ILSSI aims to identify how water access and management can support smallholder farmers to achieve prosperity, improved water and food security, better nutrition and stronger climate resilience.
Small scale irrigation can make a big difference to Malian farmers. Small scale irrigation can give farmers access to water all year round. This helps stabilize food production and can help increase food and nutrition security.
What’s more, irrigation systems provide water for other uses, including drinking, hygiene, gardening, livestock watering, fishing, and recreation. Finally, in Mali, interventions that integrate water, agriculture, and nutrition have a strong potential to boost smallholders’ climate and social resilience.
To support more Malian farmers to access the benefits of small scale irrigation, ILSSI began research activities in the country in October 2019. Working through our partners, we have set out to understand how irrigation can best counter climate variability and change as well as to assess water resource availability and allocation across uses in the Black Volta and Upper Niger Basins.
The population of Mali is highly vulnerable to water insecurity, food insecurity and undernutrition, all of which can be linked in some way to water stresses and crises. Numerous factors contribute to this vulnerability: water is becoming increasingly scarce, partly as a result of low flows in the Inner Niger Delta. Climate change and weather variability, such as droughts and long dry spells, also pose significant challenges to farmers who rely on rain to water their crops. Recent security crises are also hampering production, markets and investments.
Contributing to solutions
Household water security
Past ILSSI research in Africa suggests that small scale irrigation can improve access to water at the household level. This has multiple benefits, including boosting farmers’ nutritional status. To explore the current situation and the potential for reducing water insecurity in Mali, ILSSI researchers plan to study water, food, and nutrition security. This will include water resource assessments at basin level, using Water Accounting, studies on commercializing homestead gardens and smallholder irrigation systems, as well as assessments of water quality in irrigating areas. Opportunities linked to irrigated seed production, commercial dry-season gardens, solar-powered irrigation, entrepreneurship, and interactions between gender and irrigation will be investigated.
ILSSI has already identified areas in Mali suitable for solar-powered irrigation: the total suitable area varies between 0.69 and 4.44 million hectares, representing between 11 and up to 69 percent of Mali’s agricultural lands. Solar-powered pumps offer households access to water for multiple uses. They can support commercialization of gardens and reduce the water-related labor burden for women, while increasing yield, quality and reliability of produce. ILSSI plans to explore and analyze opportunities for expanding solar-powered irrigation, including for commercialized gardens and small scale irrigated seed production.
ILSSI will work with the private sector in Mali to identify market-related opportunities and challenges to scaling small scale irrigation systems. First, ILSSI plans to undertake a market study on the potential for irrigated seed. Second, we will work with other USAID implementers to begin to map the irrigation technology supply sector, particularly related to solar pumps.
Publications and additional resources
- Water accounting+ is an internationally recognized and standardized framework for describing availability of water resources
- The HWISE Scale is a cross-culturally validated scale to measure household water insecurity
- Solar-powered irrigation could boost climate resilience for millions (ILSSI news)
- Solar irrigation in Mali: Potential to increase food security amid climate vulnerability (ILSSI news)
- Drivers of adoption of small-scale irrigation in Mali and its impacts on nutrition across sex of irrigators (discussion paper)
- Evaluating the pathways from small-scale irrigation to dietary diversity: Evidence from Ethiopia and Tanzania (journal article)
- More on the effect of homestead gardens on households’ nutritional health (GAAP2 project)
- More on previous USAID research on using vegetables to overcome malnutrition in Mali
ILSSI is led by Texas A&M University, with the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), and the Household Water Insecurity Experiences (HWISE) – Research Coordination Network (RCN).