Land and water rights in the Sahel

The Sahel Water Governance Learning Group tackled issues of governance and property rights in relation to water and land laws in Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger.

Lorenzo Cotula

Principal researcher and head of law, economies and justice programme, Natural Resources research group

In the Sahel, rain-fed farming and pastoralism are the main livelihood sources. In the past few decades, efforts have been made to improve the water infrastructure in rural areas – for example through the creation of new water points and irrigation schemes.

These efforts have often failed to consider governance and property rights issues - who decides what and how, and who has right over what before and after the water development project.

In some cases, part of the problem lies with inadequate legal frameworks. In much of the Sahel, land and water laws have evolved with very little coordination, and often in different directions. Contradictions between sectoral laws on land, water and pastoralism, and between these and legislation on decentralisation, exacerbate tensions around property rights over land and water.

The Sahel Water Governance Learning Group (PROGRES from its French title - Projet de Gouvernance des Ressources en Eau au Sahel) is tackling these issues in Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger.

What IIED did

The aim of the group is to promote better policy, law and practices that address the governance property rights challenges of improving access to water for farming and herding. This was done by generating knowledge, facilitating learning and exchange, and promoting informed debate among key actors at all levels.

Key outputs and impacts includes:

  • An analysis of relevant legislation, a literature review and two field-level case studies in Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger
  • The establishment of small, informal learning groups that bring together a mix of water governance stakeholders, and
  • Providing evidence for the 2006 UNDP Human Development Report on water.