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Agricultural Water Management 131 (2014) 212220

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Agricultural Water Management

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Pirates or pioneers? Unplanned irrigation around small reservoirs

in Burkina Faso
Charlotte de Fraiture a, , Gael Ndanga Kouali b , Hilmy Sally b , Priva Kabre c

UNESCO-IHE, Delft, The Netherlands

International Water Management Institute (IWMI), Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso
2iE, Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso

a r t i c l e

i n f o

Article history:
Available online 29 July 2013
Individual irrigation
Small private irrigation
Common resource management

a b s t r a c t
Small reservoirs in Burkina Faso are constructed for many purposes such as domestic water uses, livestock
watering and irrigated rice production downstream of the dam. Increasingly farmers use individually
owned motorized pumps to draw water directly from the reservoir and irrigate vegetables upstream of
the dam. This practice, while tolerated, is unauthorized and referred to as irrigation pirate in French.
Upstream vegetable cultivation is successful because it is more protable than downstream rice cultivation. Often, the unofcial irrigated area around the reservoir is much larger than the ofcial command
area below the dam. However, in the absence of an overarching authority to manage the water source,
this may lead to conicts and resource degradation. We take the example of the Korsimoro reservoir in
Burkina Faso to illustrate the positive and negative impacts of spontaneous individual irrigation around
communally managed water bodies.
2013 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

1. Introduction
Small reservoirs capturing local runoff play a signicant role in
rural livelihoods and agricultural production. Wisser et al. (2010)
estimate that water stored in small reservoirs around the globe
could increase global cereal production by 35% through supplemental irrigation. In India there are some 208,000 small reservoirs
(called tanks) irrigating 2.3 million ha (Palanisami et al., 2010).
In South India where geology is less favorable for groundwater
storage, groundwater abstraction is costly and rivers are seasonal,
irrigation from small reservoirs produces 4.2 million tons of rice.
In Sri Lanka tank irrigation is the predominant form of irrigation,
with the oldest reservoir dating back more than one thousand years
(Sakthivadivel et al., 1997). In Zimbabwe, Zambia and Mozambique
there are more than 9000, 2000 and 600 small reservoirs respectively (AgWater Solutions, 2011). In Burkina Faso there are more
than 1300 small reservoirs (Cecchi et al., 2009; Leemhuis et al.,
2009) and at least 900 in Ghana (Annor et al., 2009; Venot and
Cecchi, 2011).
In villages without easy access to other water sources, small
reservoirs play a vital role in supplying water for many uses such as
domestic purposes, bathing, washing, watering cattle and cottage
industries, such as brick making (Faulkner et al., 2008; Boelee et al.,
2009; Lautze et al., 2008). More recently, governments and donors

Corresponding author. Tel.: +31 15 215 17 34.

E-mail address: (C. de Fraiture).
0378-3774/$ see front matter 2013 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

in West Africa have been promoting small reservoirs to enhance

irrigated cereal production downstream from the reservoirs (Venot
et al., 2012; Venot and Krishnan, 2011). Small reservoirs support
many water uses including crop production, livestock watering,
sheries, domestic and small business water use, and handicraft
activities and thus are vital assets in peoples livelihood. Governments, donors, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and
communities have made (and are still making) signicant investments in small reservoirs (AgWater Solutions, 2011).
However, the investments in small reservoirs have been questioned by some for their high costs, low performance, low levels
of community participation, and the collective action required to
operate and maintain irrigation infrastructure. Tank irrigation in
India has been in decline for decades. The area irrigated declined by
32% between 2001 and 2008 due to lack of technical skills, excessive
sedimentation due to catchment degradation, and difculties in
mobilizing sufcient resources for maintenance (Palanisami et al.,
2010). The performance of irrigated areas below small reservoirs in
West Africa is mixed (Birner et al., 2010; Mdemu et al., 2009; Venot
et al., 2011). Problems with communal management and mobilization of village resources for the maintenance and operation are
common (Birner et al., 2010; Sally et al., 2011).
The irrigation potential of small reservoirs is underutilized,
despite substantial investments in infrastructure and in the training of water user associations by governments and donors. For
example, between 2003 and 2007, IFAD invested some $26 million
in rehabilitation and provision of irrigation infrastructure below
small dams in Ghana, with disappointing results (Johnston and

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C. de Fraiture et al. / Agricultural Water Management 131 (2014) 212220

