Global Water Initiative: Burkina Faso

Our work in Burkina Faso focused on supporting smallholders who are farming, transforming and trading rice in the irrigated area around the Bagré dam. We also looked at the overall economic impact of the dam itself, both in terms of return on investment of the dam as a whole, and in terms of the role it plays in improving livelihoods of the communities it affects.

2008 – 2017

Jamie Skinner ([email protected]), principal researcher, IIED's Natural Resources research group

IUCN Burkina Faso office: [email protected]

National coordinator: Moumini Savadogo ([email protected])

Global Water Initiative – West Africa
The Global Water Initiative sought to improve global food security by enabling farmers to better access, manage and use water resources for sustainable agricultural production
Children using water pump in Burkina Faso

An India Mark II handpump in use in Burkina Faso

Water for agriculture (2013-17)


  • Over 80% of the population is dependent on agriculture
  • Smallholders grow rice but there are virtually no commercial producers; only 20% of the population (mainly urban) can afford to buy rice, half of which is imported.
  • There are 46,000 hectares of irrigation schemes in Burkina Faso (20% of potential development area for large-scale irrigation)
  • 17,000 hectares of new irrigated schemes are planned
  • The government invested 248 billion CFA (US$481.5 million) between 2011-15 in irrigation overall under the Programme for Sustainable Development of Irrigated Agriculture (PNSR)
  • GWI focus dam: Bagré (completed 1994)

During GWI's previous phase of work in Burkina Faso (2008-12), we also focused on integrated water resources management in relation to the Kompienga dam.

Bagré dam

Bagré dam was inaugurated in 1994 and the irrigation scheme of the dam lies approximately 150km south east of Burkina Faso's capital, Ouagadougou. It lies mainly within the department of Bagré in Boulgou province, although it also overlaps into Zoundwéogo, Kouritenga and Ganzourgou provinces. In 2012, a public-private partnership – Bagrépôle – took over management of the dam and its irrigation scheme.

Developing hydropower and large scale irrigated agriculture were the two main objectives in constructing Bagré dam. The area under control of Bagrépole extends to 493,000 hectares with an estimated potential of 29,900 hectares to be developed for irrigated agriculture. Rain-fed land in the area covers approximately 25,000 hectares, which brings the total potential cultivable land to 54 900 hectares.

The dam's irrigation objective aims to address food security for the local and national population. Traditional cereal farming on rain-fed land is the main source of livelihood in the region, along with the raising of livestock, including pastoralism. Improving and increasing the production of rice is a key component of the government's national development policies.

By the end of 2013, of the 29,900 hectares of potential irrigated agricultural land, only 3,380 hectares had been developed and allocated to smallholders. In total, 1,673 families, grouped together in 16 villages, are working on this irrigated land. Each family's head of the household is a representative member of the village collective and responsible for the family's allocated plot.

Assessment of rice-producing smallholders

To help empower local smallholders and producers to increase production levels and improve their livelihoods, we carried out research to find out more about the issues that they face in large-scale irrigation schemes. This included analysing the different types of local rice-producing smallholders in Bagré and how their methods and needs differ.

We carried out similar research in Senegal and Mali, and in 2014 published a synthesis of the regional findings that provides a comparative analysis across all three countries.

Local women's views on rice production

We worked with women in two villages within the Bagré irrigation scheme  using participatory film-making to find out more about their role in rice production and identify the issues that are most important to them. Women represent a high proportion of the agricultural labour force and yet are frequently not involved in decision-making and rarely have access to secure land tenure.

Agricultural advisory services

Our research on the issues faced by rice-producing smallholders – both men and women – has indicated two important areas that need to be addressed to support productivity and livelihoods of smallholders in Burkina Faso:

  • Strong farmer organisations, and
  • Improved agricultural advisory services.

Bagrépôle – the irrigation management authority – is undertaking a review of how agricultural advisory services are carried out in the context of the Bagré irrigated perimeter. This provided us with an opportunity to support both Bagrépôle and the local producer organisations in identifying current gaps and potential solutions to the provision of these services.

