The growth of groundwater irrigation poses opportunities and challenges, particularly in Africa where substantial potential exists for increased groundwater irrigation but has been constrained by limited access to energy, technology for pumps and drilling, markets, and other factors. Conventional groundwater governance concepts for state-led regulation or co-management are problematic for conditions where state capacity or political support for regulation to reconcile conflicting interests is limited. Experience in Africa and elsewhere does offer examples that may help recognize feasible patterns for collective action that can influence the equity, efficiency, and sustainability of groundwater development. An extended ladder of participation helps look beyond state-led water governance and co-management to a more diverse range of opportunities for supporting local autonomy and initiative to expand opportunities and solve problems in groundwater development. Collective action in groundwater governance can include well spacing; sharing of wells, pumps, and pipes; protecting domestic water sources; crop coordination; groundwater recharge; water imports; and aquifer management. Even where non-state organizations and collective action play primary roles in water governance, they may still be empowered by, receive advice from, or share information with government agencies and other actors. Polycentric groundwater governance can be supported by improving information, facilitating cooperation, endorsing standards, providing a legal framework for resolving conflicts and constituting governance agreements, and through polycentric social learning. Polycentric institutional artisanship by water users and their organizations can help find feasible solutions for improving groundwater governance.
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