McCartney, 2010). The Ministry of Agriculture and Water in Burkina Faso (2006) estimates that of the 32,000 ha developed, only
20,000 ha are actually used (MAHRH, 2006). In addition to technical difculties and poor construction quality, problems relate to
the management of common property (Birner et al., 2010; Sally
et al., 2011).
Ostrom and Gardner (1993) provide several successful examples
of self-organization in which irrigation systems have avoided the
pitfalls of common property management. This tends to occur when
certain conditions are met (Ostrom, 1990; Agrawal, 2001). Collective resource boundaries and user rights need to be clearly dened;
the external environment needs to be favorable; user groups must
be more or less homogeneous (or at least willing to cooperate);
and local institutional arrangements often informal facilitate
collective action (Meinzen-Dick et al., 2002). To enhance collective action and resource mobilization for the management of small
reservoirs, some governments and donors call for the formation or
strengthening of water user associations (Palanisami et al., 2008,
2010; Anbumozhi et al., 2001; Birner et al., 2010). Some donors even
regard the presence of well-functioning water user associations
or similar structures as a prerequisite to further interventions
(IFAD, 2009). However, Venot et al. (2012) warn that top-down
approaches to WUA formation are not always appropriate. A uniform approach disregards many formal and informal institutions
and local collective action initiatives which already are involved in
the governance of small reservoirs.1 Further, water user associations often focus primarily on management of water for irrigation,
such that other water users including shermen and cattle herders
are under-represented or not represented at all.
Some observers question the common notion that small reservoirs are under-performing. Actual performance measures are
narrowly dened in terms of area under irrigation, crop production, and crop water productivity. Multiple benets, such as
livestock watering, domestic uses, small enterprises and groundwater recharge account for an additional 12% of the value of
benets derived from water stored in small reservoirs (Palanisami
et al., 2011). Venot et al. (2012) nd that extension workers who
base their judgment on the state of the infrastructure, agricultural
outputs, and functionality of the ofcially recognized water user
association, rate the performance of reservoirs much lower than villagers who consider many benets and social values when making
their judgment.
In this paper we argue that debates about investments in small
reservoirs should account for the growing trend of irrigation development upstream of the dams. Increasingly, farmers use small
mostly individually owned motorized pumps to draw water
directly from reservoirs and irrigate vegetables upstream of the
dam (Ki et al., 2010; Ndanga-Kouali, 2011; Payen and Gillet, 2007).
This highly protable activity is spreading, particularly in Burkina
Faso. Often, the area under irrigated vegetables upstream is several times larger than the area under rice downstream (Sally et al.,
2011). Overall, this trend has a positive impact on the local economy and boosts the costbenet ratios of otherwise low yielding
irrigation investments in small reservoirs.
Irrigation on the banks of small reservoirs in Burkina Faso is not
a new phenomenon. Already in the early 1990s Abernethy (1994)
reported vegetable cultivation around several reservoirs. Recently,
however, the scale of this activity has expanded rapidly, with the
import of affordable and portable motorpumps from China and
India. Government subsidies and development projects also have
spurred the recent increase in private irrigation upstream of small
reservoirs. No statistics exist regarding upstream use of reservoirs,

Cleaver (2000) coined the term institutional bricolage.


but based on eld observations and Google Earth imagery, we estimate that most of the small reservoirs in Burkina Faso support
irrigation upstream of the dam. In 2005 about 170,000 smallholders
produced $32 million worth of vegetables on 8900 ha of irrigated
land (DSA, 2005). An estimated 94% of the produce was sold on local
markets. It is likely that most of these vegetables were irrigated
informally from reservoirs, as ofcial irrigation schemes are dedicated to rice, and irrigation from rivers and lakes is not common in
Burkina Faso.
The uncontrolled proliferation of small pumps for vegetable
cultivation upstream of reservoirs can lead to environmental problems such as over-abstraction, resource degradation and pollution
from agricultural chemicals. Also, it is a source of conict between
competing groups of water users around the reservoir, such as
households, shermen, rice farmers and pastoralists (Sally et al.,
2011; Ndanga-Kouali, 2010). We chose the Korsimoro site as an
illustration of a small reservoir that is relied on by many competing users, and where the informal area irrigated by pumping
directly from the reservoir is 8 times larger than the ofcial command area irrigated by canals downstream of the dam. Sally et al.
(2011) and Mvondo-Ayissi (2010) describe other reservoirs in Burkina Faso where similar trends are observed. Field observations and
scrutiny of Google Earth imagery provide evidence that these are
not isolated cases.
We examine the positive and negative impacts of small, private irrigation upstream of the Korsimoro reservoir and we describe
the ensuing dilemmas for water management and governance. On
one hand, this private irrigation adds substantial value to the benets derived from water stored in small reservoirs and needs to be
incorporated in performance measures. It also provides examples
of the farmer-led emergence of institutions for the management
of irrigation infrastructure and distribution of water. On the other
hand, it adds to difculties related to communally managed water
resources and conicts over water resources.

