Senegal valley & delta : how to manage and share the river flow among the various users / uses, including growing commercial crop production ?

Summary of the case

The Senegal River basin feeds several million people across 4 countries of western Africa (Guinea, Mali, Mauritania and Senegal). For the 3 last countries this river basin constitutes a major natural resource with no fewer than 12 million people living in the riverbed, taking advantage of the numerous opportunities offered. Sharing a limited resource between different actors and countries in the context of increasing needs and environmental constraints leads ineluctably to sustainability issues and tensions among the actors managing and using the natural resources. In this document we will address these questions at the national scale, through the Senegal case study. In this country, where the water is often a limiting factor for agriculture, the water coming from the Senegal River is thus a precious resource for local farmers to irrigate their plots or to farm in flooded areas. This river is also seen by national authorities as a resource with an interesting potential to build dams in order to produce hydroelectricity in a developing country with increasing energy demand. The Diama and Manantali dams built during the 1980s on the Senegal River allowed to develop crop production through the expansion of irrigated land but also raised environmental and social issues. Dams led to disturbances of the physicochemical properties of the river and had impacts on the biodiversity while agriculture intensification led to soil and water pollution issues, with direct consequences on local population health. On the social aspect of the question, the lack of access to water management information for a part of the smallholders led to exclude them from the resource allocation. In this context, a more sustainable management of the water resource is required.

Issues & dilemmas

The main issues regarding the Integrated Water resource management arises due to the complexity of the various boundaries and its interdependence. The various existing uses of the area give us a comparative idea about the importance of the basin and the delta. The various uses of the basin include:

Pump based irrigated land- There is 130,000 ha of land which is used for agriculture by all the three member states. The major crop is rice and is cultivated during the rainy season. The dry season has seen an increase in the cultivation of vegetables.

Flood recessive agriculture: This production system was highly irregular because it depended on the extent and duration of the annual flood occurring in the middle of the rainy season. Sorghum grows during the dry season, exclusively on the residual soil moisture after flood recession. The average yield is low (Around 600 kg/hectare). However it is a profitable production system for farmers since they use no purchased inputs: seeds are kept aside from the previous season, fertiliser is cow dung and labour is provided by the family.

Hydropower- The main idea during the establishment of the OMVS was to generate 800 GWh per year 8 years out of 10. Hydropower generation started in 2003 and since then it has been supplying the 30% of the total electricity consumed by the three countries. With increasing oil prices, this has an unquestionably positive macroeconomic impact for the three countries and notably for Mali that receives 50% of the energy but gets no other benefit from the dams.

The other uses also include biodiversity and environmental uses, livestock breeding.

The biggest dilemma in the water distribution exits between the hydropower and the recessive agriculture. Both of these require water from the Manantali basin and the contradiction pose a big problem in the distribution. The other major dilemma comes from the fact the various ethnic group resides in the valley and hence there exists a difference in opinion within the society whhc makes the issue further complex. The various salt management practises also pose an issue and the outburtst of malaria due to the poor management shows us how important the issue is. The other contradiction is the competing idea between the commercial crops like sugar, which have a very important role in export as sugar and the flood recessive crop which are more used for domestic use.

All these issues make the problem further complex and demand much more intensive innovation and discussion between the various stakeholders of the society.


During the evaluation of the case we managed to find some key resources that drives the problematic by looking in the articles and in the ministerial website. With this consultation we found that water, energy and crop production are these main resources.

Water is an issue due to the characteristics of the watershed. The rain distribution over the seasons in the watershed creates a big variation in the flow rate of the Senegal river. This driver allied to the water used in agricultural irrigation, in the sugar industry and by the cities create an unequal and unstable situation in terms of water distribution. In addition, in the same area there is a hydroelectric dam which concentrates part of the water of the shed.

