In its Sixth Assessment Report published in March 2023, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) made it clear that droughts are becoming more frequent and that their occurrence and intensity will continue to increase due to climate change.
It’s expected that the water needs of people, agriculture, and industry will become more difficult to meet in the future. Reduction of our greenhouse gas emissions isn’t enough: we now need to deploy concrete and proven adaptation solutions at the same time. Long faced with droughts and challenges accessing sufficient water, African countries have developed innovative approaches that could be shared around the world.
In Tunisia, meeting the demand for water is already a problem during dry periods, when available resources can fall by 40%. The impacts of climate change, demographic pressure, and the country’s socioeconomic development are likely to exacerbate the shortage.
That’s why Tunisia is in the process of implementing an ambitious national water management strategy, covering both demand and supply. This strategy is based on a study of uses carried out with the support of AFD, via its AdaptAction program, which is promoting a goal of greater reuse of wastewater by 2050.
After wastewater is processed at treatment plants, it can be reused in agriculture, in factories, for watering green spaces, and for restoring groundwater. Tunisia’s National Sanitation Office reports that, at one wastewater treatment plant, 50% of the processed water is already being used to irrigate nearly 600 hectares of agricultural land, with good water-quality results.
The country has a national master plan for reusing treated wastewater: Water Reuse 2050. Its current objective is to develop a shared vision and long-term strategy to better develop this resource.
Improving Groundwater Recharge
The Pout catchment area in Senegal is home to groundwater resources that provide 25% of the water supply to the Dakar, Thiès and the Petite Côte. Mining and irrigated farming activities draw heavily from these aquifers, which are struggling to recharge due to the effects of climate change.
In partnership with AFD Group’s AdaptAction program, the Senegalese government launched a project in late 2021 to protect water resources and improve groundwater recharge through nature-based solutions. It consists of promoting the infiltration and recovery of rainwater, especially by repairing retention basins, reforesting natural areas and building filter dikes.
Officials, farmers and agricultural companies are also working to make agricultural practices more efficient, to help reduce water consumption, use more organic matter, and reduce the use of pesticides.
Preserving Humidity in Fields
This seemingly rudimentary technique seeks to reduce the damage that rainwater can cause to the dry soil of a cultivated field.
Many development projects use the creation of stone lines, that is, stacks of stones lined up in small ditches every 30 to 50 meters, following the contours of the land. These stone lines then slow rainwater runoff, thereby limiting soil erosion and enabling sediment deposit and water infiltration into the soil.
Crops grown among a network of stone lines benefit from better humidity and organic matter inputs, and their yields increase by up to more than 70% according to studies carried out during development projects. “These stone lines are a traditional aspect of projects carried out in the Sahel, for developing watersheds or supporting local agroecology,” says Jean-René Cuzon, head of AFD’s Agriculture Project team.
Stone lines first appeared in the 1980s among peasant farmers in the Mossi plateau of Burkina Faso. They are now being developed in Mauritania as part of the AFD-funded Asarigg Program. Its overall objective is to help improve the food security of the most vulnerable people, restore the environment, reduce the risk of conflicts over land, and strengthen social cohesion. Nearly 400 hectares of land restored this way has already enabled more than 4,000 households to start farming activities, in a country where only 0.5% of the land is cultivable.
Agroforestry consists of growing trees and ground crops or livestock on the same plot. It’s an ancestral practice enjoying a revival, as it offers better use of resources, greater biological diversity, and the creation of a microclimate that leads to higher yields.
The presence of trees or hedges in the fields generates shade, thereby increasing soil moisture and reducing the need for irrigation. It also furthers rainwater infiltration and allows symbiosis between plant species, by supplying organic matter, storing CO2, and diversifying production (e.g., timber, wood fuel, fruit, fodder, and others).
AFD and Sudan’s Forest National Corporation (FNC) have been working together on a project to increase the direct income of gum arabic farmers in North Kordofan since 2013, in particular through the development of agroforestry.
“Listening to the studies, traditions, and experience of our ancestors has encouraged us to plant trees, because rain falls on tree-lined areas more than on drylands, and this improves water retention,” says Elhadi Abdelgafer Mekki, President of the Gum Arabic Producers Association of Sudan.
Promoting Effective and Inclusive Consultation
In its latest report, the IPCC states that climate-resilient development progresses “when actors work in equitable, just and inclusive ways to reconcile divergent interests, values and worldviews, toward equitable and just outcomes.” In other words, cooperation and commitment can create innovations that are useful for communities and the land they live on.
This is why the groundwater recharge project in the Pout area of Senegal was organized jointly, using a participatory approach involving all stakeholders (ministries; scientific organizations; municipalities; vegetable growers’ associations; women’s associations; and companies in the agrifood, mining and quarry, and cement sectors). They worked together from the feasibility study stage, thereby making it possible to initiate a collective approach and develop a sense of belonging to an area.
“As part of AFD's AdaptAction program, we are trying to encourage these participatory approaches at all levels, so that climate science translates into public policies and more resilient investments,” says Christophe Buffet, head of AdaptAction.