2. Study site and data

The Korsimoro reservoir is located 70 km northeast of Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, along the main road to Kaya.
The reservoir was built in 1984 and equipped with irrigation infrastructure in 1987 (Ndanga-Kouali, 2011). With an estimated volume
of 4.7 million m3 , the reservoir is used intensively for many purposes such as washing, bathing, sheries, livestock watering, brick
making and 32 ha of irrigated rice cultivation (BRL, 2001). The area
under vegetable cultivation upstream of the reservoir is estimated
at 230 ha (Fig. 1). The Korsimoro village, with some 14,000 residents, is situated a few km from the dam. Market access is good
and public services such as agricultural extension services, telecom,
hospitals and schools are well represented.
We obtained our data through process documentation and
structured questionnaires among 126 farmers involved in rice
cultivation, irrigation of vegetables, shing, livestock and other
activities around the Korsimoro reservoir, implemented during three months of research at the eld site. We conducted
semi-structured interviews with ofce bearers from farmers organizations, local government and other relevant institutions. We
measured the efciency of several pumps in farmers elds, and
we developed maps using Google Earth, GPS measurements in the
eld, and verication by key informants among farmer groups and
pump owners. At the end of the eldwork we shared our results
with those interviewed in a village meeting attended by 23 men
and 8 women. Feedback from attendees was used to verify ndings
and rene our observations. Further, we vetted our ndings in a
meeting at the Department of Irrigation at the national level. Secondary data were obtained from project reports available from the

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C. de Fraiture et al. / Agricultural Water Management 131 (2014) 212220

Fig. 1. Google Earth image of the irrigated areas upstream and downstream of the Korsimoro reservoir in Burkina Faso during the dry season JanuaryApril 2011.

Ministry, the minutes of village and WUA meetings, and nancial

accounts from farmers groups and unions.

Table 1
Characteristics of vegetable farmers organized in producer groups and individual
pump users around the Korsimoro reservoir, Burkina Faso.

3. Water users and uses

The primary water user groups of the Korsimoro reservoir, in
order of the number of people involved, are: (1) vegetable farmers
upstream, (2) rice farmers downstream, (3) pastoralists watering
their cattle, and (4) shermen.
3.1. Vegetable farmers, producer groups and the union
Using GIS, eld observations and questionnaires we estimate
that during the dry season from October 2010 till April 2011 about
1000 farmers around the Korsimoro reservoir cultivated vegetables
(primarily onions) on 230 ha, with an average cropping intensity of
133%. There are two crop cycles during the dry season (October to
December and January to April), but only one-third of the farmers
grow two vegetable crops per season. An estimated 69009500 tons
of onions2 were produced in 2010/2011, for which 2.4 million m3
of water were pumped from the reservoir. Consumptive water use
is estimated at 1.5 million m3 (Kabre, 2011; Ndanga-Kouali, 2011).
The total value of the production is estimated at $2.5$3.0 million
per year. Published statistics are not available, but according to key
informants, vegetable production in the area has been increasing
in recent years.
Water is pumped directly from the reservoir or from trenches
connected to the reservoir that were dug by farmers to extend the
reach of their pumps. Watering by hand using buckets occurs on a
very small scale, as nearly all water is obtained using motor pumps.
Two types of pumps dominate: small portable 23 hp pumps running on petrol or kerosene (brand Koshin or Robin, original or
Chinese counterfeit) which are used by individual farmers, and
heavy 510 hp diesel pumps of Indian origin (brand Rhino or Kirloskar) which are typically shared by a group of farmers. With the
availability of relatively cheap lightweight pumps imported from
China, individual use is increasing. However, the number of farmers sharing a pump outnumbers the individual users by a factor

Based on yields of 2535 tons of onions per ha; average onion price of 150 CFA
per kg; and exchange rate of 475 CFA per US dollar.

Area irrigated average (m2 )

Area irrigated median (m2 )
Area irrigated SD (m2 )
Average age
Number of children
Formal education
From outside villagec

Farmers sharing
a pumpa
N = 84

pump ownersb
N = 41



Based on farmer surveys around the Korsimoro Reservoir during eldwork in the
dry season from January to April 2011
These are farmers organized in a group who share a motorized pump. In total
we counted 43 groups with 1870 registered members, though not all are active.
These are farmers owning a small motorized pump for individual use. We identied 67 individual pump users.
These are individuals who migrate to the Korsimoro area during the dry season specically to engage in vegetable cultivation around the reservoir. They are
considered as outsiders by villagers living in Korsimoro.

of 10. We counted 67 small portable pumps (individual use) and

43 heavy diesel pumps (shared use), most of which are privately
owned and nanced by individual farmers. Individual pump users
are generally younger, better educated, and cultivate a larger area
than farmers who share a pump (Table 1), though land distribution
is skewed with the largest 10% of the farmers cultivating 45% of the
Pump owners rent the land around the reservoir for the equivalent of $175$350 per ha per crop cycle. The landowners use the
land during the rainy season to cultivate rainfed cereals and rent
it out during the dry season. All vegetable farmers cultivate cash
crops for the local and regional market, and most of them live in the
area. Some of the vegetable farmers also have land in the rice area
downstream; but increasingly people from outside the area come
to Korsimoro just for the dry season to earn additional income from
3.1.1. Producer groups
Farmers who own one or more large diesel pumps typically
cannot cultivate the entire irrigable area due to limited labor availability. To rent out the excess capacity of their pump they form a

