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What is the irrigation potential for Africa? A combined biophysical and socioeconomic approach


  • You, Liangzhi
  • Ringler, Claudia
  • Wood-Sichra, Ulrike
  • Robertson, Richard
  • Wood, Stanley
  • Zhu, Tingju
  • Nelson, Gerald
  • Guo, Zhe
  • Sun, Yan


Although irrigation in Africa has the potential to boost agricultural productivities by at least 50%, food production on the continent is almost entirely rainfed. The area equipped for irrigation, currently slightly more than 13 million hectares, makes up just 6% of the total cultivated area. More than 70% of Africa’s poor live in rural areas and mostly depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. As a result, agricultural development is key to ending poverty on the continent. Many development organizations have recently proposed to significantly increase investments in irrigation in the region. However, the potential for irrigation investments in Africa is highly dependent upon geographic, hydrologic, agronomic, and economic factors that need to be taken into account when assessing the long-term viability and sustainability of planned projects. This paper analyzes the large, dam-based and small-scale irrigation investment potential in Africa based on agronomic, hydrologic, and economic factors. We find significant profitable irrigation potential for both small-scale and large-scale systems. This type of regional analysis can guide distribution of investment funds across countries and should be a first step prior to in-depth country- and local-level assessment of irrigation potential, which will be important to agricultural and economic development in Africa.

Suggested Citation

  • You, Liangzhi & Ringler, Claudia & Wood-Sichra, Ulrike & Robertson, Richard & Wood, Stanley & Zhu, Tingju & Nelson, Gerald & Guo, Zhe & Sun, Yan, 2011. "What is the irrigation potential for Africa? A combined biophysical and socioeconomic approach," Food Policy, Elsevier, vol. 36(6), pages 770-782.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:jfpoli:v:36:y:2011:i:6:p:770-782
    DOI: 10.1016/j.foodpol.2011.09.001

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. You, Liangzhi & Wood, Stanley, 2006. "An entropy approach to spatial disaggregation of agricultural production," Agricultural Systems, Elsevier, vol. 90(1-3), pages 329-347, October.
    2. Svendsen, Mark & Ewing, Mandy & Msangi, Siwa, 2009. "Measuring irrigation performance in Africa:," IFPRI discussion papers 894, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).
    3. Svendsen, M., 2009. "Measuring irrigation performance in Africa," IWMI Working Papers H043570, International Water Management Institute.
    4. Inocencio, Arlene & Kikuchi, Masao & Tonosaki, Manabu & Maruyama, Atsushi & Merrey, Douglas & Sally, Hilmy & de Jong, Ijsbrand, 2007. "Costs and performance of irrigation projects: A comparison of Sub-Saharan Africa and other developing regions," IWMI Research Reports H036214, International Water Management Institute.
    5. You, Liangzhi & Wood, Stanley & Wood-Sichra, Ulrike, 2007. "Generating plausible crop distribution and performance maps for Sub-Saharan Africa using a spatially disaggregated data fusion and optimization approach:," IFPRI discussion papers 725, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).
    6. Anton Eberhard & Vivien Foster & Cecilia Briceño-Garmendia & Fatimata Ouedraogo & Daniel Camos & Maria Shkaratan, 2008. "Underpowered : The State of the Power Sector in Sub-Saharan Africa," World Bank Other Operational Studies 7833, The World Bank.
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    Cited by:

