Project Overview


Groundwater sustains the lives of an estimated 400 million rural people in Africa, including the vast majority of villages and small towns throughout the sub-Saharan region. Even so, it is recognized that groundwater is vastly underdeveloped in many regions, and that there are large untapped groundwater reserves. They represent highly important renewable resources that can contribute significantly towards offsetting the effects of climate change and in progressing the Millennium Development Goals.
Groundwater is virtually ubiquitous and perennial in nature, and well suited to localized, small-scale development. Efforts to attain a Green Revolution in Africa, as has taken place in Asia and Latin America, are highly dependent upon groundwater-based initiatives since the spatial and temporal availability of surface water is highly constrained.
However in developing groundwater, there are key policy and technical constraints that first need to be identified then addressed.  Tapping into groundwater requires radically different policies and strategies of national and international water policy makers, development financers, and the rural development community. Such policies and strategies should be informed by scientific insights into the physical, socio-economic and institutional potentials and constraints of groundwater use in sub-Saharan Africa. This study seeks to address the key challenges and plug some of the major gaps.
While this study is conceptualized with a regional perspective, it is well recognized that the challenge must be met by groundwater development interventions (GDIs) that are pertinent to the local scale in the context of small-scale irrigation development, which individual farmers understand, support and can apply independently and in a way that conforms to broader-scale strategies and policies.


The projects aims to enhance the role of groundwater in providing improved food security and livelihoods in the countries targeted by The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA).
The specific objectives include:
  1. Assessing groundwater availability and sustainability, including the impacts associated with its use and role in adapting to climate change
  2. Identifying opportunities and constraints in using groundwater, and provide advise to investors in groundwater interventions
  3. Developing a groundwater strategy for the region


A nested, multi-scale approach is being adopted involving analysis at three scales (SSA, national and local), in varying degrees of detail. At the SSA scale, broad-brush assessments that synthesize existing data for the 13 AGRA countries will be done (Burkina Faso, Mali, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi,  Ethiopia, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia). More detailed investigations will be implemented in 4 focal countries: Mali & Ghana (West Africa) and Ethiopia & Tanzania (East/Southern Africa). Intensive field work and analysis is being conducted with local partner agencies within regions of the focal countries (Figure 1).
Figure 1. Map of study area identifying the different scales of consideration


Developing a groundwater strategy for SSA involves the synthesis of three primary elements:
  1. Characterizing the quantity and quality of the groundwater resource and its constraints
  2. Understanding the target users and their behaviour
  3. Documenting the state of the art in promoting agricultural groundwater use
Specific activities within these elements include:
  • detailed reviews of the groundwater conditions and the state of rural groundwater development within each AGRA country
  • remote-sensing/GIS based mapping of groundwater ‘hotspots’ at the national scale for identification of areas with highest potential impact for groundwater development
  • analysis of likely impacts of climate variability and climate change on groundwater availability
  • environmental sustainability assessment of increased groundwater utilization in local study sites (one of these is the Upper East Region, Ghana)
  • assessment of government policies relevant to groundwater resources development and management
  • socioeconomic, gender and livelihood impact of present and potential groundwater use at different spatial scales
  • summary of relevant lessons from South Asian experience in groundwater management
  • evaluation of constraints and opportunities to groundwater development
  • develop tools to assist groundwater developers / investors, in screening GDIs and designing intervention strategies


Dr. Paul Pavelic (


Three years: 2009 – 2011

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