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C. de Fraiture et al. / Agricultural Water Management 131 (2014) 212220
Table 2
Summary of nancial account information from producer groups involved in irrigated farming upstream of the Korsimoro reservoir in Burkina Faso, 2011.
Producer groups (N = 12)a

Number of group members

Total area irrigated (ha)
Rent for land and irrigation
services charged to group
members in USD/ha
Total revenue from rent in USD
Total running costsb in USD
Net income generated from rent
(total) in USD
Net income from rent (per ha) in

(N = 1)a
60 (35)
3.86 (3.47)
1265 (440)

5512 (5957)
1346 (835)
4166 (5265)
870 (473)



Source: group ledgers and accounts, available with bureau members, accessed during eldwork JanuaryApril 2011.
Figures in brackets are standard deviations.
Out of the 43 user groups we could locate 12 with consistent and accessible
accounts. We identied 2 women groups of which 1 had complete written accounts.
Running costs include fuel, pump repair and maintenance and, where applicable,
salaries of a pump operator and/or watchman.

producer group as follows. The pump owner leases 23 ha of land

adjacent to the reservoir from a landowner. He cultivates part of
the land, depending on the availability of family or hired labor, and
sublets the remainder, in plots of 150300 m2 for a price ranging
from $520 to $1680 per ha to individual smallholders without a
pump. The rental price includes land rent and all irrigation related
costs (i.e., fuel, pump maintenance, and in some cases, the salary of
a pump operator and watchman to keep the cattle out). The pump
owner or a pump operator who is hired for this purpose operates
the pump, irrigates all land within the reach of the pump, including
the plots that are rented out to small farmers, and ensures that all
crops are watered adequately.
The pump owner buys fuel in bulk at the beginning of the season (200300 L of diesel per ha per crop cycle, depending on the
efciency of the pump and water distribution) and makes sure
the pump is in running condition. The revenue he receives from
the sublet is generally more than sufcient to cover all irrigation
related costs, including those of his own elds. The variation in land
rental price is partly due to differences in pump running costs, but
is largely explained by social ties. Farmers coming from the district
pay a substantially lower rent than outsiders. Occasionally pump
owners charge women groups a lower rent for social reasons.
The pump owner and farmers who rent land and pumping
services can form an ofcially registered producer group (groupement in French). The prerequisite for registration at the district
council (prfecture in French) is the approval of the agricultural
extension worker and the formation of a bureau consisting of
8 persons (i.e. president, vice-president, treasurer, vice-treasurer,
secretary, vice secretary, informant secretary, vice informant secretary) and at least 7 members. To maintain control over pump
management and the nances, typically the farmer who owns the
pump forms the group and serves as the president. The other positions in the bureau are typically lled by his family members or
close friends. Membership is open to anyone who is interested in
renting irrigated land. When a group member leaves and irrigated
land becomes available, new candidates can easily be found by
word of mouth because demand for irrigated land is larger than
We counted 43 registered producer groups with more than 1870
members, though not all groups are active (Table 2).
According to the regulations of registered groups, all members
are equal, and any surplus income is to be shared among all group
members. However, we did not nd evidence that this is indeed


happening. In fact, most pump owners tend to run the groupement

as a family business. Financial records of groups generally show
a substantial surplus (Table 2). There are exceptions, though. For
example, one womens group with 70 members pays a low rate for
irrigation services because the pump owner is willing to forego part
of his prot, to support the local womens group (third column in
Table 2).
3.1.2. Group members
Smallholders who rent land and irrigation services from a pump
owner cultivate small areas (1501000 m2 ). Prots generally are
good. A plot of 1000 m2 yielded $650 on average in the dry season of
20102011 (Table 3 rst column), but returns can vary due to market gluts and pest and diseases, and sometimes farmers run a loss.
Lack of labor and nances to pay initial costs (such as seeds, fertilizer, pesticides and irrigation) are the largest obstacles to increasing
the area of individual vegetable plots.
The second column in Table 3 illustrates the case of a pump
owner and president of a producer group. As explained above, the
revenue he receives from renting out the excess capacity of his
pump by subletting part of his land, covers total irrigation expenses
(pump, petrol, land rent). Hence his irrigation expenses are zero.
Vegetable prices are high in the beginning of the dry season
(November/December) and decline toward the end (April). Farmers who manage to plant early can obtain a premium price (third
column in Table 3). However, most smallholders are unable to plant
early because they depend on the sale of their rainfed cereal crops
(sorghum, maize harvested in October/November) for the revenue
needed to purchase inputs for dry season vegetable cultivation.
Also, many farmers with limited family labor are still busy harvesting the rainfed crop, and cannot afford to pay for hired labor to
start the vegetable crop.
3.1.3. Union of vegetable producer groups
The primary advantage of ofcially registering as a group is the
possibility to qualify for individual and group loans at commercial
banks and to become a member of the umbrella organization of
vegetable farmers, the Union Dpartementale des Groupements de
Producteurs Maraichers de Korsimoro (UDGPM-K). Most, but not
all, groups are registered at the district council, or have become
members of the Union.
Prompted by extension workers of the Ministry of Agriculture,
in 2004, ten registered groups of vegetable farmers came together
to form a Union. The Union is registered at the district council
and has a board of 10 ofcials (president, vice-president, 2 treasurers, 4 secretaries and two members) and represents 31 active
producer groups. The Union charges a one-time group membership fee of $5 and requires an annual contribution of $10 and a
150 kg bag of onions. Before being registered or accepted by the
Union, candidate groups must be debt-free of any bank credit and
have virtuous behavior. Being part of the Union has several advantages: the Union buys fertilizer in bulk and resells it to its members.
The Union provides its members a guarantee for loans at the local
bank that can be paid back after the harvest. Government Agencies
and NGOs include the Union in their training programs, and the
Union receives ad hoc support by donors and international NGOs.
For example, USADF, an American NGO nanced the construction of
a storage place for onions. However, because of the Unions limited
capacity, their services do not reach all beneciaries. In particular,
those who are located close to the Union bureau members benet
3.2. Rice farmers and rice cooperative
The Korsimoro irrigation scheme supports 32 ha of rice. The lack
of suitable land downstream from the reservoir limits the further

