Burkina Faso: Irrigation

The agricultural sector in Burkina Faso is heavily dependent on water from precipitation. Since precipitation is increasingly erratic, irrigation can help farmers to adapt to these changing conditions. Irrigation can be defined as the artificial process of applying water to crops or land in order to support plant growth. The FAO distinguishes between three types of irrigation: (1) surface irrigation, where water flows over the land; (2) sprinkler irrigation, where water is sprayed under pressure over the land; and (3) drip irrigation, where water is directly brought to the plant (FAO, 2001).

Irrigation is a promising adaptation strategy in Burkina Faso. Irrigation can help smallholder farmers to compensate for the negative impacts of erratic and insufficient precipitation and significantly stabilise agricultural production. The results of the cost-benefit analysis show that under both emissions scenarios switching from rainfed to irrigated production of maize has a positive return on investment (see Figure 1). However, water retention, which is essential for the used irrigation systems in Burkina Faso, is dependent on seasonal variation and specific location which influence the accessibility and effect of irrigation. Besides, irrigation requires a significant investment and only becomes profitable after some years, depending on the type of irrigation system and the farm location. Continuous institutional support is usually required and care has to be taken to avoid potential maladaptive outcomes from irrigation. Water use for irrigation has to be carefully managed to prevent groundwater table decrease and associated consequences.

Specific recommendations regarding irrigation in Burkina Faso are:

  • Low-cost irrigation options with low maintenance requirements can be promoted across Burkina Faso, where water resources are available.
  • Awareness raising about water-saving irrigation management is crucial to ensure a long-term responsible use of natural resources.
  • Ideally, water saving equipment, such as drip irrigation and smart irrigation systems, are promoted and supported by extension services to encourage farmers to use sustainable and environmentally responsible techniques.
  • Provision of support services is needed to ensure the ability of farmers to further operate the technology and take care of their maintenance.
  • For upscaling irrigation, all user interests in water and energy should be carefully considered. Dispute settlement mechanisms can be implemented to address potential conflicts between upstream and downstream users.
  • Developing financing mechanism, such as access to loans or credits, can support the accessibility for irrigation equipment.
Figure 1: Development of the net present value of switching to rainfed maize cultivation under supplementary irrigation, Source: Own figure based on own calculations.


  • FAO. (2001). Irrigation Manual: Planning, Development, Monitoring and Evaluation of Irrigated Agriculture with Farmer Participation. FAO.

Ethiopia: Irrigation

Irrigation can help smallholder farmers to compensate for the negative impacts of erratic and insufficient precipitation and significantly stabilise agricultural production (Woldemariam & Gecho, 2017). More specifically, it can raise agricultural production, allow for greater cropping intensity and crop diversity (i.e. higher-value crops), and lengthen agricultural seasons (Awulachew, 2010; Woldemariam & Gecho, 2017). Irrigation thus serves three main adaptive purposes: 1) Increasing yields by supplying water needed, 2) reducing risk due to a more constant water supply and 3) enabling multiple harvests and cultivation of high-value cash crops, as irrigation supplies water in the dry season. 

Currently, irrigation is not wide-spread yet in Ethiopia (estimates range between 2-3 % of agricultural land, with water coming from Ethiopia’s ample surface water resources), with considerable potential to upscale its usage. Stakeholder consultations, interviews, the expert survey conducted and document analysis made clear that irrigation is a key adaptation priority in Ethiopia. The Ethiopian government is aiming to transform its agricultural sector from a subsistence mode to a market-oriented one. The potential for irrigation in Ethiopia is enormous, as it has ample surface water and groundwater resources on the one hand and land suitable for irrigation on the other hand (Woldemariam & Gecho, 2017). Twelve major river basins lie in Ethiopia, which form four main drainage systems. However, there is high spatial and temporal variability (FAO, 2005; Worqlul et al., 2015). According to various studies, there is sufficient water in Ethiopia to develop around 4.5 million hectares of agricultural land that could be irrigated through pump, gravity, pressure, underground water, water harvesting and other mechanisms (Makombe et al., 2011; Woldemariam & Gecho, 2017; Worqlul et al., 2017). The hydrological analysis in Chapter 2 also confirms this and projects ample water available for irrigation in the future.

A cost-benefit analysis of switching from rainfed maize production to irrigated maize production showed that adopting irrigation is beneficial for Ethiopian farmers. Over time, irrigation has a positive return on investment (see Figure 1).  

Figure 1: Development of the net present value from 2020 to 2050 when switching from rainfed to irrigated maize under future climate change impacts (in ETB).

Yet, irrigation requires a considerable investment and only becomes profitable after some years, depending on the type of irrigation system and the farm location. Institutional support is usually required and care has to be taken to avoid potential maladaptive outcomes from irrigation. Table 1 gives an overview of potential co-benefits and maladaptive outcomes from adaptation in Ethiopia. 

