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02 May 12

Ensuring water, food and energy security in the ECOWAS region

by Economic Community of Western African States (ECOWAS)

A balanced policy process through cross analysis of long term impacts of sectoral policies (agriculture, energy and water)

ECOWAS, the Economic Community of Western African States, is a regional organisation founded in 1975 gathering 15 West African states (Sénégal, Cabo Verde, Gambia, Guinea Bissau, Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Mali, Niger, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Togo, Benin, and Nigeria), and a global population of 251.646.263 people. Its mission is to promote economic integration in all fields of economic activity, particularly industry, transport, telecommunications, energy, agriculture, natural resources, commerce, monetary and financial questions, social and cultural matters.

With the overall aim of enabling economic development at the regional scale through the organisation of a common market and the interconnection of infrastructures, the Commission of ECOWAS also develops specific policy frameworks for priority sectors: it is for instance the case of an energy policy, because the lack of a stable access to energy services is recognised as the main limiting factor to economic development in the region, and because interconnection of national networks in a single power pool is believed to be central for the future; it is also the case of an agricultural policy, aiming to link all regional producers to an integrated regional market, in the general objective that this access to a regional market would be the trigger for the economic development for a very important rural population and an agricultural sector with low levels of productivity.

Because of the important proportion of water resources and basins that are transboundary (Niger, Sénégal, Volta, for instance…), the Commission of ECOWAS also has developed a specific Water Resources Coordination Centre, to ensure the coordination of regional and national sectoral policies for what concerns water resources.

The project presented here consists of a policy dialogue organised and facilitated by the Water Resources Coordination Centre of ECOWAS. The targeted stakeholders for this policy dialogue project are the different sectoral policies of ECOWAS (Directorates for Agriculture, for Energy, for Transport and also for Trade). Their strategies and sectoral policies are key drivers to reach a regionally integrated development model, which is the objective of ECOWAS, and therefore they are also key drivers of increasing and potentially competing water demands.

Member states of ECOWAS are also key stakeholders, because their domestic sectoral policies are also, often independently from one another, planning to use an increasing part of the water resources, in order to trigger development by using water as a source of energy and irrigation for agricultural development and food security.

River Basin Authorities (Volta Basin Authority, Niger Basin Authority, the Organisation pour la Mise en Valeur du fleuve Sénégal, for instance) are also central institutions, because they already exist as multinational forums for water projects, but it is important to underline that some of the main drivers, like energy policies, are not decided at the scale of a basin, but at the regional or at the national scale.

Background to Case

At the scale of ECOWAS, regional integration strategies are put in place in order to ensure integrated regional development based mainly on realising a regional common free market, a regional transport infrastructure network, and also regional policies and strategies for Energy (particularly concerning interconnection of energy networks) and for Agriculture.

At the same time, the exploitation level of water resources at the regional level has been generally considered as still very low, and it has been considered that there was room for more use of these water resources. In particular, different countries of the region were planning to implement large dam projects on shared river basins, for the priority purpose of energy production, and also, secondarily, for the irrigation of their agricultural production.

Reasons for Action, Objectives and Targets

Although there are no conflicts on the share of water resources at the regional scale, some of the River Basin Authorities have already been useful in order to avoid conflicts in the use of shared water resources by different national states. Even if regional water resources are generally considered as “under-exploited”, the Water Resources Coordination Centre considered useful to take a prospective and precautionary approach, and to organise a policy dialogue among sectors and among countries, before the implementation of the different hydraulic infrastructure projects supported by the different countries, and before the sharp increases in water uses by different sectors linked with future economic development. The Water Resources Coordination Centre therefore launched different policy processes in order to ensure that these different development projects, programmes and strategies would be coordinated at the regional scale.

The reasons for such a coordination were the following:

  • ensuring good coordination and interconnection among projected large hydraulic infrastructure,
  • ensuring a policy dialogue among countries and among stakeholder groups about the downstream impacts of
    these projects,
  • and in particular, ensuring that the aggregation of different water uses foreseen in different sectoral strategies and individual large dam projects could be balanced in order to take into account the other economic activities depending on the ecosystem services (fisheries, tourism, for instance…).

The objective was therefore to initiate a policy dialogue process on the evaluation of the cross impacts on one another of sectoral policies, decided separately from one another and at scales that are often different from the river basin scale (regional, or national). The capacity to question the sustainability of development choices resulting from potentially uncoordinated strategies, the capacity to identify a balanced development model that would not jeopardize either food security, nor energy security, nor water security, depends on the capacity to realise and discuss such cross evaluations of impacts.