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Table 3
Estimated costs and benets of irrigated vegetable cultivation above the Korsimoro reservoir in Burkina Faso for individual farmers in the dry season of 2011 in US dollars.
Costs per 1000 m2

Pump owner
group chairman

Typical small
irrigator (renter)

Irrigator (renter),
early harvest

Rent of irrigated land

Land preparation




Total variable costs

Onion production (in bags of 165 kg)
Price of one bag of onion (dollar/bag)
Price of onion per kg (dollar/kg)




Total revenue
Prot for 0.1 ha
Prot per hectare







The rst column provides an illustration of a typical average smallholder farmer who rents 1000 m2 of irrigated land from a pump owner for onion cultivation, sowing in
December. The second column represents a pump owner and president of a producer group. Land and irrigation costs are paid from the rent payments from group members.
He cultivates a larger area but less intensively (lower fertilizer application and yields). The third column in the table shows a farmer who harvested his onions in December
and obtained a price three times higher than a few months later in the season. Because he harvests early in the season he partly relies on hired labor. Based on farmer surveys
around the Korsimoro Reservoir during eldwork in the dry season from January to April 2011.

expansion of the rice area. Currently there are 169 local farm families and 7 womens groups owning rice plots of 0.16 ha each. Some
farmers choose not to cultivate their plots, as they prefer to rent
them out for $32 or two bags of rice per season. A water fee of $4.70
per plot per season is levied by the cooperative of rice farmers. At
the beginning of the season, each rice farmer is supposed to contribute to maintenance work or pay a ne of $1.25, but lately this
rule has not been enforced and maintenance of canals has become
long overdue. Steel gates have disappeared and canal lining is in bad
shape. Despite its poor physical state, the system is used intensively
to produce two rice crops per year. Recently, farmers have begun
using the command area to produce vegetables in the dry season,
sometimes by pumping water directly from the canals or reservoir.
However, the area under vegetable cultivation is (still) very limited. In 20102011 the observed rice cropping intensity was 194%
and average yields ranged from 4.5 to 5.5 tons/ha per crop cycle.
The total rice harvest is estimated at 280340 tons, valued at US
$134,400US $153,600 per year (2 crop cycles).
Table 4 illustrates the revenues and expenses of rice farmers.
The farmers in the rst and third columns are members of the rice
cooperative and own one plot of 0.16 ha each. The farmer represented in the second column leases the land. One crop cycle of
paddy earns about $150$200 on 0.16 ha of land. A handful of farmers grow paddy for the seeds. This is a protable activity, earning
three times more than paddy (Table 3, third column) but requires

higher investments and more knowledge that are needed for rice
3.2.1. Rice cooperative
A Cooperative of Rice Producers was formed directly after the
command area downstream was brought into use in 1988. The
cooperative is headed by a bureau of 7 ofce-bearers. Membership
is compulsory for rice producing farmers and women groups. At
the beginning of the growing season, the rice cooperative acquires
a loan from the local bank of about $10,000 to buy fertilizer in bulk.
The cooperative receives the fertilizer at a subsidized rate from the
Ministry of Agriculture and distributes it to interested members.
Following the harvest, farmers pay back the cooperative the equivalent of the fertilizer market price plus interest in bags of rice. The
cooperative retains the difference and can make a prot of about
$45 per 50 kg bag of fertilizer. Consequently, those members who
can afford to pay cash at the beginning of the growing season prefer buying fertilizer on the open market to avoid interest payments.
The cooperative pays a lower price for rice than on the open market.
Farmers who do not need the money immediately after the growing season, or do not have loans to repay, prefer to sell their rice on
the open market.
Table 5 summarizes the earnings from irrigated agriculture
using water from the Korsimoro reservoir for different actors
and activities during the dry season in the ofcial and unofcial