Table 1: Potential for co-benefits and maladaptive outcomes from irrigation.

Constraints to adaptation uptake in Ethiopia include weak institutional capacity and lack of physical infrastructures, such as pumps, conveyance structures and storage facilities, but also access to electricity in rural areas (Awulachew, 2010; FAO, 2015b; Worqlul et al., 2017).

Overall, irrigation is an important adaptation strategy in Ethiopia with large potential to transform the agricultural sector and increase yields. Government support and careful policy design is needed to make implementation succeed.

Note to the reader: This evaluation is only to be viewed as a careful model‐based and expert assessment, which can by no means replace a thorough analysis for specific project design and local implementation planning. It gives an indication of the overall feasibility and suitability of the selected adaptation strategies in Ethiopia. Actual selection of adaptation strategies, however, should always be based on specific needs and interests of local communities.


  • Awulachew, S. B. (2010). Irrigation potential in Ethiopia Constraints and opportunities for enhancing Irrigation potential in Ethiopia Constraints and opportunities for enhancing the system International Water Management Institute Teklu Erkossa and Regassa E . Namara. IWMI Research Report.
  • FAO (UN Food and Agriculture Organization), (2005). Irrigation in Africa in figures – AQUASTAT Survey 2005, 1–14.
  • FAO, (2015b): Analysis of price incentives for red sorghum in Ethiopia for the time period 2005-2012. Rome: FAO.
  • Makombe, G., Namara, R., Hagos, F., Awulachew, S. B., Ayana, M., & Bossio, D. (2011). A com-parative analysis of the technical efficiency of rain-fed and smallholder irrigation in Ethiopia. IWMI Working Papers (Vol. 143). https://doi.org/10.5337/2011.202.
  • Woldemariam, P., & Gecho, Y. (2017). Deter-minants of Small-Scale Irrigation Use: The Case of Boloso Sore District, Wolaita Zone, Southern Ethiopia. American Journal of Agri-culture and Forestry, 5(3), 49.
  • Worqlul, A. W., Collick, A. S., Rossiter, D. G., Langan, S., & Steenhuis, T. S. (2015). Assess-ment of surface water irrigation potential in the Ethiopian highlands: The Lake Tana Basin. Catena, 129, 76–85. https://doi.org/10.1016/ j.catena.2015.02.020.
  • Worqlul, A. W., Jeong, J., Dile, Y. T., Osorio, J., Schmitter, P., Gerik, T., … Clark, N. (2017). Assessing potential land suitable for surface irrigation using groundwater in Ethiopia. Applied Geography, 85, 1–13.

Ghana: Irrigation

In areas short of precipitation, irrigation can be a key strategy to enable plant growth and increase yields. Water can be drawn from different sources, such as groundwater, surface water and in some countries even desalinated seawater, to enable a better growth of plants. Irrigation schemes at smaller scale can be initiated and implemented by farmers themselves, but for larger irrigation installations, technical agencies and extension officers play an important role.

As of yet, irrigation is not widely spread in Ghana, with only an estimated 1.6% of the area with a respective potential actually being irrigated (Mendes, Paglietti & Jackson, 2014), mostly for rice and horticulture cultivation (Namara et al., 2011). This limited uptake implies that further installation of irrigation schemes is possible and could increase Ghana’s agricultural production. However, this may incur high costs and technically challenging installation and maintenance. As a climate change adaptation strategy, the case for irrigation depends on the climate scenario, with the North of Ghana projected to see less rainfall under future climate change. However, as a measure to intensify agricultural production and enable multiple harvests, irrigation can also be considered useful today, where water is available for agricultural use.

Figure 2 shows the net value of maize production in the whole of Ghana under different irrigation scenarios, reflecting the varying costs that different irrigation techniques and installations incur. As can be seen from the comparison with the baseline scenario and the scenario under climate change, not all irrigation scenarios are able to offset the losses projected under climate change.

Figure 2: Net value of maize production in Ghana under different irrigation scenarios (in million USD), compared to no adaptation and no climate change.

In sum, while irrigation has the potential to increase agricultural production in Ghana, it is also a costly strategy, often requiring institutional support for implementation and maintenance.


  • Mendes, D.M, Paglietti, L. & Jackson, D., (2014). Ghana: Irrigation market brief. Food and Agri-culture Organization of the United Nations. Rome.
  • Namara, R., Horowitz, L., Nyamadi, B. & Barry, B., (2011). Irrigation Development in Ghana: Past experiences, emerging opportunities, and future directions, International Food Policy Research Institute, GSSP Working Paper No. 27, Ghana Strategy Support Program, Accra.