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Big irrigation projects in Africa have failed to deliver. What's needed next

By Tom Higginbottom, Research Associate in Earth Observation and Food Security, University of Manchester
Roshan Adhikari, Research Associate, Global Development Institute, University of Manchester
Timothy Foster, Senior Lecturer in Water-Food Security, Department of Mechanical, Aerospace & Civil Engineering, University of Manchester
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In 1938, French colonial authorities in what is today Mali started on an ambitious infrastructure plan to transform the desert into an area of agricultural production. Water was diverted from the Niger River through a canal system to enable irrigation on over one million hectares of fertile land. Eventually covering over 100,000 hectares, this project is still one of the largest irrigation schemes in Africa.

The Malian project, known as “Office Du Niger”, has had a profound influence on agricultural water…

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