This is a previous project site under CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE). For more information and current updates, visit the WLE website.

Home > Phase 1 > Phase 1 Sao Francisco > Sao Francisco Basin Focal Project (PN56)

Introduction

The São Francisco River provides about 70% of the surface water in Northeast Brazil and like much of Brazil the basin includes communities characterized by a broad range of incomes and persistent poverty.  The basin’s agricultural systems cover a similar range between capitalized export-focused enterprises and subsistence farms. Major corporations and cottage industries comprise the industrial water use sector while cities and towns tap the basin for municipal supplies.  The basin also hosts several important water-dependent ecological zones.  Increasingly, the complex web linking water availability, water quality, water productivity, economic growth, poverty alleviation and community and ecosystem health is coming into focus.  Conflict for water among various water user communities and sectors is becoming common, often with negative consequences for resource-poor stakeholders.  Surface water shortfalls in some areas have increased groundwater utilization which may lead to soil salination.

Brazil’s Federal Law 9.433 (Federal Government of Brazil 1997) was implemented to promote and guide public-sector involvement in water management so as to integrate across the connections defined by the flow of water to improve overall social welfare.  More specifically, the Law clearly places hydrological resources in the public domain (Article 1) and charges policymakers with the wise and sustainable management of these resources (Article 3) via the use of water price policy and other policy instruments (Article 5), some of which remain to be developed.  However, formidable challenges confront the Law’s implementation. Two challenges this research seeks to address in the context of the São Francisco River Basin (SFRB) are:

  • incomplete understanding of how water use decisions taken by important water use groups affect the water use options available in other parts of the basin, now and in the future; and
  • incomplete information for assessing scale-dependent, freshwater dynamics and using these dynamics to predict the effects of alternative water policies designed to promote the increased water productivity, and livelihood and environmental enhancement.

This research project developed the tools and the data bases needed to examine these key issues in the context of SFRB.  Research was undertaken at three spatial scales.  Basin-wide research included: assessments of poverty, agricultural and hydrological resources; assessments of water productivity; examinations of the links between water and poverty; and the development and use of tools predict the effects of alternative water management (and other) interventions and policies on water use, water productivity, agricultural production, and poverty.  For the Buriti Vermelho sub-catchment area, the same sets of issues were addressed, but using a more refined set of hydrologic and economic tools and data sets.  Finally, plot-level research was undertaken outside the Buriti Vermelho sub-catchment area in order to examine issues related to access to water and water productivity in an array of cropping systems and agroecological settings. 

Research Highlights

Assessing Rural Poverty

There are essentially three snapshot of poverty available recently (since about 1990) for Brazil, but only one (2003) can be used to assess rural poverty; all data are available at município level.  Summarizing, we know where poverty is concentrated (in the total population since 1990, and for rural areas in 2003) and we know the depth of that poverty according the Brazilian poverty measurement methods (based on minimum salaries per month).  We also know changes over time in the number, spatial location, and depth of poverty over time – the bottom line is that poverty has been reduced in most areas and become (by some measures of poverty) an increasingly urban issue.

So far, we have little evidence in hand to support any poverty/water access links, but the evidence we do have (and especially the insights being provided as we proceed with data collection, data analysis, and model development) suggests that the links may not be very strong, and will likely be ‘indirect’ in the sense that improving access to water may turn out to be a necessary condition for improving rural livelihoods in some area and for some types of agriculturalists, but it is unlikely to be a sufficient condition for doing so.  Having greater access to water (i.e., reducing the expected costs of establishing and managing irrigation systems) will surely allow farmers to alter product mixes and change the extent of irrigated agriculture on their farms, and for subsistence farmers this can help meet food needs.  However, there are very few purely subsistence farmers in the SFRB, and moving from subsistence farming to more commercial farming is generally the pathway out of poverty for these folks.   So, agriculturalists must increasingly wrestle with issues related to the marketing of their products, and the very rapid changes in the structure of food and fiber markets in Brazil is making this ever more challenging for smallholders and even for some medium-scale farmers.

