Avoiding the Mistakes of the Asian Green Revolution in Africa

Richard Taylor, a Professor of Hydrogeology from the University
College London (UCL) (far left) is the principal investigator in a
project to study groundwater resources to understand more how to
use the resource to alleviate poverty. Credit: Isaiah
Esipisu/IPS

By Isaiah Esipisu
DODOMA, Tanzania, Jul 11 2019 (IPS)

Research scientists are studying groundwater resources in three
African countries in order to understand the renewability of the
source and how people can use it sustainably towards a green
revolution in Africa.

“We don’t want to repeat some of the mistakes during the
green revolution that has taken place in Asia, where people opted
to use groundwater, then groundwater was overused and we ended up
with a problem of sustainability,” said Richard Taylor, the
principal investigator and a professor of Hydrogeology from the
University College London (UCL).

Through a project known as Groundwater Futures in
Sub-Saharan Africa (GroFutures)
, a team of 40 scientists from
Africa and abroad have teamed up to develop a scientific basis and
participatory management processes by which groundwater resources
can be used sustainably for poverty alleviation.

Though the study is still ongoing, scientists can now tell how
and when different major aquifers recharge, how they respond to
different climatic shocks and extremes, and they are already
looking for appropriate ways of boosting groundwater recharge for
more sustainability.

“Our focus is on Tanzania, Ethiopia and Niger,” said Taylor.
“These are three strategic laboratories in tropical Africa where
we are expecting rapid development of agriculture and the increased
need to irrigate,” he told IPS.

In Tanzania, scientists from UCL in collaboration with their
colleagues from the local Sokoine University of Agriculture, the
Ministry of Water and Irrigation and the WamiRuvu Basin Water
Board, have been studying the Makutapora well field, which is the
only source of water for the country’s capital city –
Dodoma.

“This is demand-driven research because we have previously had
conflicting data about the actual yield of this well field,” said
Catherine Kongola, a government official who heads and manages a
sub section of the WamiRuvu Basin in Central Tanzania. The
WamiRuvu Basin
comprises the country’s two major rivers of
Wami and Ruvi and covers almost 70,000 square kilometres.

She notes that scientists are using modern techniques to study
the behaviour of groundwater in relation to climate shocks and also
human impact, as well as the quality of the water in different
locations of the basin.

“Groundwater has always been regarded as a hidden resource.
But using science, we can now understand how it behaves, and this
will help with the formulation of appropriate policies for
sustainability in the future,” she told IPS.

Already, the World Bank in collaboration with the Africa Development Bank intends to
invest some nine billion dollars in irrigation on the African
continent. This was announced during last year’s Africa Green Revolution Forum that was held
in Kigali, Rwanda.

According to Rajiv Shah, the president of the Rockefeller
Foundation, boosting irrigation is key to improving agricultural
productivity in Africa.

“In each of the areas where we are working, people are already
looking at groundwater as a key way of improving household income
and livelihoods, but also improving food security, so that people
are less dependent on imported food,” said Taylor. “But the big
question is; where does the water come from?”

Since the 1960s, during the green revolution in Asia, India
relied heavily on groundwater for irrigation, particularly on rice
and wheat, in order to feed the growing population. But today,
depletion of the groundwater in the country has become a national
crisis, and it is primarily attributed to heavy abstraction for
irrigation.

The depletion crisis remains a major challenge in many other
places on the globe, including the United States and China where
intensive agriculture is practiced.

“It is based on such experiences that we are working towards
reducing uncertainty in the renewability and quantity of accessible
groundwater to meet future demands for food, water and
environmental services, while at the same time promoting inclusion
of poor people’s voices in decision-making processes on
groundwater development pathways,” said Taylor.

After a few years of intensive research in Tanzania’s
Makutapora well field, scientists have discovered that the well
field—which is found in an area mainly characterised by seasonal
rivers, vegetation such as acacia shrubs, cactus trees, baobab and
others that thrive in dry areas—can only be recharged during
extreme floods that can also destroy agricultural crops and even
property.

“By the end of the year 2015, we installed river stage gauges
to record the amount of water in the streams. Through this, we can
monitor an hourly resolution of the river flow and how the water
flow is linked to groundwater recharge,” Dr David Seddon, a
research scientist whose PhD thesis was based on the Makutapora
well field, told IPS.

Taylor explains that Makutapora is known for having the
longest-known groundwater level record in sub-Saharan Africa.

“A study of the well field over the past 60 years reveals that
recharge sustaining the daily pumping of water for use in the city
occurs episodically and depends on heavy seasonal rainfall
associated with El Niño Southern Oscillation,” Taylor said.

According to Lister Kongola, a retired hydrologist who worked
for the government from 1977 to 2012, the demand for water in the
nearby capital city of Dodoma has been rising over the years, from
20 million litres in the 1970s, to 30 million litres in the 1980s
and to the current 61 million litres.

“With most government offices now relocating from Dar Es
Salaam to Dodoma, the establishment of the University of Dodoma,
other institutions of higher learning and health institutions, and
the emergence of several hotels in the city, the demand is likely
going to double in the coming few years,” Kongola told IPS.

The good news, however, is that seasons with El Niño kind of
rainfall are predictable. “By anticipating these events, we can
seek to amplify them through minimal but strategic engineering
interventions that might allow us to actually increase
replenishment of the well-field,” said Taylor.

According to Professor Nuhu Hatibu, the East African head of the
Alliance for a Green Revolution in
Africa
, irrigation has been the ‘magic’ bullet for
improving agricultural productivity all over the world, and “that
is exactly what Africa needs to achieve a green revolution.”

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Avoiding the Mistakes of the Asian Green Revolution in Africa

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Source: FS – All – Ecology – News
Avoiding the Mistakes of the Asian Green Revolution in Africa