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FEATURE STORYMarch 20, 2024

Bringing forth water to combat food insecurity and climate change in the Sahel

Bringing forth water to combat food insecurity and climate change in the Sahel

Water readily available for irrigation in a market garden in Begnoug, Senegal.

Credit: © MediaProd, October 2023


  • Sixty-four percent of the population of the Sahel lives in rural areas and depends primarily on rainfed farming for their livelihood. Despite the potential for up to two million hectares of land to be irrigated, only three percent of farmland has irrigation systems in place. For small farmers, access to water for irrigation is key to sustaining their livelihood and ensuring prosperity and peace in their communities.
  • PARIIS is the first regional project designed following the adoption of the Sahel Irrigation Initiative (2IS) by Heads of State in 2013. It focuses on the combined use of simple and affordable technologies, incorporating local know-how to irrigate farmlands and enhance their potential.
  • The project is active in over 2,000 sites across the participating countries, with more than 20,000 hectares to irrigate for the benefit of some 390,000 farmers, 49% of whom are women. Benefits include lower irrigation costs, increased resilience to climate change, more income for farmers, and enhanced food security.

The vast lands of the Saloum at the heart of Senegal are breathtaking. The ephemeral greenery of the landscape stretches as far as the eye can see, full of promise for future harvests. For those living off the land, this is the time to plant and to wait for nature to work its miracle.

Droughts, delayed rainfall and the vagaries of weather and climate are no longer a concern for the Disso Group, a 40-member cooperative with 38 women, that manages a two-hectare market garden in Keur Ali Guèye. Water now flows continuously. Barbed-wire fences protect the area from stray animals. Carefully selected seeds are already sprouting, heralding a good harvest ahead.

But this was not always the case. “We had to draw water from wells, by hand.  This was very strenuous and tedious,” admits Fatim Sarr, President of Disso. "But for two years now, with the installation of the irrigation system, solar panels and fences, our work has improved. We are encouraged to produce more”.

Bringing forth water to combat food insecurity and climate change in the Sahel

Fatim Sarr, President of the Disso Group, Keur Ali Guèye, Senegal.

Credit: © Renaud Ayih Dossavi, October 2023

Disso now grows three crops a year. For the rainy season, they plant mainly corn and okra using a spray irrigation system. Their visible success generates interests. “We already have 30 persons who want to join so that they too can increase their output. They say that what we have here is gold!, exclaims Fatim, before conducting a second inspection of her okra crop.

Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal: irrigation systems that have a lasting impact on small farmers.

The successes achieved in Keur Aly Guèye flows from the Sahel Irrigation Initiative Support Project (SIIP), financed by the World Bank through the International Development Association, IDA ($170 million) and by the Spanish Agency for International Development and Cooperation, AECID (€30 million). Coordinated by the Permanent Interstate Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel (CILSS), SIIP aims to make a sustainable impact on small-scale farmers in the six Sahel States.

While spray irrigation is used in the Saloum area of Senegal, other methods are recommended at other places to meet the same needs: bringing water to farmland to increase output and combat food insecurity.

Bringing forth water to combat food insecurity and climate change in the Sahel

Left: Drip irrigation in Senegal -- Right: Spray irrigation using solar panels in Mauritania.

Credit: © MediaProd, October 2023

In the Doukour valley in Chad, at some 900 kilometers from N'djamena, a small hydraulic structure built in the runoff bed has been rehabilitated. This serves as a dam that retains water in the high-water period and allows it to permeate deep into the ground to recharge the groundwater table for several months. In this semi-arid land, 17 villages avail themselves of the benefits provided by this structure to irrigate their garden crops.

Fattah Hassan Dubaal, Head of the Adoulous Group that was formed almost 10 years ago, oversees the work performed by her colleagues. With a team of 33 women, the cooperative covers 1.7 hectares spread across the area of the hydraulic structure, producing vegetables for their own consumption as well as for sale.

What we are doing here is not just about irrigation. It’s also, and above all, about building up a wealth of local know-how and knowledge to inform the implementation of similar missions in the Sahel and elsewhere.
Jean François Faye,
Head of Knowledge Management for SIIP in Senegal
Bringing forth water to combat food insecurity and climate change in the Sahel

Members of the Adjoulous Group in Chad.

Credit: © Renaud Ayih Dossavi, October 2023

“SIIP has helped us a lot with irrigation, fences, inputs, seeds, and horse-drawn carts. We now grow crops during three agricultural seasons each year, and our production has increased from about a dozen sacks of garden products to a minimum of 65” notes Fattah. “Our annual income is now around CFAF 3-4 million per year, up from around 500,000 formerly.  After deducting recurrent expenditure, the surplus is distributed among the members. Whatever money I receive, I use it to feed my children, take care of them and enroll them in school,” adds this mother of six.

The early successes are already being emulated elsewhere. “Three neighboring groups want to copy what we are doing, even as we are already moving ahead to address other challenges: transportation to the city of Abéché, consolidating our new clientele, better marketing and storage of our crops that are increasing in volume,” adds Fattah.

Further, in Tekane (260 kms from Nouakchott in Mauritania), Adinou Moumour Sy, farmer and father of five, oversees crop planting activities. The N’Djam ter Tekan cooperative (117 members) of which he is the Secretary General, grows rice, eggplants, watermelons, etc. on 36 hectares. “It used to take an entire day to irrigate one hectare of farmland and prepare the soil for seeding. Now, we can work on up to three hectares per day,” he says.  

Providing water to address the challenges of climate change, strengthen food security, and promote prosperity and peace in communities.

Proper water management is crucial to mitigating the effects of climate change and for making agriculture a job-creating sector, especially in rural areas, while serving also as a catalyst for economic growth in the Sahel. A regional approach is key to achieving these goals.
Chakib Jenane,
World Bank Regional Director for Sustainable Development

Beyond irrigation, what is at stake throughout the vast Sahel, is a silent struggle to stem rural exodus. Lacking prospects, young people are tempted to migrate into big cities or to the West. The hope is to reunite women and men around their land, give them the tools to develop their holdings, and enable them to live and to prosper, at home. SIIP paves the way for greater ambitions: "We have already begun discussions with governments with a view to funding a new project in the sector, which should extend SIIP’s initiatives on a larger scale, with a view to achieving greater impacts," adds Chakib Jenane.


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