Case studies of subsistence farming situations (which are few in our LUS research portfolio) can be scaled up both in terms of the contribution of improved access to and use of water to meeting food needs, and in terms of total water use by these archetypical farmers.   The agricultural aspects of the case study of the BV area can be ‘scaled up’ without too much trouble – all agriculturalists in the SFRB are price takers for inputs and for products, so changes in their behavior will not likely affect market prices.  The hydrologic aspects of the BV case study are more complex – one of the key issues we intend to address is how processes and measurement of outcomes of these processes change as one moves from the catchment scale to larger spatial scales.  Scaling up from the basin-wide modeling exercises (e.g., from municípios to clusters of municípios to the entire basin) is also possible and both the hydrologic and some of the agricultural aspects of changing water use in rural areas (e.g., employment) can be measured.

Assessing Water Availability

At basin level, we have estimated water availability under unforced conditions and we have prepared a demonstration model of the SFRB using MIKE Basin.  At sub-basin level, we have developed a model (MOD-HMS) for the Buriti Vermelho sub-catchment area.  At plot level, we have developed LUS models that measure access to water at farm level, on-farm investments required to manage flows onto farms and on-farm storage, and plot-level investments required to move and apply water to a given plot.  At all spatial scales, it is important to note the very important distinction between water availability and access to water – the former term is generally understood to be hydrologic in nature while the second has substantial economic and social science content, moreover, water availability is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for having access to water.

Our focus has been on the agricultural sector, exclusively, though water ‘demand’ for urban and industrial sectors are included (ad hoc) in the basin-wide hydrologic model.  Regarding water-livelihood links, there are three important ones that we are focusing on.  First, we are measuring changes in agriculture income (gross income at the basin-wide level, net income at the sub-basin and plot levels) associated with different policy/technology situations.  Second, at all levels of spatial aggregation, we are measuring employment generated by the same sets of policy/technology situations.  Third, and most relevant at the sub-basin and plot levels, we are measuring the effects of alternative cropping/technology decisions by farmers on the production of food and the nutritional value of that food.

We have dealt primarily with water shortages, and these shortages were not generated by droughts, but by changes in water use by upstream farmers.  All models have the potential to deal with droughts; the sub-basin and basin-wide hydrologic models both have weather generators and hence can simulate any rainfall patterns.  The sub-basin model has the ability to simulate floods.  The LUS model can adjust yields to simulate droughts; crop growth model, experiment station data or perhaps even secondary data were used to estimate crop-specific drought-yield relationships.

Assessing Water Productivity

Our view is that water productivity is an endogenous variable that is determined by the incentives/constraints to investments in cropping patterns, spatial extent of agriculture, and water use technologies – no farmers seeks to maximize water use efficiency, instead, farmers maximize the expected profits from farming operations subject to an array of socioeconomic and agroecological constraints, and water use is a decision variable in that process.  Water productivity can be measured (in any number of ways) by all of the models we are developing, and we are ‘following’ this set of outcomes as we begin to use our models to analyze alternative policy/technology situations.  That said, as is the case in human fertility, this clearly endogenous variable can have externality effects – e.g., increased water use efficiency of upstream users may increase water availably of downstream users, and in the absence of water markets, this externality will not be dealt with efficiently.  So, the issue of water productivity can be of policy relevance, but primarily if spatial and temporal issues are included in discussions of it.

We are inclined to interpret water productivity in the same way we interpret labor productivity (which also can be measured in different ways and estimated using different methods).  Under normal development paths, labor moves from being an abundant input to one in short supply relative to other inputs, and hence its marginal and average values increase.  In a well-functioning labor market, one does not expect to find large spatial variations in wages paid for specific tasks, and any differentials that do exist are explained by information and transportation costs.  One also expects to find increasingly segmented labor markets, as human capital develops (unevenly across the population, usually) to meet the increasingly diverse needs of the market.

Can we expect the same sorts of things to be true for water, another input into production processes?  Probably so.  As water becomes scarcer (perhaps in response to policy action), we would expect its value to increase and to see it being used more efficiently and allocated to uses in which its marginal value is highest (see working paper).  We also would not expect to see large spatial differences in some measures of water productivity, in part because water (like labor) can be moved to erase these differences, but also because crops can ‘move’ to relatively cheaply sources of water.  All this will likely happen with a lag (as is often the case with labor movements, too), since there are legal and other impediments to moving water and crops, and both will require public and private investments to realize.  Lastly, water seems to be more homogeneous than labor, so water market segmentation (base on, say, water quality) in agriculture is not likely to occur.  The exception may be poor-quality groundwater which does limit agricultural production options.

