CEP&S - Changements Environnementaux Planétaires et Sociétés

Analyzing the vulnerability and adaptive capacity of North Africa’s agricultural groundwater economy – Groundwater ARENA

Analysis of the vulnerability and the adaptive capacity of North Africa's groundwater economy

10% of the world’s food production depends on overexploited aquifers. The project aims to anticipate the looming groundwater crisis by analyzing the vulnerability, and support the adaptive management of North Africa's groundwater economy.

Analyze the functioning of the « groundwater economy » and develop methods to anticipate individually and collectively the looming groundwater crisis

The objective of the project is to develop an integrated approach to analyze the vulnerability and the adaptive capacity of the ‘groundwater economy’ in North Africa in the face of environmental, economic and social change, and develop participatory ways to support the adaptive management of the groundwater economy.

1) Analysis of the functioning of the «groundwater economy« where physical processes (groundwater dynamics, climate) and anthropogenic (exploitation, social dynamics, socio-economic differentiation) are closely related.
2) Construction of an analytical framework for disclosing vulnerabilities and adaptive capacities of the groundwater economy. This framework will be built and supplied through analysis by the various disciplines involved in the project (hydrogeologists, hydrologists, agronomists, economists, sociologists, political scientists).
3) Co-construction of scenarios to support adaptive management of the «groundwater economy«. The methodological challenge is to create the environment and tools to involve the various actors in a retrospective and prospective analysis of changes in the groundwater economy and specify the political conditions for more sustainable groundwater management.

The project involves start-ups of the two shores of the Mediterranean, specializing in the engineering of participatory approaches. Innovative methods and tools for retrospective and prospective analysis of the groundwater economy are developed and tested with the aim to make it generic for use elsewhere, especially in the Mediterranean. The project attaches great importance to the communication of results to a wider audience through exhibitions, events, films. An international scientific network will be established to sustain and build on the results of the project.

The first phase of the project was to characterize and analyze the groundwater economy in the three project sites. This phase will end with a scientific symposium in December 2013 at Biskra. In the second phase, an interdisciplinary analytical framework will enable confronting the knowledge produced by different disciplines. In parallel, participatory approaches are designed and conducted to co-construct scenarios of adaptive management of the groundwater economy.

The first results of the project are published in international journals (2 articles published, 5 submitted), and were presented in international seminars (9). A first version of a role-playing game was developed, simulating the functioning of the groundw

Intensive groundwater use (1000 km3/yr) has allowed the development of a ‘vibrant wealth-creating’ agricultural groundwater economy. However, it also causes ‘water table depletion, groundwater quality degradation, land subsidence, or ecological impacts on aquatic ecosystems’. Depending on the size of the aquifer, and the intensity of groundwater use, this may cause drawdowns in the range of 0.5-5 m/year. More than 10% of the world’s food production depends on aquifers that are overexploited and threatened. A minority of groundwater withdrawal concerns groundwater mining of ‘fossil’ aquifers (30 km3/year)
This research project will study the vulnerability and adaptive capacity of the ‘groundwater economy’, which represents a social-ecological system, where social and biophysical dynamics are closely linked and interdependent. The groundwater economy combines two extremely complex systems: 1) the aquifer system, where ‘virgin’ recharge and discharge mechanisms and groundwater abstraction through (tube)wells are intimately intertwined, 2) the ‘people’s irrigation economy in which the initiative, investment, and management have come primarily from farmers’. The project takes two types of global environmental change into account: 1) climate change and its impact on the constitution of groundwater resources, 2) human pressures on the aquifers through groundwater extraction for agriculture.

The objective of the project is to develop an integrated approach to analyze the vulnerability and the adaptive capacity of the ‘groundwater economy’ in North Africa in the face of environmental, economic and social change, and develop participatory ways to support the adaptive management of the groundwater economy. We will focus on three irrigated territories with medium or large aquifers in North Africa. The project will look into the incremental and disruptive factors that are likely to impact negatively on the capacity of the aquifer system as well as the societies and territories, whose livelihoods depend on the dynamics of the groundwater economy, to adapt to global socioeconomic and environmental change.

The project will turn around the reasoning put forward by the ICSU and ISSC, who state that “the paucity of empirical data on changes in social-environmental systems undermines the ability of decision makers and the public to establish appropriate responses to emerging threats and address the needs of vulnerable groups”. Instead, it will investigate the hypothesis of the Resilience Alliance, which posits that the management of complex systems, such as the groundwater economy, where the knowledge base is imperfect and which is characterized by uncertainty, unpredictability and surprise, requires an active adaptive management viewpoint. We will design and implement a participatory approach to co-construct alternative development scenarios which would reinforce the adaptive capacity of the groundwater economy.

In order to achieve the project objective, scientific advances will be obtained during the course of the project on the following dimensions: (1) Building interdisciplinary cognitive frameworks to enable to debate and confront scientific, technical and lay knowledge on the adaptive management of the groundwater economy at different scales, 2) Groundwater economies can be placed along a continuous gradient between a completely non-renewable (fossil) resource up to a fully renewable resource. The methodological challenge will be to put in debate knowledge that builds on both concepts of adaptation and mitigation in order to define adaptive management, and 3) The informality of the groundwater economy makes classical IWRM tools non-operational. There is a need to find alternative pathways for (indirect) adaptive management, that accounts for the incapacity of public policies to have a direct control over local dynamics through mitigation and adaptation approaches.

Project coordinator

Monsieur Marcel KUPER (CENTRE DE COOPERATION INTERNATIONALE EN RECHERCHE AGRONOMIQUE POUR LE DEVELOPPEMENT - CIRAD - DEPARTEMENT ES) – marcel.kuper@cirad.fr

The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.

Partner

BRGM BUREAU DE RECHERCHES GEOLOGIQUES ET MINIERES - BRGM
CIRED - CNRS CENTRE NATIONAL DE LA RECHERCHE SCIENTIFIQUE - DELEGATION REGIONALE ILE-DE-FRANCE SECTEUR EST
CLERSE - CNRS CENTRE NATIONAL DE LA RECHERCHE SCIENTIFIQUE - DELEGATION REGIONALE NORD-PAS-DE-CALAIS ET PICARDIE
LADYSS - CNRS CENTRE NATIONAL DE LA RECHERCHE SCIENTIFIQUE - DELEGATION REGIONALE ILE-DE-FRANCE SECTEUR OUEST ET NORD
GEAU-CIRAD CENTRE DE COOPERATION INTERNATIONALE EN RECHERCHE AGRONOMIQUE POUR LE DEVELOPPEMENT - CIRAD - DEPARTEMENT ES

Help of the ANR 798,990 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: December 2011 - 48 Months

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