The role of rainfed agriculture in securing food production in the Nile Basin

C. Siderius*, P.E.V. Van Walsum, C.W.J. Roest, A.A.M.F.R. Smit, P.J.G.J. Hellegers, P. Kabat, E.C. Van Ierland

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

25 Citations (Scopus)


A better use of land and water resources will be necessary to meet the increasing demand for food in the Nile basin. Using a hydro-economic model along the storyline of three future political cooperation scenarios, we show that the future of food production in the Basin lies not in the expansion of intensively irrigated areas and the disputed reallocation of water, but in utilizing the vast forgotten potential of rainfed agriculture in the upstream interior, with supplemental irrigation where needed. Our results indicate that rainfed agriculture can cover more than 75% of the needed increase in food production by the year 2025. Many of the most suitable regions for rainfed agriculture in the Nile basin, however, have been destabilized by recent war and civil unrest. Stabilizing those regions and strengthening intra-basin cooperation via food trade seem to be better strategies than unilateral expansion of upstream irrigation, as the latter will reduce hydropower generation and relocate, rather than increase, food production.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)14-23
JournalEnvironmental Science & Policy
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • Food security
  • Nile basin
  • Rainfed agriculture
  • Water allocations
  • Water dispute


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