Table 4
Estimated costs and benets of rice farmers with irrigated land downstream from the Korsimoro reservoir (Burkina Faso) in the dry season of 2011 in US dollars.
Costs (dollar per plot of 0.16 ha one crop cycle)
Rent of land
Water fees
Labor, land preparation
Total costs
Value of rice produce (dollar/0.16 ha)
Prot (dollar/0.16 ha)
Prot (dollar/ha)

Typical rice

Renter of
paddy land

Farmer of
rice seeds

Rice farmers depend on exchange of labor during busy times, such as harvest, transplanting and weeding. Sometimes payments are made in bags of rice. The production costs
exclude labor, due to the difculty of pricing these exchanges. Based on farmer surveys around the Korsimoro Reservoir during eldwork in the dry season from January to
April 2011.

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C. de Fraiture et al. / Agricultural Water Management 131 (2014) 212220


Table 5
Comparison of typical prots by different actors in irrigated agriculture upstream and downstream of the Korsimoro reservoir (Burkina Faso) in the dry season of 2011 in US
Prot per farmer
(USD/dry season)

Prot per hectare

(USD/dry season)


Owner of land along reservoir banks

Depends on
landholding size

Up to 350

Pump owner president of groupement



Smallholder renting irrigated land (vegetables)

Rice farmer owning irrigated plot downstream

(1) 225290
(2) 675

(1) 50006500
(2) 15,550

Rice producer farming on rented land



Rents out land during the dry season and uses it for rainfed
cereals in the wet season. Guaranteed rent income, no
effort, risk free
Assumption: owns one pumps, rents 3 ha of which he
cultivates 0.3 ha: rent income + onion sales = 2350 + 1500
(1) Rents 3 plots of 150 m2 , harvest in March
(2) Rents 3 plots of 150 m2 , harvest in December
One plot of 0.16 ha; prot during dry season; excludes the
harvest during the rainy season
One plot of 0.16 ha; prot during dry season; excludes the
harvest during the rainy season

Based on farmer surveys around the Korsimoro Reservoir during eldwork in the dry season from January to April 2011.

irrigated areas. An owner of land adjacent to the reservoir can earn

$350 per hectare by renting out his land to pump owners during the
dry season. The owner of a heavy diesel pump rents much land as his
pump can irrigate and cultivates as much as his family labor allows.
He sublets the remainder of his irrigated land to smallholder farmers without a pump. He earns an average of $870 per ha from rent
and $500 per ha from vegetable cultivation. Smallholders who rent
irrigated land during the dry season earn on average $640. Profitability can triple if they are able to harvest early in the season,
when prices are still high. Lastly, rice farmers downstream from
the dam can earn $150$200 from their eld of 0.16 ha, but they
can earn triple that amount if produce paddy for seeds.

nominal membership fee of $2 per year, but the group has been
inactive in recent years and fees have not been collected.
Several thousand cattle are watered at the Korsimoro reservoir.
Pastoralists belong to 49 different groups, organized in a Union of
Livestock Farmers, again at the insistence of the agricultural extension worker in 2004, but the groups and union are inactive. Near the
reservoir bed, a few farmers engage in brick making. Their number
is small and they have limited impact on water use, though their
activities may be the cause of local erosion.

4. Discussion
3.3. Other users: shermen, pastoralists, brick makers
During our study, we counted 29 shermen making a living from
the reservoir, but this is likely an underestimate. All shermen must
obtain an annual, renewable permit for $16 from the Ministry of
Agriculture, but the nearest ofce is more than one hours drive
and government ofcials rarely come to the site to check. Thus,
many residents sh without a permit. At the insistence of the agricultural extension worker, the shermen organized themselves in
an ofcially registered group in 2004, the same year in which the
Union of Vegetable Farmers was established. The group charges a

The Korsimoro reservoir is intensively used and generates

considerable value from land and water resources in ways not originally foreseen. A comparison of main uses is given in Table 6 and
explained below.
The informal vegetable cultivators upstream of the dam are by
far the most numerous and they withdraw the most water, irrigating 230 ha, as compared to the 32 ha of rice in the ofcial command
area. More than 1000 vegetable producers are using at least 110
large and small pumps to withdraw water directly from the reservoir. Irrigated vegetable cultivation is three times more protable
per ha than the conventional rice irrigation downstream. Revenue

Table 6
Overview of water users around the Korsimoro reservoir in Burkina Faso.