Institutional Analyses

It is not easy to assess who manages water resources in the SFRB.  Indeed, the word ‘manages’ does not seem to be the proper term, in part because it suggests that somebody or some group is consciously taking broad-scale (time and space) decisions on water use.  If one begins at the plot level and works ‘up’ to the basin scale, things can become a bit clearer.  At plot level, farmers choose to manage rainfall and runoff if it makes economic sense to do so, or not if it does not.  The same thing essentially plays out at farm level as regards rainfall and runoff; some plots on the farm merit attention while others may not (and hence are by definition, not ‘managed’).   As one moves to the sub-catchment spatial scale, one finds some sub-catchments in which there are individual farmers managing runoff and other not; in some instances and at some times of the year, the activities of the former influence water availability of the latter.  In other sub-catchments, surface water is more collectively managed, but not all agriculturalists have access to this water or influence over surface water management decisions.  That said, some part of the water resource ‘pool’ are carefully managed (by individuals, collections of individuals, or by government officials, or combinations of these actors), while other parts of this ‘pool’ are not.  For example, in the BV, some surface water is managed by a water user group, but groundwater is not.

At basin scale, there are a few very important decisionmakers, most notably members of the SFRB Water Commission, and especially those who chose to establish and those who currently hydroelectric dams; these users have altered the flow of the SFR very substantially and will continue to do so into the foreseeable future.  So, it is difficult to answer the question ‘who manages water resources’ without putting a spatial and temporal ‘tag’ to it.

 That said, defining water property rights, especially to surface water, is key to addressing water/agriculture/poverty issues –ANA has this as its primary task.  Allocating disproportionate water property rights to those currently below the poverty line (perhaps wherever they live and regardless of their land-owning status or sector of employment) may be one way of addressing rural poverty, but our research suggests that increased access to water is not a sufficient condition for reducing poverty, especially in relatively low-rainfall areas.  Making these property rights transferable via some market mechanism might increase the effectiveness of water in addressing poverty issues.  With a few exceptions that we are aware of, these processes are not underway in the SFRB, in part because in much of the SFRB (especially in areas near the major tributaries) water is not perceived to be a particularly scarce commodity (though financial resources and electrical energy available to move water might be).  Ironically, though, this water-surplus situation may be the most politically expedient time to allocate water property rights and to establish markets for trading them.

In some areas, especially in large-scale irrigation projects, farmers do pay for water, though generally the ‘price’ is established to recover investments in infrastructure and to cover overhead costs rather than to ‘signal’ water scarcity to farmers.  Indeed, in most of these irrigation districts the primary limitations on water taken from the SFRB are the technical limits given by the water conveyance investments that were made when irrigation projects were established, and the agreements regarding the amount (and timing) of electricity that can be used for pumping.

Perhaps more important, so far as we know, aside from the tools developed in the context of this project, there are no research tools currently available in the SFRB to guide public policy action as regards the allocation of water property rights, or the implementation of water pricing or water use regulations.

Intervention Analyses

Generally, and as property rights are currently allocated and defended, the SFRB is an undersubscribed river system, i.e., more water flows out of to sea than is likely required to maintain aquatic ecosystem there (though these ecosystem needs have not yet been measured, nor have upstream ecosystem needs been comprehensively assessed).  All three of our predictive models were developed to assess the effects of alternative water resource ‘futures’ on agricultural and on the poor, and vice versa.  While climate change and other factors make definitive statements difficult to generate, it seems clear that area dedicated to agriculture in the SFRB could be greatly expanded with available water resources, and such an expansion would contribute significantly to agricultural GDP, and perhaps to rural employment (but this would depend greatly on product mix).  However, significant expansion of irrigated agricultural will affect flows, especially in dry years.  The effects of these downstream shortfalls will be determined by the allocation of water rights – if environmental flows are preserved, downstream farmers will see lower profits; if farmers’ access to water is not affected, ecosystem services will be affected.  Small-scale agriculturalists will likely play only a limited role in these future expansions, but their role will be determined more by access to credit, market access, and scale economies in production and marketing than by access to water.