The crops are another key resource, because in the basin it is possible to see to types of land use and occupation. The first type is a big plantation of sugarcane used by the industry to produce sugar to the exportation. The second type are the smallholders producing mostly rice, maïze, sorghum and cowpeas, also creating cows and goats for the local consumption.


The main actors identified in the watershed were the Commission permanente des eaux (CPE)  a consultative body of the council of ministers composed of representatives of the member states of the organisation. It is responsible for defining the principles and modalities of water distribution in the Senegal River between States and between sectors of use, including agriculture, industry, drinking water supply and transport. The Compagnie Sucrière Sénégalaise (CSS) the only large company operating in the basin owner of 8,000 ha of sugar cane. The Organisation pour la Mise en Valeur du fleuve Sénégal (OMVS) composed by governamental representants from Mali, Mauritania, Senegal and Guinea combining their efforts to control the availability of water and seek ways of rational and coordinated exploitation of the basin's resources. The Société Nationale d’Aménagement et d’Exploitation des Terres du Delta du fleuve Sénégal et des vallées du fleuve Sénégal et de la Falémé (SAED)  mission is to promote the development of irrigated agriculture on the left bank of the Senegal and Falémé rivers. SAED is one office of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Equipment of Senegal. Finally the GRDR an international NGO based in France working with the local populations addressing social issues

Dialogue on justice

The idea of social justice is very subjective although it has some very strong basic points. In the given case study we can identify that the justice would be a complex issue as the various  stakeholders like the small farmers, industries, local population and governmental organisations have sometime opposing ideas and hence often stand at crossroads. If we need to create a just solution for the management problem, we need to it to be both equitable and equal. We have certainly taken into account this complex ideology while negotiation and solution design.

Mapping the system

Although the senegal river basin is a major resource for four countries, in our case study we have only focussed on Senegal. The system was mapped according to the stakeholders who are involved, dependent or control the resources. The map was created between the various resources and the actors who use and control these resources. This gave us a backbone to propose solution as we got a clear vision on as to who should the solution be catering to the needs of.  


The Senegal river is more than 1800 km long, its river basin has a surface of 337000 km² in four countries, Guinea, Mali, Mauritania and Senegal in which 3.500.000 people live, from whom 85% live close to the river.

There are two large dams on the river, one in Mali and one at the border between Mauritania and Senegal, as well as smaller dams used for hydroelectricity production. The river has a mean flow of 680 m3.s-1 (i.e. an annual discharge of 21.5 km3) but with high seasonal and annual variation.

Design by playing

The game served as a model to illustrate the main issues of our case study. The main stakeholders (players of the game) were the following interest groups: local population, small and medium farmers, commercial farmers, the sugar-processing Industry, and the hydroelectric power plants. Two further institutions had a regulating role, the Ministry of Agriculture providing subsidies for farmers and the NGO implementing a pollution tax. The stakeholders compete on two main resources, which are water and money. They possess parcels along the river and extract water to meet their production requirements and further needs. Money is earnt thanks to production of food, goods and energy. A criticism can be made towards NGOs concerning their legitimacy to implement pollution taxes.


Since water is a limited resource, stakeholders implement strategies to have water allocated to them. The game makes emerge some major conflicts of interest. First, the opposition between small and commercial farmers, respectively producing food and sugar for the processing industry. Second the opposition between upstream and downstream of the river, with higher pollution values downstream of the river .To conclude, the game accounts for the complexity of the problem (due to water scarcity and opposing interests between the actors

Terms of negotiation

The negotiation phase involved 5 major actors: the ministry of agriculture, the sugar industry, the commercial farmers, the small local farmers and an environmental NGO.

This negotiation was aiming at summarizing the needs of every actors as well as to fulfil their aims simultaneously not compromising the aims of the other actors and finally to encourage to propose solutions for better management practices and repartition of the resources. Each actor had to present its solution and implementation plan and detail what they were waiting from other actors and what they were willing to do on their side to improve the situation.

