event 03 May 2012

Water for Food, Energy and Ecosystems // Case of the Inner Niger Delta, Mali

By Niger Basin Authority (NBA) and the Government of Mali. Three-quarters of the population of the Inner Niger Delta (IND) live below the national poverty line. The large water infrastructures upstream have led to a transfer of welfare from downstream to upstream while contributing to national food security and electricity production. The development and use of a policy for allocation of sufficient water (flood duration and depth) for the delta to sustain food production and ecosystems, would provide a long-term guarantee for delta communities and avoid that this water is diverted upstream.

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Description of Actors

Actors at the Niger Basin Level

Niger Basin Authority (NBA): The Niger Basin Authority defines its purpose as the promotion of cooperation among member countries to ensure integrated development of resources. While focusing on the management of water and hydroelectric resources, the NBA nations (Guinea, Mali, Niger, Chad, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Benin, Cameroon) use the organization to harmonise development of energy, agriculture, forestry, transport, communications, and industrial resources of the member nations. The Member States of the Niger Basin Authority adopted the Niger Basin Water Charter that came into force in July 19, 2010 which is formally dedicated to address the fundamental right of access to water.

Actors at the Mali Government and the Upper Niger Levels

The Government of Mali: is mobilizing water resources through many dam buildings on the Niger River to promote food security and energy production. Energy du Mali (EDM). is a private electricity company, providing electricity to many cities in Mali including Bamako, through Selingue (46,2 MW of installed capacity and 247,4 GWh about 28,0 % of national production), Sotuba dam (5,7 MW of installed capacity and 34,5 GWh, about 3,9 % of national production).

Office du Niger: manages the irrigation zone enabled by the Markala dam supporting 52% of the national rice production. It takes 2.69 km3 from the Niger River annually. The plan is for the total irrigated zone to extend to 193 394 ha in 2013- 2020.

Talo dam: built in 2005 in the Bani River. The plan is to develop 20,320 ha, of which 16,030 irrigated rice fields; the rest is planned to be converted into bourgou (water meadows) and fish ponds. The reservoir would remain small (maximum surface 50 km2, maximum volume 0.18 km3)

Fomi dam (Guinea): The Authority of Fomi dam is responsible. Construction is planned in the Niandan tributary in Guinea-Conakry. The expected potential annual electricity production will vary between 136 GWh in a dry year and 357 GWh in a wet year and amounts to 243 GWh, on average.

Other Offices for rice production using different irrigation schemes (sluices) according to the flooding levels of the Niger River: Office Riz Segou, Office Riz Mopti, Office Developpement Rural Selingue National Directorate of Hydrology: Its mission is the development of elements of the national policy on water supply, coordination and technical supervision of regional services, sub-regional and related services that contribute to implementing that policy. Recently it an inter-ministerial commission for managing of water resources of the Upper Niger was established, mainly dealing with the Selingue and Markala dams.

Actors at the Inner Niger Delta Level (IND)

Farmers, herders and fishers: A million and half people fully depend on exploitation of the natural resources of the Inner Niger Delta as rice farmers (5000 -170 000 t floating rice/year), cattle breeders (2 million cattle and 5 millions of small ruminants and fishers (50 -100 000 t/fish/ year). The flooding is the engine of the socio-economic development and ecology integrity.

International communities

The IND is Ramsar site and is a hotspot of biodiversity for 117 waterbird species, some large mammals (hippopotamus and manatee). 3-4 million waterbirds use the zone as a wintering area. The global population trends of many waterbird populations are highly correlated with the ecology integrity of the delta wetland habitats (including the river, lakes, flooded forests, Echinochloa stagnina fields, etc.)

Background to the Case

The promotion of food security is the top priority of the Malian Government. It results in a push for more irrigated areas demanding that more water is extracted from the Niger River and at the same time water is needed for the booming energy production. Water, however, is scarce and crucial to other sectors, not least for the flood-driven ecosystem, food security and economy of the downstream Inner Niger Delta communities. In years of low floods, extreme humanitarian disasters occur.

The increased diversion of water upstream has also been shown to accentuate human health and sanitation problems in the region. Due to this increasing competition for water and the direct and indirect impacts of changing the water regimes, there is an urgent need to consider the trade-offs of different water management scenarios including the impacts for all stakeholders in a catchment context.

Reasons for Action, Objectives and Targets

Reasons for Action: Three-quarters of the population of the IND live below the national poverty line. The large water infrastructures upstream have led to a transfer of welfare from downstream to upstream while contributing to national food security and electricity production. The flooding of the IND is the engine for socio-economic development, ecological integrity and community resilience. However, climate change (rainfall and temperature) and dam diversions have drastically reduced the seasonal dynamics of the river and the flooded area of the IND by 6 000 km² (1923-2005) and 2760 km ² (Selingue dam 650 km², Office du Niger, 370 km², Fomi 740 km², Extension of Office du Niger 630 km², Djenne + Talo 370 km²). The planned extension of Office du Niger + Talo + Djenne + Fomi which represents 1700 km² is placing community livelihoods under increasing risk. The catastrophic drought years are becoming more frequent, leading to "young local communities of the IND voting with their feet" and leaving more vulnerable groups (children, old people and women) at high risk. Proposed solutions (based on analyses and conclusions from a number of projects carried out with partners, reported on in "Niger, a lifeline " (Zwarts et al. 2005) ; Water Sharing in the Upper Niger Basin (Altenburg & Wymenga report 1739, 2012)

Stakeholder engagement and coordination for IWRM

Currently IWRM is practised on only a local scale. There needs to be a civil society platform and improved information flow amongst stakeholders, across scales and sectors to enable coordination upstream-downstream in the Upper Niger Basin.