Impact Pathway in the SFRB

We have several primary pathways through which our work will reach potential beneficiaries.  First, we have established solid links with Embrapa; we expect to influence Embrapa’s thinking on key issues and also its research portfolio directly, and via those two pathways, influence outcomes in the policy process and in ‘the field’ through Embrapa’s very large network of researchers and policy analysts (many ‘posted’ in key ministries in Brasilia).  Second, we are working increasingly with ANA – our work may influence decisions this organization takes and promotes as regards water rights and other policies that influence access to water and water use.   Third, we are working more closely with the Brazilian Institute for Education (IEB); this group is at the forefront of training in environmental management and in facilitating conflict resolution.  Finally, we established links with several university-based research groups in Brasília and Minas Gerais.

Publications and Outputs

Project technical completion Report [PDF xxxKB] – available soon

Proposal (PDF 198Kb)

Journal papers (published, submitted, and in preparation)

  1. Maneta, M, Wallender, W, Torres, M, Vosti, S. Water demand and flows in the Sao Francisco River Basin (Brazil) with increased irrigation. Agricultural Water Management. (accepted)
  2. Maneta, M, Singh, P, Torres, M, Wallender, W, Vosti, S, Rodrigues, L, Bassoi, L, Young, J (2009). Parsimonious Crop Water Productivity Index under Unforced Conditions for Large Basins. Area 41: 94-106.
  3. Maneta, M. Torres, M.  Vosti, S. M, Wallender, W, Rodrigues, L, Bassoi, L, Young, J Assessing agriculture-water links at basin scale: A hydro-economic model of the São Francisco River basin, Brazil, Water International, 34(2009): 88-105;
  4. Maneta, M, Wallender, W, Torres, M, Howitt, R Vosti, S, Panday, S. A linked hydro-economic model to assess the effects of drought on land use, farm profits and agricultural employment. Water Resources Research (submitted)
  5. Singh, P, Wallender, W, Maneta, M, Lee, S, Olsen, B. Sustainable root zone salinity and shallow water table in the context of land retirement. Journal of Irrigation and Drainage Engineering (submitted)
  6. Torres, M. Vosti, S. Maneta, M, Wallender, W, Rodrigues, L, Bassoi, L, Young, J. Spatial patterns of rural poverty: an exploratory analysis in the Sao Francisco River Basin, Brazil. Nova Economia (submitted).
  7. Torres, M. Vosti, S. Maneta, M, Wallender, W, Rodrigues, L, Bassoi, L, Young, J. Spatial Econometrics Analysis of Rural Poverty in the São Francisco River Basin, Brazil. In preparation for submission to the Review of Regional Studies.
  8. Torres, M. Vosti, S. Maneta, M, Wallender, W, Rodrigues, L, Bassoi, L. Assessing the Effects of Water Use Regulations on Minimum Flows in the São Francisco River Basin: An Application of a Linked Hydro-Economic Model. In preparation for submission to World Development.
  9. Torres, M. Vosti, S. Maneta, M, Wallender, W, Rodrigues, L, Bassoi, L. Assessing the effects of water use on farmers income: why time resolution matters? In preparation for submission to the American Journal of Agricultural Economics.
  10. Maneta, M, Wallender, W, Torres, M, Vosti, S. Pilot point based multi-objective calibration to simulate surface-subsurface processes interactions. In preparation for submission to the Journal of Hydrology.
  11. Allen, S. Agricultural Water Availability and Poverty Linkages: São Francisco River Basin, Brazil.  MSc Thesis. In preparation.
  12. Bennett, L.  Examining the Effects of Water Policies and Uncertainty on Small-Scale Farms in Petrolina-Juazeiro, Brazil: An Application of Land Use System Analysis.  MSc Thesis. In preparation.

