Social context and decision architecture for water resource management in Southwest Burkina Faso

Carla Roncoli, Ben Orlove, Brain Dowd-Uribe, Renzo Taddei

This study focuses on three interrelated CRED themes: a) the role of participatory processes in generating engagement in and commitment to decisions; b) the challenges of communicating scientific information to different audiences; and c) and the understanding of decision architecture, and how framing of decisions may favor certain aspects or players over others. Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM), centered on decentralized, participatory planning in the context of multiple water uses and uses, has become a dominant paradigm in water governance. Burkina Faso is among the countries that have embraced these principles most fully, inscribing them into national legislation. Within the country, the Upper Comoé is considered a success story of IWRM implementation, which is credited with having alleviated conflicts among water users. The latter include a large sugar-cane plantation, an urban water supply utility, a farmer cooperative, fishermen, pastoralists, and small-scale riparian farmers. The centerpiece of the new IWRM policies is a Local Water Committee, established in 2009 to serve as a platform for negotiating water allocation and mitigating water resource conflicts. The research team conducted over 150 interviews with local stakeholders to investigate their perceptions and valuation of water, their understanding and measurements of water flows, their differential access to information about water availability, and their awareness of and participation in the new water governance frameworks. In the upcoming (June-July 2013) fieldwork, the team will conduct experimental activities that present numerical and visual measures of streamflow to diverse stakeholders to assess how different forms of representations of environmental information affect their perceptions and attitudes towards water availability and allocation.


Major Findings

  • Emphasis on techno-scientific knowledge in IWRM discourse and institutions marginalizes certain water uses and users. This knowledge – centered on numerical measures – contrast with local ways of determining water levels and flows, which are grounded in visual, sensory, and cultural parameters. Such framing allows dominant stakeholders to retain control of water resource allocation by virtue of their monopoly of scientific discourse, technical instrument and skills, data and information, etc. Yet, vernacular understandings of water also allow small-scale farmers to monitor water availability and to support their water claims on their own terms rather than in the unfamiliar technical language that prevails in the IWRM deliberations.
  • Framing the Water User Committee as the official venue for conflict management has the effect of delegitimizing local user demands and protest that happen outside the sanctioned channels of this new institution. Paradoxically the IWRM policies have shrunk rather than enlarged the political space of resource negotiation and allocation in the Upper Comoé basin, concentrating authority in the hands of historic power-brokers under the rubric of decentralization and participation.


Broader Impacts

  • The study builds on a prior NOAA-funded project (2007-2009) and long term fieldwork and collaborations with national institutions in Burkina Faso, including the General Directorate of Meteorology, the General Directorate of Water Resources, and the National Institute for Environmental and Agricultural Research. These partnerships and interactions with other key agencies, such as the Millennium Challenge Account-Burkina Faso, have enabled us to work closely with decision makers and policy implementers at local and national levels and to disseminate and institutionalize the research finding beyond scholarly circles.
  • A report, synthesizing the main findings from 122 stakeholder interviews conducted in 2011 and 2012 was translated into French and presented to local stakeholders in in the regional capital Banfora and in the capital city Ouagadougou and their feedback was incorporated in a final version being distributed in June 2013. The report recommends: (1) communication and capacity building efforts directed to local water committee members and other stakeholders to enable them to better understand the hydrology of the region, the multiple water uses and users’ needs, and the roles of the new institutions being created by the IRWM policy; (2) improving capacities and infrastructure to ensure broader participation in and transparency of data collection and formulation of water allocation plans; and (3) to broaden the mandate of the CLE to encompass concerns and considerations beyond the release of water for irrigation.
  • Upon request of local stakeholders, the research team produced a number of information products, including a GIS map of the cultivated plots along the river bank (to allow a more accurate consideration of their needs in water allocation plans) and projections of climate change impacts on precipitation and streamflow at multiple timescales (to support long-term planning of water infrastructure and land use).


CRED2 Award (2010-2015): Funding was provided under the cooperative agreement NSF SES-0951516 awarded to the Center for Research on Environmental Decisions.