GroFutures: Groundwater Futures in Sub-Saharan Africa

Lead Research Organisation: NERC British Geological Survey
Department Name: Groundwater


Groundwater Futures in Sub-Saharan Africa (GroFutures) will develop the scientific evidence and inclusive groundwater management processes by which groundwater resources can be used sustainably for poverty alleviation in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). It will improve understanding of the volume and renewability of groundwater in SSA, and develop robust models and tools to forecast available groundwater resources under changing climate, land-use and demand scenarios, including expansion of arable land under irrigation. GroFutures will examine current groundwater governance processes and identify pathways toward more sustainable and equitable use of groundwater resources that are reconciled to projections of changing demand and resource availability. It will assemble an international consortium of scientists with an unmatched track record of groundwater research and stakeholder engagement in SSA that both leverages substantial additional investment (£461,000) and engages with research and development communities across Anglophone and Francophone Africa. GroFutures will also establish a Network of African Groundwater Observatories that representing the primary groundwater environments and development governance challenges in SSA that features a new dataset of 25 records of groundwater-level observations that are 2 to 6 decades duration from across SSA enabling the most rigorous analysis of the relationships among climate, land-use and groundwater recharge that has ever been conducted in the tropics. Dedicated basin observatories will be constructed that will enable very detailed monitoring of the physical process by which groundwater is replenished and application of a new method for quantifying the volume of groundwater in African aquifers thereby overcoming fundamental limitations in present knowledge of groundwater in SSA. GroFutures will also employ an innovative and participatory approach to the management of groundwater which will enable for explicit consideration ofthe views of poor people in making decisions over the allocation and development of groundwater resources.

Planned Impact

GroFutures will benefit: (1) poor water users (women and men, rural and urban) in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) through increased knowledge and evidence of sustainable groundwater use to alleviate poverty through improved resource management and enhanced health and livelihoods; (2) water planners and policy makers in SSA through the development of new evidence and methodologies to enable equitable and sustainable management of groundwater resources; and (3) research communities in SSA and beyond through creating improved new tools, methods and datasets for interdisciplinary analysis of groundwater resources and their management, as well as scholarly information exchanges and networking activities that will strengthen a growing Community of Practice involving Anglophone and Francophone scientists.

The primary pathway by which GroFutures will generate impacts for poor people is through the development of new evidence and tools which water managers in the focal countries and across SSA can use to: (1) target groundwater development where it can most effectively reduce poverty; and (2) ensure equitable and sustainable development of groundwater resources.

GroFutures will contribute to unlocking the poverty-reducing potential of groundwater in SSA by:
1) Establishing a unique Network of African Groundwater Observatories (NAGO) that will generate new evidence on groundwater availability and demand, including insights into how these are likely to change over the next two to three decades giving planners at basin, national and regional levels the information they need to plan for an equitable and sustainable allocation of groundwater for multiple users and uses;
2) Identifying locations in which groundwater development (for domestic supply or irrigation) is a technically appropriate and politically feasible strategy to reduce poverty;
3) Identifying locations at risk of future depletion due to likely demand/supply imbalances enabling appropriate management responses to be developed on a preventive rather than curative basis;
4) Providing specific information on variations in groundwater availability and demand which can carry high costs for economies and for the livelihoods of poor people and make planning and management difficult;
5) Strengthening the capacity of water planners, researchers and their institutions through the co-production of knowledge and collaborative, demand-led research and stakeholder engagement;
6) Identifying governance arrangements for pro-poor, sustainable groundwater management, in collaboration with water managers and other key stakeholders; and
7) Disseminating new evidence and knowledge on the positive outcomes of groundwater development for health and livelihoods enabling poverty alleviation.

The GroFutures team will engage staff of national, regional and local water bureaux in Ethiopia, Niger and Tanzania, as well as basin authorities (Great Ruaha, Niger) as project partners from the start in the research planning, data analysis and tool/metric development and piloting. They will also embed new scientific knowledge, models and methods for managing groundwater for poverty alleviation within water ministries to inform decision-making and initiate discussions about equity in groundwater development among relevant stakeholders.

Production and dissemination of high quality, open-source publications - in the form of academic outputs in high impact journals, as well as targeted policy briefs and other bespoke communications materials suited to different audiences - will be a central aim of the project. These will involve all members of the team and will be published in English, as well as French, Amharic, Hausa and Kiswahili, where appropriate. All materials and information will be accessible via a dedicated, bilingual website ( that is linked to institutional websites of the project team (AAU, BGS, IDS-STEPS, IGRAC, IRD, IWMI, SUA, UAM, UCL, UoS) and the UPGro Knowledge Broker.
Description Although the research is not yet finished one key finding is emerging from our component part of the grant: (1) there is no evidence of large scale groundwater deletion across Africa, and at the large scale, groundwater resources are linked to changes in global climate. Future research linking groundwater recharge to recent climate events and anthropogenic activity is ongoing in South Africa, Ethiopia and Niger.
Exploitation Route Yes - the information on groundwater recharge is important for global modellers and policy makers on the exploitation of groundwater.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment

Description TEDx talk on Africna groundwater entitled "Is Africa Running out of Water?" 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact An invited TEDx talk in Edinburgh. The talk was given live to approximately 150 members of the general public and postgraduate students and also filmed and put on the TED youtube channel where it has been seen by 1200 people. Links to the talk were circulated through the Rural Water Supply Network to African NGOs and government stakeholders . I received questions from the general public at the time and many emails since enquiring about African Groundwater - many expressing surprise at the volume of groundwater available within Africa
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
Description WET WET WET - world water day event 2017 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact A public lecture at Heriot Watt University to mark World Water Day, attended by >100 people working in the water sector (including government) and the general public - much discussion afterwards about the role of groundwater in mitigating the effects of climate change.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017