For example, it started with some actors such as the farmers (small and commercial), who were willing to invest in better irrigation systems that would be better optimised inducing lower spill and waste of water. They were also willing to change their management practices and the species they were cultivating to reduce the use of water to obtain the same yields. These changes would enable them to improve their resilience to climatic events and therefore the food security of the region. As a consequence, they were waiting for the government and the ministry of agriculture to invest in those infrastructure as well as for the industry to reduce the use of water. The ministry and the industry then entered the negotiations and said that they were willing to do some efforts (on the investment capital or the resource usage) but wanted the water management to improve especially between season. They wanted the hydroelectricity producers to become a part of the actors of the water management process in order to retain water during rainfall season and to distribute it in scarcity time. Some claims about the water quality, especially coming from the local population as well as the environmental NGO. It was especially oriented towards the hydroelectricity production but also the industries and the large scale farmers.


Thanks to this negotiation phase, every actor had enough time to develop his way of thinking by presenting solutions that could be implemented at the river basin scale. Some actors then realised they had common interests and they share a common vision of the problem and solution.

The most accepted solution was to carry out the implementation in a stepwise manner. The local farmers and commercial farmers would be given sufficient water to carry out their agriculture but were expected to come up with innovative solutions like intercropping, diversifying the crop, technological advancements with the help of the ministry, industry and NGOs. The idea was to reduce the dependency of the farmers on the river basin and to make their livelihood more resilient to the climatic and environmental variations. Simultaneously the government was expected to invest in technological transfer and better management techniques. The hydropower generation was supposed to expand through construction of a new dam. The local population was ready to be displaced given that they are rightfully compensated and given opportunities to sustain the life in the new location.

Agreements were found between the actors as they all wanted the issue to be solved by changing the current state of the resource usage and were therefore all willing to accept trade-offs in order to achieve this common goal. Although the problem seems to be extremely complex due to its interdependency between the various actors, the solution can be very well implemented if it is tackled properly and in small sections.

Anonymous feedbacks

 Game gave more priority to the small farmer in allocating the money, in comparison to other actors. In the first place, it was difficult to understand . While allocating the resource, more attention was required in the game. and the model was build in flow of equal allocation, so that each actor will have equal chance of wining or loosing the game. It had all element of support and hindrance which can come in way in the real life. The social status was well understood. Finally, the game was found well design and attractive.
 In this game more priority was given to the small farmer in allocating the money, compared to other actors. it was difficult to understand in the first place. More tension is required in the game in allocating the resource and equal allocation should be done so that each actor will have equal chance of wining or loosing the game. 

Finally, the game was found well design and attractive.

 (as the facilitator):

Some players (small farmers) were advantaged compared to others (hydroelectricity) who were easily blocked in their actions after 2 turns.
To be able to play several turns, some players had to borrow some money to the bank (or other players) but we hadn't implemented this rule.

The actors were maybe too dependent on their placement along the river which was freely decided at the beginning of the game. It was too easy for the players which were at the beginning of the river.

However, the game was easy to play and the variability of water income through 3 different situations (drought, normal and abundance) induced some challenges for the players.

 Very easy to play. The problem is that this kind of game would be interesting if played at least for half an hour, but we only played for 15minutes (1 round). It is thus difficult to say much about it. Regarding the reality of it, it was quite realistic, but I wondered if a damn has as much water input as output, as it was stated in the game. The modeling of the river flow could also be improved, by re-filling the cup each year with a certain quantity (depending on the results of the dice), that adds to the remaining quantity. This way, you can address the reality of the bad consequences of several droughts following each other.
 It was nice to discover the different actors through their particularities and their specific actions. We also see the importance to be upstream the river, the tension upon the water, the role of climate. The gameplay worked well, the game was quite attractive. Some ideas of improvement : you may can attribute the lands randomly, or in conformity with reality. The model seems correct through the differentiation of actors. Maybe we could have an idea of what are the "goals" of each actor, if they have own goals ?