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Hydrology and Earth System Sciences An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
https://doi.org/10.5194/hess-2015-549
© Author(s) 2016. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.
Research article
19 Jan 2016
Review status
This discussion paper has been under review for the journal Hydrology and Earth System Sciences (HESS). The manuscript was not accepted for further review after discussion.
Shallow groundwater in sub-Saharan Africa: neglected opportunity for sustainable intensification of small-scale agriculture?
John Gowing1, Geoff Parkin2, Nathan Forsythe2, David Walker2, Alemseged Tamiru Haile3, and Demis Alamirew4 1School of Agriculture, Food & Rural Development, Newcastle University, Newcastle upon 5 Tyne, NE1 7RU, United Kingdom
2School of Civil Engineering & Geosciences, Newcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyne, 7 NE1 7RU, United Kingdom
3International Water Man agement Institute, P.O. Box 5689, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
4Geological Survey of Ethiopia, P.O. Box 30912, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Abstract. There is a need for an evidence-based approach to identify how best to support development of groundwater for small scale irrigation in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). We argue that it is important to focus this effort on shallow groundwater resources which are most likely to be used by poor rural communities in SSA. However, it is important to consider constraints, since shallow groundwater resources are likely to be vulnerable to over-exploitation and climatic variability. We examine here the opportunities and constraints and draw upon evidence from Ethiopia. We present a methodology for assessing and interpreting available shallow groundwater resources and argue that participatory monitoring of local water resources is desirable and feasible. We consider possib le models for developing distributed small-scale irrigation and assess its technical feasibility. Because of power limits on water lifting and also because of available technology for well construction, groundwater at depths of 50 m or 60 m cannot be regarded as easily accessible for small-scale irrigation. We therefore adopt a working definition of shallow groundwater as < 20 m depth.

This detailed case study in the Dangila woreda in Ethiopia explores the feasibility of exploiting shallow groundwater for small-scale irrigation over a range of rainfall conditions. Variability of rainfall over the study period (9 % to 96 % probability of non-exceedance) does not translate into equivalent variability in groundwater levels and river baseflow. Groundwater levels, monitored by local communities, persist into the dry season to at least the end of December in most shallow wells, indicating that groundwater is available for irrigation use after the cessation of the wet season. Arguments historically put forward against the promotion of groundwater use for agriculture in SSA on the basis that aquifers are unproductive and irrigation will have unacceptable impacts on wetlands and other groundwater-dependent ecosystems appear exaggerated. It would be unwise to generalise from this case study to the whole of SSA, but useful insights into the wider issues are revealed by the case study approach. We believe there is a case for arguing that shallow groundwater in sub-Saharan Africa represents a neglected opportunity for sustainable intensification of small-scale agriculture.


Citation: Gowing, J., Parkin, G., Forsythe, N., Walker, D., Haile, A. T., and Alamirew, D.: Shallow groundwater in sub-Saharan Africa: neglected opportunity for sustainable intensification of small-scale agriculture?, Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci. Discuss., https://doi.org/10.5194/hess-2015-549, 2016.
John Gowing et al.
John Gowing et al.

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Shallow groundwater in sub-Saharan Africa represents a neglected opportunity for sustainable intensification of small-scale agriculture. However, it is important to consider constraints, since shallow groundwater resources are likely to be vulnerable to over-exploitation and climatic variability. We examine the opportunities and constraints and draw upon evidence from Ethiopia. We present a method for assessing shallow groundwater resources. We consider possible models for developing distributed
Shallow groundwater in sub-Saharan Africa represents a neglected opportunity for sustainable...
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