWMI’s drought and flood risk mapping tools help governments to identify areas requiring relief aid or long-term mitigation measures. We assess the technical, economic, social, financial and institutional impediments to expanding agricultural water infrastructure, and use hydrological models and climate scenario analyses to support policy making and investment decisions to overcome these barriers.

In transboundary river basins, conflicts may arise between countries over the distribution, use and management of scarce water resources. West Africa has 22 major transboundary river basins; all countries except Cape Verde share at least one river with another country. IWMI provides water accounting tools to enable objective decision-making on water allocation by government agencies. We also support transboundary water management through capacity building as a means to optimize basin-wide benefits and provide options for benefit-sharing across countries. 

Despite the fact that West Africa has experienced intense urbanization over the past five decades, there has been little effort to understand how rural-urban interactions affect the livelihoods of low-income and vulnerable groups in both settings. Such interactions include, for example, the movement of people, goods, money, information and waste between cities and rural areas, and the links between agriculture, services and other sectors. Recognizing these links could help boost food security in West Africa, where smallholder agricultural productivity is low and access to markets is limited.

IWMI is examining rural-urban linkages, migration and inclusive development to support policy formulation for the effective governance of shared natural resources. This includes establishing arrangements for water resources management, and ensuring that both women and men have equitable access to adequate water supplies to support livelihood development. IWMI works with women and young entrepreneurs to strengthen their resilience and ability to adapt to climate change, natural disasters and socioeconomic challenges. We also facilitate multi-stakeholder dialogues on social transformation planning to improve inclusive rural and urban growth.

In West Africa, people usually depend on pit latrines or septic tanks to dispose of human waste, which is then leaked or discharged as ‘fecal sludge’ into the environment. The resulting contamination of water and food supplies has serious health impacts. Progress toward increasing access to improved sanitation facilities has been very limited in the region.

IWMI has decades of experience in using waste and wastewater to support sustainable growth and a circular economy based on the concepts of reuse and recycling. Our pioneering research on the sanitation value chain revealed a demand for waste-derived products, which prompted the development of technologies to recover wastewater for new uses. We have initiated public-private partnerships that have resulted in robust businesses that commercialize waste-based products developed by IWMI. Based on our research, the Government of Ghana added waste-based composts to its fertilizer subsidy program. We work with public and private sector partners, particularly in Ghana, to understand the health risks of using contaminated water for irrigating crops, and to determine the best approaches to mitigate these risks. IWMI developed methods for rearing fish in treated wastewater ponds, and carried out public awareness and social marketing campaigns around food safety. We successfully developed and tested an organic fertilizer from fecal sludge and market waste. We are testing the sustainability of these innovations, and developing tool kits and capacity building programs for scaling in communities and countries throughout the region. We will continue to assess water quality and pollution pathways, and recommend control measures for mitigating human and environmental health risks.

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Economics and equity

At IWMI, researching underlying economic and social trends helps us understand why people migrate. They also explain the impact of remittances and loss of agricultural labor, as well as consequences of migration on gender roles and food and water security. For instance, communities with higher levels of income inequality, or relative deprivation, may experience greater levels of out-migration compared to consistently low-income communities. In addition, migration changes intra-household gender-labor composition, which can change the access of smallholders to water resources, affecting the functioning of community-based institutions and consequently household and local food security. IWMI also focuses on circular economy, a strategy to recover and reuse waste, to boost food security and understand how interventions can encourage refugee and host communities to retain scarce resources.

This focus area contributes to the following One CGIAR impact areas:

Nutrition, health and food security Poverty reduction, livelihoods and jobs Gender equality, youth and inclusion

Urban & rural transformation

As agricultural opportunities fluctuate in rural areas, migration, particularly to urban areas, is an adaptation technique to secure incomes and alternative livelihoods. Income generated by migrants is often sent back to family as remittances to support communities at home. At IWMI, we assess linkages between rural and urban areas, as well as the role of agricultural knowledge systems and food and water security. We recognize there are complex push and pull factors such as individual aspirations, economic opportunity, social norms, climate variability and government policies which drive migration and affect rural communities, particularly youth. Our work follows a ‘positive migration’ philosophy, framing migration as an adaptation technique and socio-economic choice (in many cases) rather than a problem to be solved, and focuses on establishing safer, more regular migration by supporting changes to migration governance in sending regions.

