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Earlier this month, members of the CPWF Volta Basin Development Challenge (Volta BDC) program met for their annual science workshop. CPWF’s work in the Volta aims to improve integrated management of rainwater and small reservoirs in the river basin so that they can be used equitably and for multiple purposes. Here, Jean-Philippe Venot of the International Water Management Institute discusses a presentation that he gave at the workshop on some emerging results in the Volta.

One component of the Volta BDC Coordination and Change project focuses on understanding how and why research and policies in the field of agricultural water management are framed in the Volta Basin. The main question we seek to answer is why certain policy and investment models (such as integrated water resources management [IWRM], soil and water conservation, irrigation development in small reservoirs) emerge and whose knowledge supports these investments.

The research focuses on identifying the multiple discourses and actors that coalesce around these policy models. Discourses are important because they ‘set the scene’ and contribute to establishing what is desirable and what is not. We have observed that the discourses that characterize the agricultural water management sector in the Volta Basin have evolved little over the last 40 years. The Volta BDC is deeply embedded in these discourses, but while policies and investments tend to focus on ‘best-bets’ (large scale investment; development of agro-entrepreneurship), the CPWF research focuses on diffuse socio-environmental dynamics in ‘mosaic-landscape’ that are more widespread but also more difficult to pinpoint and articulate.

This is both an opportunity (generating new knowledge) but also a challenge as it may not attract the policy attention that research on ‘hot-spots’ could have yielded. This requires setting up sound partnerships with key actors in the sector.

Actors’ analyses are the second component of the Volta Coordination and Change project. First, results on IWRM highlight that there are many more actors involved in the Burkina Faso (with different consultation) framework than in Ghana. This reveals complementary trends in policy making: one focusing on institutional building (Burkina Faso) and the other on practical implementation (Ghana). Challenges remain the same in both countries with, among others:

  1. a disconnect between ‘water institutions’ and agricultural socio-professional groups;
  2. a decision-making process dominated by the administration and a lack of downward accountability; and
  3. challenges to participation and effective representations of water users in decision-making arenas.

The next stages of the research will be to further investigate the relationships that different actors nurture with each other and the role that IWRM actors play (or do not play) in the field of soil and water conservation and small reservoir development. By better understanding policy and institutions as processes, this research will be able to identify possible entry-points i.e. constraints faced by policy makers that can be relatively easily overcome to trigger change.

Learn more about the Volta BDC by visiting their website. View more presentations from the science workshop on Slideshare.

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