Sustainable Development Banner
People4 banner


Gender and development



Sustainable livelihoods







SD home
About SD

December 2006

Announcement of a publication

Land and water rights in the Sahel

Tenure challenges of improving access to water for agriculture

Livelihood Support Programme Working Paper 25

Water for agriculture draws on a range of sources - from naturally available water bodies to water supply infrastructure. In sub-Saharan Africa, only a very small percentage of arable land is irrigated. Most farmers produce food under rainfed conditions. In 1995, for instance, 89 percent of cereal production in sub-Saharan Africa was delivered from rainfed agriculture, compared to 58 percent in the West Asia and Northern Africa region (InterAcademy Council, 2004). The situation in the Sahel is very much in line with this trend. Here, the past few decades have witnessed considerable efforts to improve the water infrastructure in rural areas. As a result, there has been a multiplication of pastoral water points and of irrigation schemes - from large, state-owned schemes like the Office du Niger in Mali (which dates back to the 1930s) to village-level irrigation schemes. Irrigation has enabled the cultivation of a range of crops - from rice to fruit and vegetables. However, rainfed farming (millet, sorghum, etc) and pastoralism are - and are likely to remain - the dominant forms of agricultural production and the pillars of rural livelihoods in much of the Sahel.

Demographic and other changes are raising new challenges for water access in the Sahel. With rapid population growth, competition over water resources for agricultural uses is increasing. In many places, water points have been at the centre of tensions and even violent clashes between users. Climate change may exacerbate the scarce and erratic nature of rainfall in the region. “A reduction in rainfall projected by some climate models for the Sahel […], if accompanied by high inter-annual variability, could be detrimental to the hydrological balance of the [region] and disrupt various water-dependent socio-economic activities” (InterAcademy Council, 2004:45).

Addressing these challenges and ensuring access to water for agricultural activities is critical for rural livelihoods and agricultural development in the Sahel. Unsurprisingly, this is seen as a priority by key national policy documents - such as the Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs) of Mali (2002), Niger (2002) and Senegal (2002), and Senegal's Agro-Sylvo-Pastoral Policy Act 2004. These and other policy documents call for a range of interventions in the water sector.

Click here to view the document.

For related information, please see:

SD Homepage Back to Top FAO Homepage