Conference Papers/Presentations

  1. Vosti, S, Maneta, M, Torres, M, Wallender, Howitt, R. Hydro-Economic Modelling with Minimum Data Requirements: An Application to the São Francisco River Basin, Brazil. Annual Meetings of the Pacific Conference for Development Economics, San Francisco, CA. March 14, 2009.  Oral presentation.
  2. Maneta, M, Torres, M, Wallender, Vosti, S, Howitt, R. A hydro-economic model for assessing the effects of changes in water availability. AGU Fall Meeting, San Francisco, CA. 15 – 19 December, 2008. Oral presentation.
  3. Maneta, M, Torres, M, Wallender, Vosti, S, Howitt, R. Hydro-economic modeling with minimum data requirements. An application to the Sao Francisco river basin, Brazil. AGU Fall Meeting, San Francisco, CA. 15 – 19 December, 2008. Poster presentation.
  4. Vosti, S, Maneta, M, Torres, M, Wallender, S, Bassoi, L, Bennett, L, Howitt, R, Rodrigues, L, Young, J. Assessing the Effects of Changes in Policies and Conditions in the São Francisco River Basin, Brazil: A Multi-Scale Approach. Paper for the Second International Forum on Water and Food, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia from November 10—14, 2008.
  5. Vosti, S, Bennet, L, Bassoi, L, Maneta, M, Rodrigues, L, Torres, M, Howitt, R, Wallender, W. Identifying Water-Poverty Links at Plot Level. 13th World Water Congress, Montpellier, France. 2 Sept, 2008. Oral Presentation.
  6. Maneta, M, Torres, M, Vosti, S, Wallender, W, Allen, S, Bassoi, L, Bennett, L, Howitt, R, Rodrigues, L, Young, J. Assessing agriculture-water links at basin scale: A hydro-economic model of the São Francisco River basin, Brazil. 13th World Water Congress, Montpellier, France. 2 Sept, 2008. Oral Presentation.
  7. Maneta, M, Torres, M, Wallender, W, Vosti, S, Howitt, R. High resolution spatial and temporal hydro-economic simulation of a tropical rural watershed, Buriti Vermelho, Brazil. Seminar at the Department of Agricultural Resources Economics, University of California, Davis. 16 May, 2008. Invited presentation.
  8. Maneta, M. Why hydrologic science needs a closer collaboration between field scientists and modelers. Seminar at the department of Land, Air and Water Resources, University of California, Davis. 10 March 2008. Invited presentation.
  9. Torres, M., S. A. Vosti, L. H. Bassoi, R. Howitt, M. Maneta, L. Rodrigues, W. W. Wallender, and J. Young.  2007.  ‘Spatial Patterns of Rural Poverty in the São Francisco River Basin, Brazil.’ Selected Paper prepared for the American Agricultural Economics Association Annual Meeting, Portland, Oregon, July 29 – August 1, 2007.
  10. Maneta, M, Wallender, W, Schnabel, S. Calibration of a Soil Water Uptake Model Using Model Ensemble and Prior Information in a Semiarid Environment Using Global and Local Search Methods. AGU Fall Meeting, San Francisco, CA. 10-14 December, 2007. Oral Presentation.
  11. Vosti, S, Torres, M, Maneta, M, Howitt, R, Wallender, W, Spatial Patterns of Rural Poverty in the São Francisco River Basin, Brazil. American Agricultural Economics Association Annual meeting. Portland, OR. July 29th – Aug, 1st, 2007. Oral presentation.
  12. Vosti, S. A. and SFRB Team.  2007.  ‘Understanding Poverty-Environment Synergies and Trade-Offs: Measurement Tools and Policy Implications.’  Presentation to the Population, Poverty and Environments Workshop of the Beahrs Environmental Leadership Program, Summer 2007, University of California, Berkeley.  June 16, 2007.
  13. Maneta, M, Torres, M, Howitt, R, Vosti, S, Wallender, W. A Detailed Hydro-economic Model for Assessing the Effects of Surface Water and Groundwater Policies: A Demonstration Model from Brazil. American Agricultural Economics Association Annual meeting. Portland, OR. July 29th – Aug, 1st, 2007. Oral presentation.
  14. Maneta, M, Torres, M, Vosti, S, Wallender, W, Howitt, R, Rodrigues, L, Bassoi, L,  Young, J. Poverty length and time scales. International Water Management Institute, Basin Focal Project, Water and Poverty Workshop, Davis, CA. April 25-27, 2006.
  15. Maneta, M, Torres, M, Vosti, S, Wallender, W, Howitt, R, Rodrigues, L, Bassoi, L,  Young, J. A linked hydro-economic model to examine the effects of water policy on rural poverty. AGU Fall Meeting, San Francisco, CA. 11 – 15 December, 2006. Poster presentation.
  16. Maneta, M, Torres, M, Vosti, S, Wallender, W, Howitt, R, Rodrigues, L, Bassoi, L, Young, J. A basin-wide economic model of agriculture in the Sâo Francisco river basin a demonstration model. CGIAR Challenge Program on Water and Food. International Forum on Food and Water. Vientiane, Lao PDR, November 12-17, 2006.
  17. Maneta, M, Torres, M, Vosti, S, Wallender, W, Howitt, R, Rodrigues, L, Bassoi, L,  Young, J. Water management across scales in the Sâo Francisco basin: policy options and poverty consequences. CGIAR Challenge Program on Water and Food. International Forum on Food and Water. Vientiane, Lao PDR, November 12-17, 2006.
  18. Maneta, M, Torres, M, Vosti, S, Wallender, W, Howitt, R, Rodrigues, L, Bassoi, L,  Young, J. Hydrologic modeling at different scales to address poverty in the Sâo Francisco river basin. CGIAR Challenge Program on Water and Food. International Forum on Food and Water. Vientiane, Lao PDR, November 12-17, 2006.
  19. Maneta M, M. Torres, S. Vosti, W. Wallender, R. Howitt, L. Rodrigues, L. Bassoi, and J. Young.   ‘A linked hydro-economic model to examine the effects of water policy on rural poverty.’  Poster prepared for and presented at the Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union, San Francisco, USA. 11 – 15 December, 2006.