Number of beneciaries
Area under cultivation
Total annual water withdrawn
Total value of produce
Value generated per unit of
withdrawn water
Rules and regulations

Issues with pirates upstream

Vegetables upstream,
pumping directly from

Rice downstream, with

gravity canals from

Cattle watering


High degree of
self-organization guided by
market transactions
between land owners,
pump owners, and lessees.
Active groups and Union.
More than 1000
232 1.33 = 308 ha
2.7 million m3
$2.5$3.0 million
$0.93$1.11 per m3

Communally managed
through Rice Farmers
Cooperative. Farmers face
difculties in mobilizing
resources for maintenance
of irrigation infrastructure.
32 1.94 = 62 ha
0.82 million m3
$0.134$0.154 million
$0.16$0.19 per m3

Low degree of
organization. Individual
activity. Common interest
groups and Union exist but

Low degree of
organization. Individual
activity. Common interest
groups exist but inactive.

A few dozen
Not known

At least 29 (probably more)

Not known

Cultivation not allowed

within 100 m but
commonly violated

Water fee and contribution

to maintenance; not



Increased water
abstraction upstream could
lead to water shortage for
rice in dry season

Vegetable elds around

reservoir block passage of

Fishermen need permit

from Ministry of
Agriculture but not
Polluted runoff from
vegetable elds may affect
water quality and sh stock

Based on farmer surveys around the Korsimoro Reservoir during eldwork in the dry season from January to April 2011.

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C. de Fraiture et al. / Agricultural Water Management 131 (2014) 212220

per unit of water withdrawn from the reservoir is 5 times higher.3

The unofcial irrigated area along the reservoir banks is 7 times
larger than the ofcial command area downstream. There is strong
demand for land around the reservoir that is suitable for cultivation, and the area is still expanding. Korsimoro is now known as
a hub for onion cultivation in the region. At harvest time, traders
come from as far away as neighboring Ghana to purchase onions in
Farmers operate under different rental arrangements of land
and pumping equipment. Initiated by farmers themselves, these
arrangements work well and smallholders who cannot afford their
own pump have access to irrigation. Rules are clear, leadership
is well-established, and although some members complain about
high costs, conicts over pump operation and maintenance within
a group are rare. Investments in infrastructure are modest. A motor
pump that can irrigate 2 to 3 ha is available for $500$700, including pipes and accessories. Operation costs are $250$350 per ha
per crop cycle (mainly for fuel), and maintenance of pumps and
pipes is straightforward. By contrast, the construction and maintenance of canals, outlets and a protection dike downstream of small
reservoirs is costly. Investment costs of $10,000$20,000 per ha are
not uncommon, while higher costs also are observed (Venot et al.,
2012). Water user associations of communal irrigation systems
often face difculties mobilizing sufcient resources to properly
maintain the irrigation infrastructure, and rehabilitations are frequent.
However, rice farmers downstream of the dam raised several
concerns regarding the unchecked growth in the number of vegetable farmers pumping from the reservoirs. First, they fear that
water shortages might occur toward the end of the dry season. In
2009, water in the reservoir was barely sufcient for the rice crop
during the dry season and rice farmers needed pumps to access
water in the dead storage of the reservoir. Second, vegetable farmers do not pay water fees and do not contribute to maintenance of
the system (in particular the dam). Third, vegetable farmers withdraw water without seeking permission, while rice farmers feel
they have priority water rights. Burkinabe law stipulates that users
need to obtain a permit for withdrawing water. Yet, vegetable farmers pump water without seeking permission from the government
or from established water users. Consequently, their practices are
referred to as illicit or irrigation pirate in French.
Fishermen have expressed concerns regarding agricultural
chemicals from vegetable elds accumulating in the reservoir.
While water quality data in Korsimoro reservoir are lacking, shermen claim that sh stock have been adversely affected. Field
observations conrm the large amounts of fertilizer and pesticides
used in vegetable cultivation, their improper use, and poor agronomic practices, likely leading to polluted runoff. Pollution from
horticulture exceeds acceptable levels in other comparable reservoirs (Hyrks and Pernholm, 2007).
Pastoralists have expressed concern regarding the proliferation
of vegetable elds around the reservoir, because the elds block the
passage of cattle to water, particularly in the dry season. According to government regulations, cultivation is not allowed within
100 m of reservoir banks. However, our GIS analysis shows that
at least 10 ha of vegetables are in this buffer zone (Kabre, 2011),
suggesting that the government does not enforce the regulation.
Fishermen and pastoralists are insufciently organized and lack the
power needed to enforce any measures to reduce these problems.
Lastly, while the users of Korsimoro reservoir have access
to relatively abundant water and the reservoir capacity appears

Value of production divided by withdrawals for rice: $134,000 to
154,000/0.82 million m3 = $0.160.19 per m3 . For vegetables $2.53 million/
2.7 million m3 = $0.921.11/m3 .