Link to the Nexus

This case study particularly illustrates the necessity to focus on policy coherence in order to ensure water, food and energy security. It puts the stress on the necessity to organiser policy coherence not only at the scale of water resources (here, the river basins), but also to organise policy coherence processes at the scale where economic development policies are decided (here, for instance, the regional energy policy).

Such a cross-sectoral ex ante evaluation of policies does not only target water, food and agriculture, and energy policies, but also regional trade policies, that are at the heart of the economic regional integration process of ECOWAS. Organising such a policy dialogue among sectoral policies makes it necessary to develop specific tools for the ex ante cross evaluation of sectoral plans : the scenario approach developed in this case was a first attempt at making more explicit the different types of regional development patterns and pathways that might either result from separate and uncoordinated sectoral planning processes, or that could be designed in advance thanks to the coordination of different sectors and countries.

The case study therefore also illustrates the usefulness to explicitly discuss the inter-dependency between water, food and energy security of different possible development pathways.

Process, Summary of Action taken

Two main policy processes were launched :

  • a dialogue on large hydraulic infrastructures, particularly concerning multi-state projects and projects with a strong trans-boundary impact, and including a dialogue with the civil society,
  • a scenario dialogue process, trying to envision different scenarios and therefore different options and models for future economic development at the regional scale, their respective projected use of water, and their impacts on the ecosystems and on the activities that are depending on these ecosystems; this scenario dialogue process was launched at the regional scale, with a specific workshop on the Volta river basin.

Planning and Budget

Both dialogue processes were initiated by two year projects (2008-2010), composed of a series of workshops with stakeholders and policy makers, either at the regional scale, or at the scale of some river basin. Apart from final reports, both projects were supposed to initiate permanent dialogue processes at the regional scale (the scale that is relevant concerning integrated economic development), but also specific dialogues at the scale of transnational river basins (under the umbrella of river basin authorities).

Budgetary needs were limited to the facilitation and the logistics of the workshops, as some minimum data necessary to organise scenario discussions was already gathered by different types of research projects.

Problems, Difficulties Met

From the point of view of the facilitation of the policy dialogue process, access to data was a central problem for the discussion on scenarios , but results show that important insights on development plans and their impact on the aquatic ecosystems can also be produced by a structured discussion based on existing plans and qualitative scenarios.

Another limit of this dialogue process is linked to the fact that participation to the processes was still not inclusive enough, and the participation of member states and civil society has still to be improved.

Results to Date

The initial project for the scenario dialogue process resulted in the production of a set of scenarios at the regional scale, a strategic analysis concerning different options to reach a balanced development model at the regional scale, and the conclusions of the discussion of these scenarios at the scale of the Volta basin.

At the regional scale, the main conclusions are the following:

  • irrigation projects constitute only a minor part of necessary development efforts in order to ensure rural development and food security,
  • hydroelectricity might not be the only and most relevant source of energy production to trigger economic development,
  • a regional development model centred on a network of interconnected multipurpose dams might be vulnerable to climate variability, which makes it necessary to further develop the sustainability analysis of this option for regional economic development,
  • a regional plan for energy at a low cost is a very important option to be explored, but it might lead to a development model only centred on cities while rural population still is very important; therefore planning for rural development also remains important in order to ensure that water use for irrigation really leads to better social conditions,
  • un-coordinated investments in water consuming agricultural projects and industrial/energy projects can lead to very vulnerable development pathways, because of their impacts on resources and ecosystems, and on the economic activities and poor segments of the population that are depending on the services produced by these ecosystems,
  • if sectoral development strategies take into account ecosystem services, in order not to jeopardize them and in order to integrated activities based on ecosystem services in the general economic development model, such could ensure at the global level a more resilient development pathway.

Lessons Learnt

Apart from the conclusions at regional and basin scale, the conclusion of the initial project of scenario dialogue process is that:

  • River basin scale policy dialogues on water have to be complemented with water-centred dialogues at scales relevant for economic development (here, the regional scale) : this second type of policy dialogue has to be developed, as they are not very usual for the moment. It is also at these scales (regional, national), that the water/food/energy nexus has to be the object of policy making, particularly when it comes to integrated regional trade policies.
  • Long term impacts on water and ecosystems of individual or sectoral projects and strategies have to be anticipated in order to ensure sustainable and resilient development pathways,
  • A permanent dialogue process among stakeholders responsible for long term strategies and planning of different water uses is necessary to ensure a balanced development model, and is therefore an importa nt component of policy processes for sustainable development.


Sebastien Treyer, IDDRI
Email: sebastien.treyer[at]iddri.org

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