Water sharing

The development and use of a policy for allocation of sufficient water (flood duration and depth) for the delta to sustain food production and ecosystems, would provide a long-term guarantee for delta communities and avoid that this water is diverted upstream for highly water consumptive cash crops in irrigated areas such as cotton and biofuels. Optimising water sharing will require international cooperation and improved water governance at the whole basin level, linked to a thorough trade-off analysis.

Decision-support models operational

The hydrology, ecology and economy of the Upper Niger and IND have been studied for decades. This knowledge base, including a flooding model, makes it possible to quantify the downstream impact on river discharge and food production of upstream interventions. A decision support model (DECIDAID) was built based on this, to facilitate IWRM. This provides the basis to identify the best approaches, to integrate food security, land and water use, and other sectors However, DECIDAID is not yet operational. Additionally, scaling up and mainstreaming the OPIDIN flood prediction model and tool that informs adaptation options for local communities, would result in increased community resilience to low and high floods.

Improved water efficiency

The Partners for Water project which resulted in "Niger, a lifeline " (Zwarts et al. 2005 showed, that investing in existing infrastructures and a more efficient water use would be more effective, in terms of economic gains, than building new infrastructures. There is considerable room for water savings and increased productivity per cubic metre of water through improving water efficiency in the irrigated zones, especially in the dry months. Additionally, selection of less consumptive crops (e.g. vegetables instead of sugar cane) and rice varieties would provide water saving benefits. Alternatives to hydropower: The current and planned hydropower in Mali will not be able to meet the fast growing demand. Additionally, the unpredictability of rainfall in the Sahel works against stable production of electricity. Small scale pilots suggest that solar power is a promising alternative for Mali, which has on average 300 sunny days per year. Scale up and mainstreaming of pilot solutions: In the Inner Niger Delta several successful pilots have been carried out on 'green developments' or development measures which support the ecosystem functioning. These include forest regeneration and fish pond restoration. There are opportunities also to improve the design of irrigation schemes to enable ecological functioning and habitat creation.

Sustainable use of natural resources

Safeguarding and maintaining the natural assets of the delta (such as fish stocks, flood forests, bourgou fields) depends on the maintenance of the flood regime but additionally the prevention of overexploitation and habitat degradation. Pilot initiatives have demonstrated that over-exploitation can be averted through providing incentives and access to promising economic alternatives, as well as by law enforcement.

Link to the Nexus

In Mali, the limited water resources of the Niger and Bani rivers play a pivotal role in economic development for rural and urban communities. The large annual variation in the river flows is reflected in the production of food with more famine years occurring during the last decades. The predominant institutional response to this climatic uncertainty has been the development of hydroelectric and irrigation schemes, aiming to reduce economic dependence and increase national food security. As a result, the competition for water resources between the agricultural and energy sector has intensified and ecosystem services have been degraded or lost, resulting in reduced food security downstream in the IND. It has therefore become important to clarify the trade-offs and inter-linkages between different sectoral objectives and their seasonal water demands.

Process, Summary of Action taken

  • Documentation of the best scientific knowledge about the competition between food, electricity production and biodiversity and translation of this information into understandable materials for different target groups (Ministries, National Assembly, Niger Basin Authority, local and regional decision makers, rice farmers, herders and fishers)
  • Participation in many national, regional and international fora presenting the case of the Inner Niger Delta and distribution of thousands of brochures translated into local languages summarizing the current situation
  • Technical and policy support to the Government of Mali for the development of "Sustainable Development Program of the Inner Niger Delta"
  • Sensitize the Government of Mali for an urgent need to establish a multi-actors committee under the Supervision of the Prime Minister for integrated management of the Upper Niger and Inner Niger water resources.
  • Development of a National Action Plan for Integrated Water Resources Management
  • Lobbying and policy advocacy to riparian country governments, the Niger Basin Authority, bilateral and multilateral donors pressing for revision of their policies on dam construction.

Problems, Difficulties met

  • The Government of Mali aims to extend Office du Niger irrigated area by more 1 million ha and the water resources for this irrigation is not available
  • Many national and foreign investors have bought lands at Office du Niger at the expense of local rice farmers
  • Political tensions — there are negative reactions from the delegates of the Republic of Guinea at the regional and international meetings when showing the impact scenario of Fomi dam in the Inner Niger Delta
  • The existence of many policies and institutions in Mali related to the water sector have led to the sectoral management of water resources
  • The lack of lobbying groups for the IND, whose interests need defending at the highest political level

Results to Date and Future Commitments

  • Scientific knowledge available (models and tools) which could support and inform the integrated management of water resources of the Upper Niger and Inner Niger Delta
  • Existence of a Sustainable Development Programme for the Inner Niger Delta
  • The IND is the focus of many bilateral and multilateral donors
  • The Government of Mali is willing to extend the terms of Reference (decision about the sharing of water resources between electricity, agriculture and ecological flow) of the water resource management commission of the Selingue dam to the Markala dam and the Inner Niger Delta

Lessons Learnt

  • Availability of data and sound scientific knowledge about the competition between food production, energy and ecosystems in the Upper Niger and the Inner Niger Delta is a valuable tool for raising awareness amongst policy makers and users of water resources
  • Confidence and trust has been established between our institution, the Malian Government and bilateral donors about the value of our work resulting in Wetlands International becoming a key player in the development of the Sustainable Development Plan for the IND
  • Development of Niger River basin and/or sub-basin water resource management tools for use by decision makers and local stakeholders is an important step to improve the capacity of the future water governance body (which will establish during the implementation of the Sustainable Development Program of the IND for decision taking
  • The sectoral approach currently applied to management of the water resources of the Upper Niger and IND has led to more conflicts between sectors and water users.


Bakary Kone, Wetlands International, Mali

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