sufcient to support the area cultivated, this situation may change

in the near future. With the combined result of increased land
under irrigation and reservoir sedimentation, signs of over-use and
conicts are emerging. The vegetable growers at the far upstream
end of the reservoir are starting to feel the impacts of increased
pumping. Toward the end of dry season, small pumps are no longer
adequate to draw water from quickly receding water levels. In
other reservoirs in Burkina Faso, water shortages and conicts
between upstream and downstream users are already common and
sometimes turn violent (Ndanga-Kouali, 2010; Sally et al., 2011).
Several existing organizations are tasked with bringing together
water users at the level of individual reservoirs or watersheds, to
discuss and resolve water conicts. One such entity is the Comit
Local de lEau (CLE) or Local Water Committee. In 2003 the government of Burkina Faso mandated establishment of CLEs as part
of the Action Plan of Integrated Water Resources Management
(Plan dAction pour la Gestion Intgre des Ressources en Eau
(PAGIRE in French). The CLEs are intended to serve as platforms for
consultation, mobilization and promotion, rather than a decisionmaking body with enforcement prerogatives (Sally et al., 2011;
Roncoli et al., 2009). The CLE of Korsimoro, created in 2006, includes
representatives of the rice cooperative, vegetable farmers union,
shermen and cattle farmers, as well as local chiefs, members of
the district council, traditional chiefs and other ofce bearers. The
CLE is ideally situated to address water issues around the reservoir, as objectives include bringing together the diverse group of
water users to discuss and exchange water distribution and management issues, as advocated by the PAGIRE. However, lacking a
clear mandate, leadership and resources, the CLE has been dormant.
Its bureau has yet to meet for the rst time since its inception ve
years ago.
The rice farmers are not able (and in some cases not willing) to
regulate the pumping upstream. The rice cooperative sees its role in
the commercial aspects of rice (bulk purchase of inputs, marketing)
and does not interfere in water management outside the rice command area. Further, some leading members of the rice cooperative
also cultivate vegetables upstream. Similarly, some active members of the vegetable farmers union have land in the rice command
area. Given the weakness of the rice cooperative and intertwined
personal interests, rice farmers feel they have no choice but to tolerate the unauthorized pumping upstream. Consequently, those who
pump water from reservoirs do so without asking permission or
paying a fee, often at the expense of established water users. Without a mechanism to prevent new entrants and regulate water use
and pollution, it is likely that conicts over water around reservoirs
will aggravate. Without rules or regulations or protection of water
use rights, those with the largest pumps will gain at the expense
of shermen, people downstream, those with smaller pumps, and
the environment.

5. Concluding remarks
Irrigation directly from small reservoirs for vegetable cultivation
during the dry season is increasing. It adds substantial economic
value to the use of the reservoir water. It is small-scale, private,
self-funded and guided by market transactions involving land owners, pump owners, and lessees. Our analysis provides evidence of
a high level of self-organization among those involved. Its spontaneous nature and strong economic drivers raise several pertinent
questions that remain unanswered. The questions address policy
pertinent topics, such as the nature of public and donor-driven
investments in irrigation projects in developing countries, and
the potential gains from supporting small-scale, private irrigation
activities. When the goal of irrigation projects is to enhance smallholder access to water for productive uses, it seems wise to take

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C. de Fraiture et al. / Agricultural Water Management 131 (2014) 212220

note of the dilemmas that arise from the upstream irrigation from
reservoirs in Burkina Faso. We note, in closing, several dilemmas
and questions that motivate further analysis.
Upstream vegetable farmers can be regarded as pioneering an
innovative and protable way of exploiting small reservoirs that
would otherwise lie underutilized. On the other hand, downstream
farmers regard them as pirates who steal water at the expense of
ofcially recognized water user groups. Disallowing irrigated vegetable cultivation upstream of the dam and along the shores of
reservoirs would mean a considerable loss of much needed income
for numerous smallholders. Can such activities be regulated and
incorporated within the existing water user association structure,
or should private farmers be allowed to continue withdrawing
water from reservoirs without regulation or management of the
communal resource?
Donors invest substantial amounts in expensive canals and protection dikes downstream from the reservoir. They also invest
substantial effort in training of sub-optimally functioning water
user associations. As the Korsimoro example shows, farmers are
quite effective in organizing themselves around shared used of irrigation equipment and land, based on market principles. Should
development projects reconsider their investments in irrigation
infrastructure and training of water user associations? Should they
support individual pumping instead as a more affordable alternative to enhancing access to water for productive uses? What would
be the long-term tradeoffs for the environment?
These questions are gaining in importance as spontaneous
irrigation around small reservoirs is increasing in Burkina Faso,
Northern Ghana and elsewhere. Perhaps it is time to reconsider the
design of water infrastructure, and the management and allocation
of water in reservoirs. Important lessons can be drawn from the
economic success of spontaneous irrigation and the high degree
of self-organization that is inherent in small, private irrigation
initiatives. Yet, there are good reasons also to study potential implications regarding efciency, equity, and the environment.
This article is based on a case study conducted under the Agricultural Water Management Solutions project funded by a grant
from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (see project website at: The ndings and conclusions contained within are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reect
positions or policies of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. We
thank the anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments
and suggestions, which have notably improved the quality of this
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