Reports/Research Briefs/Working papers

  1. A summary of Research Objectives, Activities and Expected Outputs.  Water Management Across Scales in the São Francisco River Basin: Policy Options and Poverty Consequences.  São Francisco River Basin Research Brief No. 1 ≈ November 2006.
  2. Poverty and Water Management in the São Francisco River Basin: Preliminary Assessments and Issues to Consider. Water Management Across Scales in the São Francisco River Basin: Policy Options and Poverty Consequences. São Francisco River Basin Research Brief No. 2 ≈ November 2006.
  3. Choosing the Proper Spatial and Temporal Resolutions for Water Management: Don’t Forget the ‘Invisible’ Factors.’ Water Management Across Scales in the São Francisco River Basin: Policy Options and Poverty Consequences.  São Francisco River Basin Research Brief No. 3 ≈ November 2006.
  4. 4.    Water Productivity at Basin Level: Methods, Benefits, and Shortcomings.’  Water Management Across Scales in the São Francisco River Basin: Policy Options and Poverty Consequences. São Francisco River Basin Research Brief No. 4 ≈ November 2006.
  5. The future of Small-Scale Irrigation: An Example of On-Farm Costs and Benefits’ . Water Management Across Scales in the São Francisco River Basin: Policy Options and Poverty Consequences. São Francisco River Basin Research Brief No. 5 ≈ November 2006.
  6. Marcelo Torres et al. 2008. Identifying Water-Poverty Links in the São Francisco River Basin: Exploring Profit and Poverty Functions
  7. Marcelo Torres et al. 2008. An Economic Model of Agriculture for the São Francisco River Basin: Specification, Calibration, Preliminary Simulations
  8. 8.    Maneta, M. et al. 2008. Modeling the Hydrology of the São Francisco: A Demonstration Model
  9. Marco Maneta et al. 2008. Measuring Access to Agricultural Water in the São Francisco Basin: Basin-Wide and Farm-Level Perspective
  10. Lisa Bennett et al., 2008. Land Use System (LUS) Analysis of Rainfed and Irrigated Lime Production Systems in the Middle São Francisco River Basin, Brazil
  11. Marco Maneta et al., 2008. Modeling the Hydrology of the Buriti Vermelho Sub-Catchment Area of the São Francisco River Basin
  12. Stephen A. Vosti et al., 2008. Characterizing Agriculture and Agricultural Change in the São Francisco River Basin, Brazil.
  13. M P Maneta, M Torres, R Howitt, W W Wallender, S Vosti, L Rodrigues, Luis Bassoi, S Panday. 2007. A linked hydro-economic model to assess the economic impact of water policies on rural poverty.

For more information on Phase 1 outputs please contact Udana Ariyawansa.

Tags