This focus area contributes to the following One CGIAR impact areas:

Nutrition, health and food security Poverty reduction, livelihoods and jobs Gender equality, youth and inclusion Climate adaptation and mitigation

Covid-19 disruption & adaptation

Covid-19 has caused a rupture in migration logistics and exposed inequities in the migration system, yet drivers of movement remain. Government lockdowns and closed borders due to the pandemic curtailed movement for migrants, posing complex problems for migrant hosting and origin countries. There have been significant economic shocks, with a sharp decline in unemployment for migrants and an inability to send money home through remittances to support family. Some migrants face social stigma for returning home without an income, particularly if families relied on loans to support their journeys. Consequences have been severe for informal migrants who lack government protection in their host countries. Migrants, particularly those living in crowded, lower-income neighborhoods, have been experiencing stigmatization related to the spread of Covid-19. We look at the impacts of Covid-19 on migration governance and rural areas across seven countries, development planning in Ghana, migration challenges in Southeast Asia, and community-based disaster management and resilience building in South Africa.

This focus area contributes to the following One CGIAR impact areas:

Nutrition, health and food security Poverty reduction, livelihoods and jobs Gender equality, youth and inclusion

Water, climate change and agrarian stress

Migration, water and climate stress are inextricably linked to rural development. Water stress and climate variability can act as a driver of fragility, intensifying pre-existing political, social, economic and environmental challenges. Initiatives designed to address migration-related challenges must tackle inequalities and the exclusion of women, youth and marginalized groups; governance opportunities to better manage water and natural resources and technology and innovations to help communities escape socio-ecological precarity and thrive despite climate challenges. IWMI intends to build climate resilience by implementing projects which tackle gender-power inequalities in the face of dynamic, economic-social-ecological challenges. Our work brings together affected communities, institutional stakeholders and social actors to manage water in response to climate variability and agrarian stress, striving to address complex physical and social variables.

This focus area contributes to the following One CGIAR impact areas:

Nutrition, health and food security Poverty reduction, livelihoods and jobs Gender equality, youth and inclusion Climate adaptation and mitigation

Gender, intersectionality and social inclusion

It is critical to center gender and intersectional identities when unpacking migration phenomena. Gender as a social construct guides social norms and relations, including the decision-making processes and mechanisms leading to migration. We recognize that the intersections between race, age, class, sex, caste and region shape the migrant experience.

IWMI strives to offer transformative approaches and solutions for women, youth and marginalized groups, regarding them as equal partners in our work rather than passive end-users.  For example, within communities that experience male out migration, socio-political systems are restructured to make women, youth and other groups active agents in their own agri-food transformation. Migration patterns contribute to the feminization of agriculture, and women may experience a greater burden of responsibility coupled with an increased ability to access and control resources and policies to build sustainable livelihoods. Acknowledging social complexities helps researchers and communities understand migration trends and address structural power imbalances to build a more equitable world.

This focus area contributes to the following One CGIAR impact areas:

Nutrition, health and food security Poverty reduction, livelihoods and jobs Gender equality, youth and inclusion

Innovation bundles

Farmer-led irrigation development is about much more than installing a pump in a field. It requires access to financing, labor, energy, and input and output markets, so that investments in irrigation translate into sustainable returns. IWMI uses a systemic approach to understand the farming system as well as the factors in the enabling environment that prevent women, men and youth from engaging in and benefitting equitably from farmer-led irrigation. We partner with farmers and the public and private sectors to test contextually relevant innovation bundles that combine irrigation technology such as solar pumps with financing mechanisms like pay-as-you-own or pay-as-you-go, agricultural inputs and agronomic techniques. We also look at ways to improve on-farm water management and nutrient use efficiency and reduce evapotranspiration through digital advances and agricultural extension. We integrate the scaling of innovation bundles into agricultural value chains to enhance the impacts on farmers’ irrigation investments, incomes and livelihoods.