    1. Takeshima, Hiroyuki & Edeh, Hyacinth, 2013. "Typology of farm households and irrigation systems: Some evidence from Nigeria," IFPRI discussion papers 1267, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).
    2. Johnson, Michael E. & Takeshima, Hiroyuki & Gyimah-Brempong, Kwabena, 2013. "Assessing the potential and policy alternatives for achieving rice competitiveness and growth in Nigeria:," IFPRI discussion papers 1301, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).
    3. Headey, Derek & Taffesse, Alemayehu Seyoum & You, Liangzhi, 2014. "Diversification and Development in Pastoralist Ethiopia," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 56(C), pages 200-213.
    4. You, Liangzhi & Wood, Stanley & Wood-Sichra, Ulrike & Wu, Wenbin, 2014. "Generating global crop distribution maps: From census to grid," Agricultural Systems, Elsevier, vol. 127(C), pages 53-60.
    5. Jean-François Maystadt & Margherita Calderone & Liangzhi You, 2015. "Local warming and violent conflict in North and South Sudan," Journal of Economic Geography, Oxford University Press, vol. 15(3), pages 649-671.
    6. Headey, Derek D. & Taffesse, Alemayehu Seyoum & You, Liangzhi, 2013. "Improving development strategies in pastoral areas:," ESSP research notes 23, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).
    7. Mellor, John W., 2014. "High rural population density Africa – What are the growth requirements and who participates?," Food Policy, Elsevier, vol. 48(C), pages 66-75.
    8. Sheahan, Megan & Barrett, Christopher B., 2014. "Understanding the agricultural input landscape in Sub-Saharan Africa : recent plot, household, and community-level evidence," Policy Research Working Paper Series 7014, The World Bank.
    9. Domenech, Laia & Ringler, Claudia, 2013. "The impact of irrigation on nutrition, health, and gender: A review paper with insights for Africa south of the Sahara," IFPRI discussion papers 1259, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).
    10. Cenacchi, Nicola, 2014. "Drought risk reduction in agriculture: A review of adaptive strategies in East Africa and the Indo-Gangetic plain of South Asia:," IFPRI discussion papers 1372, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).
    11. repec:spr:eurase:v:7:y:2017:i:1:d:10.1007_s40822-016-0060-y is not listed on IDEAS
    12. A. M. Abdi & A. Vrieling & G. T. Yengoh & A. Anyamba & J. W. Seaquist & C. C. Ummenhofer & J. Ardö, 2016. "The El Niño – La Niña cycle and recent trends in supply and demand of net primary productivity in African drylands," Climatic Change, Springer, vol. 138(1), pages 111-125, September.
    13. Chamberlin, Jordan & Jayne, T.S. & Headey, D., 2014. "Scarcity amidst abundance? Reassessing the potential for cropland expansion in Africa," Food Policy, Elsevier, vol. 48(C), pages 51-65.
    14. Hazell, Peter B.R., 2012. "Elmhirst Lecture, 27th International Conference of Agricultural Economists, Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil August 2012 : Options for African Agriculture in an Era of High Food and Energy Prices," 2012 Conference, August 18-24, 2012, Foz do Iguacu, Brazil 127070, International Association of Agricultural Economists.
    15. Takeshima, Hiroyuki & Adesugba, Margaret Abiodun, 2014. "Irrigation potential in Nigeria: Some perspectives based on factor endowments, tropical nature, and patterns in favorable areas:," IFPRI discussion papers 1399, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).
    16. Xie, Hua & You, Liangzhi & Wielgosz, Benjamin & Ringler, Claudia, 2014. "Estimating the potential for expanding smallholder irrigation in Sub-Saharan Africa," Agricultural Water Management, Elsevier, vol. 131(C), pages 183-193.
    17. Colin Poulton, 2014. "Democratisation and the Political Incentives for Agricultural Policy in Africa," Development Policy Review, Overseas Development Institute, vol. 32(s2), pages 101-122, September.
    18. repec:eee:renene:v:116:y:2018:i:pa:p:827-834 is not listed on IDEAS
    19. Montaud, Jean-Marc & Pecastaing, Nicolas & Tankari, Mahamadou, 2017. "Potential socio-economic implications of future climate change and variability for Nigerien agriculture: A countrywide dynamic CGE-Microsimulation analysis," Economic Modelling, Elsevier, vol. 63(C), pages 128-142.
    20. repec:eee:agiwat:v:193:y:2017:i:c:p:251-264 is not listed on IDEAS
    21. Domènech, Laia, 2015. "Is reliable water access the solution to undernutrition? A review of the potential of irrigation to solve nutrition and gender gaps in Africa South of the Sahara:," IFPRI discussion papers 1428, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).
    22. Garbero, Alessandra & Songsermsawas, Tisorn, 2016. "Impact of modern irrigation on household production and welfare outcomes: Evidence from the PASIDP project in Ethiopia," 2016 Annual Meeting, July 31-August 2, 2016, Boston, Massachusetts 235949, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association.
    23. Nielsen, Thea & Schunemann, Franziska & McNulty, Emily & Zeller, Manfred & Nkonya, Ephraim M. & Kato, Edward & Meyer, Stefan & Anderson, Weston & Zhu, Tingju & Queface, Antonio & Mapemba, Lawrence, 2015. "The food-energy-water security nexus: Definitions, policies, and methods in an application to Malawi and Mozambique:," IFPRI discussion papers 1480, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).


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