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Volta River Basin Research Highlights


The implementation of integrated rainwater management practices can lead to more equitable and multipurpose use of small reservoirs




Summary of Research in the Volta

The farmers in the Volta River basin, some of the poorest in the world, generally rely on rain-fed agriculture. However, insufficient or irregular rainfall frequently puts farmers at risk of losing their crops. In addition, climate change is making already variable rainfall less reliable.

Facilitating CollectiveThe risk of losing crops makes farmers reluctant to invest in agriculture and water management. Farmers must have access to a reliable water supply to sustain their livelihoods.

The Challenge Program on Water and Food (CPWF) began its research in the Volta river basin in 2003. Between 2003 and 2008, twelve independent projects conducted research on a wide range of water and food-related issues. When designing its second round of projects, CPWF decided to limit its focus to one theme and one geographical area. Thus, between 2010 and 2013, CPWF explored the institutional and technical aspects of rainwater management as well as small reservoir development and maintenance in Burkina Faso and northern Ghana. The research has been linked with similar CPWF research projects in the Nile and Limpopo river basins.

There are more than 1,700 small reservoirs scattered across Burkina Faso and northern Ghana. Initially, many reservoirs were built as watering holes for cattle, but they have come to serve multiple purposes, providing opportunities for farmers to mitigate the risks of variable rainfall.

Farmers use the reservoirs to help better manage the periods of drought and floods, trying to ensure that water is more consistently available for their crops and animals throughout the year.

Finding the OptimumHowever, external drivers of change such as population growth and climate change are putting pressure on the limited rainwater resources. Improved rainwater management is a necessity for smallholder farmers to intensify their production, i.e., use less water to grow more crops, rear more cattle, or both.

That’s why CPWF set out to find ways to strengthen integrated management of rainwater and small reservoirs, so they can be used equitably and for multiple purposes.

To achieve this objective, CPWF has used different research disciplines, partnered with local, national, and international organizations, and operated at the household, community, watershed, and basin levels.

The CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems’ West Africa Focal Region research is building on CPWF’s work in the Volta.

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View all publications from the Volta.

Summary of CPWF Research in the Volta River Basin (Brief)

The CPWF began its research in the Volta river basin in 2003. Between 2003 and 2008, twelve independent projects conducted research on a wide range of water and food-related issues. Between 2010 and 2013, CPWF explored the institutional and technical aspects of rainwater management as well as small reservoir development and maintenance in Burkina Faso and northern Ghana.

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Evolution of agricultural water management in rainfed crop-livestock systems of the Volta Basin (Working paper)

This study of the evolution of AWM in the Volta Basin yielded key recommendations for research-for-development interventions and new concepts for research on water management. When promoting agricultural water management strategies, projects should carefully study the available information on factors triggering adoption, and play on these to ensure sustainable uptake of the technology.

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Structure and Agency: Understanding Policy Changes in West Africa (Journal article)

This paper argues that the ownership of policy reforms is the outcome of an interaction between individual agency and structural conditions. Taking the implementation of Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) in Burkina Faso (since 1996) and Mali (since 2004) as an entry point, the paper describes the interplay between national policy makers, international organizations and dominant development discourses in the shaping of water policy reforms in both countries over the past 15 years.

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Linking Knowledge: A Qualitative Analysis of Gender and IWRM-related Policies in the Upper East Region of Ghana (Working paper)

This study includes a baseline on the activities and issue of women in the Upper East Region of northern Ghana. It also provides an analysis of the processes, opportunities and constraints of how and why women organize themselves in these particular social groupings. The paper concludes with an evaluation of how, if at all, IWRM-related district, regional and national level policies from government departments.

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Facilitating Collective and Inclusive Decision Making on Integrated Water Resources Management in Burkina Faso (Outcome story)

In Burkina Faso, implementation of on-the-ground water governance lags behind the integrated water resources management policies the government has promoted for two decades. In order to address this gap, one CPWF project facilitated exchanges between a local water committee and its various stakeholders using companion modeling. The participatory discussion between local water committee members and farmers, pastoralists, fishermen, miners, women, civil society and policy makers resulted in a renewed effort by the committee to draft a management plan and assume its role in integrated water resources management implementation.

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How Water and Agriculture Support Livelihoods in the Volta (Policy brief)

The Volta basin is inhabited by 19 million people, 70 per cent of whom are rural. However, by 2050, when the population is expected to be 50-60 million, the ratio of rural-to-urban populations will have decreased dramatically. Improvements in the rainfed systems coupled with investment in fertilizers and small-scale irrigation provide the main opportunity for development.

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Are Innovation Platforms Improving Crop-Livestock Value Chains in Ghana?

‘Innovation platforms’ are currently receiving a lot of attention amongst the international agricultural research community. What are innovation platforms and how can they help strengthen agricultural markets?

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Finding the optimum balance between farming and the natural environment

How do you convince a farmer who is struggling to produce a crop not to plough additional land next to his local river, or how can you tell a fisherman who needs to provide for his family that he shouldn’t use certain pesticides to enhance his catch of fish? There are answers to each of these questions but often these answers involve more cost, time and labor to be borne by the local community. So why should they change their practices?

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Demystifying the Volta’s Water Discourses

One component the Volta’s research focused on understanding how and why research and policies in the field of agricultural water management are framed in the Volta Basin. The main question they sought 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.

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Volta Team Strengthens Innovation Platforms in Ouahigouya and Komsilga

Another Volta Project, Integrated management of rainwater for crop-livestock agro-ecosystems, utilized innovation platforms and value chain development in crop-livestock farming systems in their research. In Burkina Faso, innovation platforms were created in eight villages.

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Communication in the Volta Basin: A workshop brick in the wall of collective research for development

In a two-day workshop, representatives from all individual Volta projects came together to brainstorm about the challenges and opportunities of the VBDC and to refine an operational communication action plan to guide information and communication activities in the region. Integration, guidance and ongoing collective documentation and reflection can significantly enhance the good efforts undertaken by all in the Volta so far.

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A decision-support tool to target agricultural water management interventions (TAGMI)

The Targeting AGwater Management Interventions (TAGMI) is a decision support tool that facilitates targeting and scaling-out of three different Agricultural Water Management (AWM) technologies in the Limpopo and the Volta River Basins. This online tool displays the output of a Bayesian network model that assesses the influence of social and bio-physical factors on the likelihood of success of implementing different AWM technologies.

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A toolkit to assist small reservoir design and management

The CPWF Small Reservoirs Project (SRP)
began in 2005 in the Volta, Limpopo and Sao Francisco basins. The SRP team developed a
toolkit to support the planning, development
and management of small reservoir ensembles
at the basin level as well as to ensure that small multi-purpose reservoirs are properly located, well designed and operated, maintained in a sustainable fashion, and economically viable at the local community level.

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Seven lessons learned on catalyzing African innovation through engagement platforms

Over the past ten years, CPWF has used engagement platforms across a wide range of scales to address and equally wide range of challenges. Based on this experience, we offer a series of lessons as well as case studies.

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Dialogue posters on water and food production

A set of water dialogue posters was recently released by the CPWF. These aim to help place water and food issues in perspective. The posters portray the diversity and richness of insights achieved by CPWF projects. Each poster is designed for brevity, clarity, and accessibility of message. At the same time, each poster is backed up by in-depth research (which you can access through the supporting documentation box accompanying each poster).

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  • CPWF-Volta Website
  • CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems--West Africa Focal Region
  • Volta Slideshare