Global Water Initiative — West Africa

2008 — 2017

Agriculture in large-scale rice irrigation schemes needs to be made to work for both the state, in terms of economic returns and national food security, and for the smallholders whose livelihoods depend on it. When it comes to the development of new dams and large-scale irrigation, more information is needed about their economic viability and how the water, land, and economic benefits can be shared equitably to support local development.

Smallholders threshing rice in irrigated agricultural perimeter of Sélingué dam in Mali (Photo: Moustapha Diallo/GWI West Africa)

Project objectives

The Global Water Initiative (GWI) is an action-research and advocacy programme that seeks to improve global food security by enabling farmers to better access, manage and use water resources for sustainable agricultural production. GWI is funded by the Howard G. Buffett Foundation and operates in three regions: Central America, East Africa and West Africa. GWI seeks to:

  1. Support more effective governance and policymaking at all levels in support of water for agriculture, and
  2. Enhance the quality of knowledge and make accessible relevant information for smallholder farmers while improving use and management practices for key stakeholders.

The West Africa programme of GWI is implemented by IIED together with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in five focus countries: Burkina Faso, Guinea, Mali, Niger, and Senegal.

Our focus is on agriculture linked to large-scale rice irrigation schemes and dams, and we work closely with governments, donors, farmers, river basin organisations, NGOs and research communities. We work at the local and national levels, and at the regional (e.g. with the Economic Community of West African States and the Permanent Interstates Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel) and international levels.

Our multi-stakeholder approach seeks to empower smallholder farmers to put them at the centre of policies for efficient water management, food security and secure livelihoods. To achieve this, we are working on the following topics:

  • Making the right investment and policy choices
    We want to develop awareness and debate about the livelihood impacts and economic viability of intensive, large-scale irrigation schemes. This has particular relevance to how food security is being addressed in a variable climate.
  • Empowering smallholders across the agricultural value chain 
    We want to increase support to smallholder rice farmers in existing large-scale irrigation schemes to improve agricultural practice and productivity sustainably. This includes the sharing and adopting of innovative practices.
  • Strengthening governance and sharing the benefits 
    We want to improve the governance systems around current and future dam-fed irrigation systems. This would ensure that water, land, and economic benefits are shared equitably and conflicts are reduced.
  • Valuing women's work in dam-irrigated agriculture
    We want to ensure that women are able to play a greater role in shaping agricultural policies and processes. This also means providing women smallholders with access to secure land tenure and the resources and support necessary to improve their livelihoods.

The work of GWI West Africa was featured in the April 2016 edition of International Water Power and Dam Construction magazine, in an article entitled 'Building better dams by sharing the benefits. You can read the full article or click on the images below to expand the four-page feature.

The work of GWI West Africa was featured in the April 2016 edition of International Water Power and Dam Construction magazine (Image: International Water Power and Dam Construction)The work of GWI West Africa was featured in the April 2016 edition of International Water Power and Dam Construction magazine (Image: International Water Power and Dam Construction)

GWI 2008 to 2012: catchment level IWRM and access to clean water services

Our current work on 'water for agriculture' began in 2012 as part of the strategy of the GWI programme at a global level and will continue until 2017.

A previous phase of GWI (from 2008-12) focused on integrated water resource management (IWRM) and access to clean water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH). Our work on IWRM during this phase included research and advocacy on benefit-sharing from large dams in the GWI West Africa focus countries and this remains a key area in our current work on water and agriculture.

We also continue to monitor the work that was done between 2008-12, and all of the resources from this first phase remain available in the resources library of the GWI West Africa website.

For more information, visit


Howard G. Buffett Foundation



International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN)


Action Against Hunger  USA


Catholic Relief Services

The World Conservation Union

Oxfam America

SOS Sahel UK


Jamie Skinner (