Given the impacts of groundwater utilization on agriculture and livelihood in Asia and the many advantages of using groundwater, it is not surprising that groundwater is considered as an option for water supply for various uses and also as having an impact on poverty in SSA. However, this chapter has highlighted some of the reasons why agricultural groundwater use is, and will likely remain, relatively limited.
The main reason for the limited contribution of groundwater to overall water resources in SSA is the hydrogeology - low-yielding aquifers and depth of occurrence of the groundwater. This is compounded by the fact that the rural population that could benefit from the groundwater is located in areas with aquifers not suitable for large-scale abstraction of groundwater or with their supply not prioritized by national agents. However, groundwater has its role - for mitigating the impacts of drought, rural domestic supplies, stock water and irrigation at local scale. To obtain a better picture of current and potential future contribution in these areas, there is need for a shift from the traditional analyses focusing on national and regional scales to more local levels where the limited opportunities exist.
Even where groundwater is available, most of the rural poor who could benefit most from it are not in a position to pay the capital costs associated with developing the resource. We have seen in the case of South Africa that development costs are higher than in many other regions. Combining this with the fact that farmers are poorer than in many other regions means that groundwater does not lend itself to the fast development that has been seen elsewhere.
We will likely continue to see the benefits of groundwater for rural domestic use and livestock watering, as well as small-scale irrigation in SSA. Increase in use beyond these sectors is highly unlikely due to resource limitations and high costs associated with the use of groundwater. Groundwater use is best explored where such factors working against its use are minimal. This has happened in some cases - in Botswana and in agricultural regions in South Africa (where incomes are also relatively high) where groundwater has continued to expand despite the associated overdraft. Cases need to be evaluated on an individual basis, and opportunities exploited in the best possible way.
While it is likely that the groundwater resources of SSA can provide solutions to the problems of water accessibility faced by some of the region's agricultural and rural communities, the limitations highlighted in this report suggest that this role should be seen as strategic. Opportunistic use of groundwater should be followed. The major challenge in following strategic and opportunistic approaches is limited information. The focus of the effort on groundwater research in many of the SSA countries should be to consolidate available knowledge and begin to construct adequate data on availability and how then to foster finance to develop use in those strategic locations.
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