In the Volta basin, most people live in rural areas, and more than two thirds work in agriculture. The farmers in the Volta river basin generally rely on rain-fed agriculture. However, insufficient or irregular rainfall frequently puts farmers at risk of losing their crops.
Farmers must have access to a reliable water supply to sustain their livelihoods. Due to the irregular rainfall, there are more than 1,700 small reservoirs scattered across Burkina Faso and northern Ghana. Farmers use the reservoirs to help better manage the periods of drought and floods, trying to ensure that water is more consistently available for their crops and animals throughout the year. Initially, many reservoirs were built as watering holes for cattle, but now they are serving multiple purposes, providing opportunities for farmers to mitigate the risks of variable rainfall. However, external drivers of change such as population growth and climate change are putting more pressure on the limited rainwater resources. Improved rainwater management is a necessity for smallholder farmers to intensify their production, i.e., use less water to grow more crops, rear more cattle, or both.
In line with the problems highlighted above, the Challenge Program on Water and Food (CPWF) set out to find ways to strengthen the capacity of the famers, communities and other stake holders in the basin. The CPWF program was launched in Volta basin in 2003. Between 2003 - 2008, twelve independent projects conducted research on a wide range of water and food-related issues. Four key areas were identified and put into focus.
- A tool targeting Agricultural Water Management Interventions was developed. The tool helped decision makers to identify the most successful water management interventions regarding soil water conservation, small-scale irrigation, and small reservoirs for further scaling up.
- CPWF proposed innovation platforms to promote practices that improve agricultural productivity. The innovation platforms are a form of public-private partnership which are also multi-actor systems set up to allow stakeholders to work together to identify shared challenges and solutions.
- Through stakeholder surveys, challenges related to management of the reservoirs were identified, i.e., proliferation of macrophytes (a type of aquatic weed) in Boura and siltation in Binaba. The identified challenges helped to direct better methods for management options.
- Understanding Water Management Options in West Africa. A multi-level engagement and negotiation methodologies was developed that enabled stakeholders to identify their different understandings of what integrated water resources management is, in addition to the structures responsible for its implementation.
The CPWF has used different research disciplines, partnered with local, national, and international organizations, and operated at the household, community, watershed, and basin levels.
- It is reasonable to expect that stakeholders will only adopt improved agricultural practices if a new practice is to their own benefit. For example, stakeholders will only participate in innovation platform meetings when they see the value of doing so.
- Initiatives such as innovation platforms provide space for a wide range of stakeholders to exchange knowledge, learn, and develop joint solutions to solve agricultural development challenges.
- Successful innovation can only happen when stakeholders have a sustained interest in working together to acquire new knowledge and find solutions; the research community cannot bring about innovation on its own.
- Research for development takes time, and resources and must be supported for long enough before innovation can emerge successful and can be evaluated.
- For integrated water resources management to be successful, it requires interactions between more actors from more levels of decision making than previously considered. The companion modeling approach is a good framework to highlight interactions between actors and allows a collective decision-making process to unfold.