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Water for agriculture: How one innovative project is helping African farmers grow more food

Well in Solenzo region, Burkina Faso Well in Solenzo region, Burkina Faso


March 22 is World Water Day, an occasion to remember how water is fundamental to life and fundamental to global development.

In many parts of Africa, poor farmers operate with little equipment and can only water their crops when it rains. Being so dependent on the weather for their livelihood is not only inconvenient, it’s also costly. Even a lengthy three-month rainy season means that fields stay dry most of the year.

Last year, OPIC partnered with Pamiga Finance S.A., an investment company developed by French NGO PAMIGA, to bring financial resources to rural microfinance institutions in Africa. One key aim of the project was to provide dedicated loans to African farmers so they could invest in micro-irrigation systems and improve their productivity.

The project was designed to address both the shortage of water and the lack of financing that many African farmers face.

“The main challenge is to help these farmers not depend so much on the rainy season,” explained Mathieu Merceret, investment director of Pamiga Finance S.A., which has initiated its lending through a pilot program in Burkina Faso and Senegal, where onions, cabbage, peppers, potatoes and tomatoes are some of the main crops. “When farmers have to wait for the rain to come, they can only have one crop cycle a year and do not use their land the rest of the year, when it’s only dust.“

Although the rainy season in these countries is short and somewhat unpredictable, groundwater and water from nearby watersheds are in fairly strong supply. A pilot micro-loan program PAMIGA started in 2011 showed that by giving farmers the tools to properly irrigate their crops with a basic ground piping system, wells and motor pumps, they could use water more efficiently and continue to grow during the dry season.

This not only increased the total volumes of food they could produce but also enabled them to sell their food at much higher prices … as much as five times the rate they would get during the rainy season when harvested produce floods the local market. The micro-irrigation systems also enable them to extend their fields, further increasing productivity.

Based on the encouraging results of the pilot, PAMIGA has decided to scale-up the initiative and extend it to a dozen countries, with the financial support of OPIC.

This support for lending to encourage micro-irrigation is just one of the ways OPIC has helped support the availability of productive water and clean drinking water in the developing world. In addition to the PAMIGA project, OPIC financing and political risk insurance has also supported the construction of a desalination plant, a water pipeline, and the rehabilitation of older water networks.

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