An economic assessment of Bagré

In parallel to our work with smallholder rice producers, we also carried out an economic analysis of Bagré dam to evaluate the impact that it has had both as a national investment, and in terms of local livelihoods. The initial findings of this analysis indicate that with regards its irrigation aim, the dam has not fulfilled its potential. On the other hand, the returns from the hydropower component of the dam have delivered as anticipated.

We undertook similar analyses in Mali and Senegal that helped us to draw out some comparisons and conclusions at a regional level. This formed part of our wider work on developing awareness and debate about the livelihood impacts and economic viability of intensive, large scale irrigation schemes.

Integrated Water Resource Management and Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (2008-12)


  • Project area: 34 villages in six municipalities of the Eastern and Sahel regions (Bartiébougou, Foutouri and Gayéri in Komondjari province; Boundoré and Mansila in Yagha province; and Liptougou in Gnagna province).
  • Basin: Sirba sub-basin, Niger River Basin
  • Implementation: IUCN and CRS, with the support of Tin Tua, CREPA and RECOPA

Starting point

Our baseline study in 2009 revealed a progressively deteriorating water and sanitation situation, due to:

  • Insufficient access to water and sanitation facilities, and poor hygiene behaviour
  • Water-governance bodies not yet being operational, and
  • Unsustainable ecosystem management.

With that in mind, we began working with communities in the project area to:

  • Build or repair multi-use water facilities that would ensure sustainable and equitable access to water
  • Promote good hygiene and sanitation practices, with a view to fostering long-term behavioural change, and
  • Improve knowledge and methods of natural-resource management, and establish frameworks and operational bodies for natural-resource governance.

Project achievements

We helped to achieve integrated, sustainable and fair management of water resources at the community, municipal and sub-basin levels. Our aim throughout was to foster long-term behavioural change. This was in the context of new institutional and legislative developments, since a process of effective decentralisation was under way, with responsibility for water and sanitation services being transferred to local authorities, among others, which tied into the national policy for integrated water-resource management (IWRM).

In consultation with the national water board, we marked out five zones of authority for local water committees in the Sirba sub-basin. In our project area, we facilitated the creation and supported the work of a local water committee at the tip of the sub-basin. This was the result of a process in which we engaged communities in identifying issues and planning activities that would lay the groundwork for implementing IWRM at the local level. Other outcomes of the process included:

  • Fostering greater coordination between all those involved in natural-resource governance in the Upper Sirba sub-basin
  • Improving understanding of the quality and quantity of water resources in the Sirba sub-basin
  • Organising, equipping and raising awareness of IWRM and the effects of climate change, especially among vulnerable groups
  • Reducing pressure on drinking-water supplies by building four earth pans for watering livestock. We established community platforms and three-party protocols (local authorities, the national water board and communities) for their management, and
  • Capitalising on our experience of setting up a local water committee in the Upper Sirba sub-basin, which was recognised as valuable by the Directorate-General for Water Resources, we contributed to the revision of the 2004 national guide for establishing local water committees, in 2009.

A reform of the system for managing drinking-water facilities marked a significant step towards achieving sustainable management in Komondjari province. Together with stakeholders in the province, now better organised, we:

  • Improved drinking-water access for over 8,700 people in 17 villages (by building 18 new boreholes with manual pumps and repairing 11 existing boreholes), and
  • Raised awareness of pump management among communities and municipalities. Municipal councils in Komondjari province are now better informed of, and engaged in, sustainable water provision. They have held three council deliberations about the price of water; adopted 18 conventions to delegate management of manual pumps to water-user associations; signed contracts with repairmen for preventive and reparative maintenance of manual pumps; and set up municipal committees to monitor facilities.

Overall, our project reached more than 9,650 people and raised significant public awareness about the issue of open defecation through training (for local elected representatives, communities, builders, teachers, pupils' parents, the national water board, asnd so on) and the promotion of hygiene and sanitation (through forum theatre presentations, radio broadcasts, community-led total sanitation, new school hygiene clubs, and so on).

Project contacts

Nouhoun Sanou ([email protected]), national coordinator

Drissa Soulama ([email protected]), IWRM

Ludovic Tapsoba ([email protected]), monitoring, evaluation and learning

Mireille Tiendrebeogo ([email protected]) (until March 2011), Ivette NOMBRE ([email protected]) (since April 2011), Hygiene and Sanitation

Marcelin Ilboudo ([email protected]), water hardware