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Water management, policies and legislation related to water use in agriculture


The ministries dealing with water and irrigation include the Ministry of Food and Agriculture, the Ministry of Works and Housing, and the Ministry of Environment, Science and Technology.

In the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MoFA), the Ghana Irrigation Development Authority (GIDA) is the main institution in charge of irrigation. It started in the early 1960s as a Land Planning Unit of MoFA, was upgraded in 1964 to become the Irrigation, Reclamation and Drainage Department (IRDD) and became the Irrigation Department in 1974. Finally, in 1977, GIDA was established by the SMC (Supreme Military Council) Decree No. 85. It is entrusted with irrigation development, provides all agricultural inputs and extension services, delivers water to the farmers and secures the repayment of credits. It is also expected to exercise management control over its irrigation dams, the associated catchment areas and over the drainage of irrigated areas and general water quality, especially within its project areas. Due to its vast terms of reference together with scarce available resources, GIDA offers poor services and its irrigation projects are often unsuccessful because of the lack of technical support.

Institutions involved in water management within the Ministry of Works and Housing (MWH) are:

  • The Water Resources Commission (WRC), which is the leading institution involved in water resources management in the country. This new institution came into being in 1996 following the execution of the Water Resources Management (WARM) studies supported by CIDA, DANIDA, DFID, CfD, GTZ, UNDP and the World Bank. Prior to this date, the management of the country’s water resources was fragmented among various institutions with no clear policy on who is in control.
  • The Ghana Water Company Limited (GWCL), which exercises management functions over water sources that it abstracts for treatment and subsequent distribution to consumers. In some cases, it builds dams on which water supply schemes for big cities are based. It has the mandate to manage such water sources, including the relevant catchment areas for the benefit of the Ghanaian public.
  • The Community Water and Sanitation Agency (CWSA), which is responsible for water supply to rural communities, including small towns. It also deals with household sanitation and hygiene promotion and has offices in all regions of Ghana.

Within the Ministry of Environment, Science and Technology (MEST), the following institutions are involved in water management:

  • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by virtue of its mandate and functions is one of the institutions that are involved in some aspects of water resources management. It maintains and enforces standards for wastewater discharge into water bodies. It also ensures, through the concept of Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA), that the negative impact of development projects are reduced through the monitoring of the companies’ mitigation plans.
  • The Water Research Institute (WRI) was formed in 1996 from the merger of the Institute of Aquatic Biology and the Water Resources Research Institute, all part of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). It has a mandate to conduct research into water and related resources. In pursuance of this mandate, it generates and provides scientific information, strategies and services towards the rational development, utilization and management of Ghana’s water resources in support of the socio-economic advancement of the country, especially in the agriculture, health, industry, energy, transportation, education and tourism sectors. It engages, amongst other things, in research on groundwater resources (availability, quality, quantity), on hydrometeorological and hydrological data for planning and research, on irrigation technology, rainwater harvesting, sawah eco-technology for rice production, water management in valley bottoms for rice production and production of bio-insecticides for the control of malaria and bilharzia vectors.

Water management

Since irrigated agriculture is relatively new in Ghana, the management of the schemes had hitherto been entrusted to the staff of GIDA, and the relatively larger projects to reputable consultancy firms during the first few years after completion. A few irrigation projects in the country are operated by private companies. In the case of the Tono and Vea Schemes, they were initially fully funded by the government. In an attempt to stop continuous public funding of the schemes, the Irrigation Company of the Upper East Region (ICOUR) was established as a commercial entity. The idea was to start reducing the funding to ICOUR until it can stand on its own. Currently there is only a loose connection between ICOUR and GIDA, and ICOUR does not report to GIDA. However, it is reported that ICOUR still relies on the Central Government to provide it with funds to meet some of its recurrent expenditure, like maintenance of infrastructure, including housing. Another such company is Weija Irrigation Company (WEICO), which also operates as a commercial entity with a loose connection with GIDA. The Government intended to make WEICO operate on its own but there are financial problems. Apart from the abovementioned schemes, some other private irrigation schemes exist that have been financed by private companies.

Farmer participation in the management of irrigation projects commenced in 1987 with the passing of a legislative instrument, LI 1350, which legalized and streamlined the GIDA staff management role and incorporated farmer participation in project management.


GIDA, as the main institution in charge of irrigation in the country, has no autonomy in financial matters. Staff salaries and all other recurrent expenditures associated with GIDA are paid by the government, and the cost of services rendered by the Authority to farmers is paid to the Government. Revenue includes charges/levies for irrigation water and the cost of other inputs, such as land preparation and supply of fertilizers and pesticides. The fees charged are generally not enough to cover the full cost of irrigation water delivery, including all the management and the infrastructure that is in place. Subsidies on agricultural inputs have been withdrawn as part of IMF conditions for financial assistance to the country. This applies to both rainfed and irrigated agriculture. Generally, lack of capital has been one of the major problems hampering irrigation development in the country. Impounding water for irrigation through large dams has proved too expensive.

Policies and legislation

Ghana’s agricultural policy is driven by five key objectives: i) ensuring food security and adequate nutrition for the population; ii) promoting the supply of raw materials for other sectors of the economy; iii) contributing to export earnings; iv) increasing the employment opportunities and incomes of the rural population; v) generating resources for general economic development. The importance of water in the realization of these objectives is well known. The key issue in the development and utilization of the water resources of the country is to ensure sustainability while giving preference to municipal water requirements if there are competing uses of the resource.

The policy reform strategy within the irrigation sub-sector is to increase agricultural production through the development of water resources for irrigation. This is being done by: i) limiting the cost of irrigation projects to not more than US$600/ha; ii) recovery of at least operation and maintenance costs; iii) handing over the management of projects to farmers’ associations; iv) involving farmers from the inception and selection of technologies through to the decision-making stages of irrigation projects; and v) a contribution of between 10 and 25 percent of project costs by beneficiary communities or associations for small-scale projects.

The Draft Water Policy identifies the availability and ease of access to water in sufficient quantities for cultivation of food crops, watering of livestock and sustainable freshwater fisheries as a major precondition for the achievement of food security and self-sufficiency in food production to meet the nutritional needs of the population. Towards achieving this, the Government promises to:

  • Support the establishment of micro-irrigation and valley bottom irrigation schemes among rural communities.
  • Strengthen district assemblies to assume a central role in supporting community operation and maintenance of small-scale irrigation and other food production facilities.
  • Promote partnerships between the public and private sector in the provision of large commercial irrigation infrastructure.
  • Encourage the efficient use of fertilizers to reduce pollution of water bodies, as well as high-yielding crop species and agricultural extension services to ensure conservation of water.
  • Promote and encourage water use efficiency techniques in agriculture and reduce transmission losses of irrigation water in irrigation schemes.
  • Manage land use and control land degradation, including bush fires, to reduce soil loss and siltation of water bodies.
  • Develop a pricing system and a mechanism for delivering irrigation water that is affordable for farmers and also ensure cost recovery on investments made in infrastructure.
  • Utilize data and information on water cycles, land cover/use, soils and socio-economic elements for the planning, design and development of agricultural schemes.

From the above it is clear that the current irrigation policy of the country emphasizes small-scale irrigation schemes. Farmers are expected to form cooperatives and they are to be involved at the inception stage of projects and to be trained and assisted to operate and manage the systems themselves, unlike in past years when management was largely in the hands of GIDA.


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       Quote as: FAO. 2016. AQUASTAT website. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Website accessed on [yyyy/mm/dd].
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