This focus area contributes to the following One CGIAR impact areas:

Nutrition, health and food security Poverty reduction, livelihoods and jobs Gender equality, youth and inclusion Environmental health and biodiversity Climate adaptation and mitigation

Gender and social inclusion

The barriers facing women and men in accessing irrigation technologies are not the same. Neither are the benefits. Social, cultural and religious norms influence inter- and intra-household power relations. These, in turn, affect access to resources such as land, credit, information and training. IWMI carries out cross-dimensional analysis of gender and social inclusion in policy, financing, livelihood assets and access, institutional approaches and interventions as well as gender-based technology preferences. For example, we work with farmers, financial institutions and the private sector to address gender-based constraints in credit scoring and enhance women’s purchasing power. But benefitting from farmer-led irrigation does not stop at accessing and adopting technologies; enabling women and resource-poor farmers to participate in input and output markets is equally important to ensure that investments in irrigation result in improved nutrition and economic empowerment. Other ways we enhance gender and social inclusion include tackling agency issues around financial management and literacy, livelihood diversity and social capital as well as access to infrastructure, extension services and market linkages.

This focus area contributes to the following One CGIAR impact areas:

Poverty reduction, livelihoods and jobs Gender equality, youth and inclusion

Environmental sustainability

Population pressure and increasing water competition in a changing climate require us to take stock of the availability and use of water across scales. Water availability not only influences farmers’ commercial prospects but also irrigation-related enterprises and agri-businesses. Greater water scarcity could jeopardize irrigation and agricultural markets while excessive water use can lead to declining ecosystems, water quality and soil health. IWMI advises development partners and the public and private sectors on all aspects of water resource availability and use through a variety of advanced modeling and remote-sensing products and tools, including Water Accounting+solar irrigation mapping and internet of things. These are complemented by multi-criteria analysis to evaluate the potential of irrigation expansion, taking into consideration environmental flows. With our private sector partners, we are leveraging converging technologies, such as sensors on solar pumps that capture usage data, to encourage better resource management and governance.

This focus area contributes to the following One CGIAR impact areas:

Environmental health and biodiversity Climate adaptation and mitigation

Adaptive scaling and partnerships

The ability of farmers to engage in or expand irrigation depends on the prevailing socioeconomic, ecological and political contexts, which are often complex, non-linear and changeable. Overcoming systemic barriers to farmer-led irrigation development while taking advantage of existing opportunities requires scaling processes to be adaptive. This means diverse actors feed off, adapt to, support, cooperate, compete and interact with each other, forming different multi-actor networks and engaging in collective action to undertake various functions in the scaling ecosystem. IWMI works with farmers and public and private sector partners to co-design and pilot contextually relevant innovation bundles and their scaling pathways or strategies, influence policies and accelerate the transition to scale of innovations with demonstrated early impact.

This focus area contributes to the following One CGIAR impact areas:

Nutrition, health and food security Poverty reduction, livelihoods and jobs Gender equality, youth and inclusion Environmental health and biodiversity Climate adaptation and mitigation

Financing ecosystem

A lack of affordable credit, particularly for women and resource-poor farmers, is one of the main barriers to expanding farmer-led irrigation in low- and middle-income countries. But credit alone is not enough. Financing for irrigation equipment must be embedded in a wider financing ecosystem that bundles credit with inputs and services, market information and access, and technology such as digital payment. In several countries, irrigation equipment suppliers are stepping in to provide financing directly to farmers. In doing so, they increase their own risk. To address this issue, IWMI works with farmers, private companies, finance institutions and development partners such as the World Bank Group to analyze whether credit-scoring tools are inclusive. We also help to identify gaps in the financing ecosystem and de-risk the private sector from testing innovative end-user financing mechanisms that take into account farming system typologies, financial and social capital and crop seasonality.

This focus area contributes to the following One CGIAR impact areas:

Poverty reduction, livelihoods and jobs Gender equality, youth and inclusion

Human capacity development and knowledge exchange

Scaling farmer-led irrigation requires strengthening human capacity and knowledge exchange among all actors and stakeholders involved. IWMI takes an action research approach, working with national and international research institutions, governments, extension agents and public and private organizations to co-develop the scaling ecosystem and strengthen capacity to drive scaling networks and collective action. We support the development of or reinforce national multi-stakeholder dialogues with the aim of sharing scaling experiences and realizing win-win collaboration, interactive learning and capacity development. Other modalities for capacity development include hackathons, innovation research grants for bachelor’s and master’s students, private sector scaling grants and innovation internships with private companies. These all serve to stimulate local and contextually relevant innovation, close the research-private sector divide and enhance job readiness among young professionals.

This focus area contributes to the following One CGIAR impact areas:

Nutrition, health and food security Poverty reduction, livelihoods and jobs Gender equality, youth and inclusion Environmental health and biodiversity Climate adaptation and mitigation

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