When Water, Energy, and Food Depend on Rain

Load Shedding in Côte d’Ivoire

The linkage between water, energy and food is not always easy to explain or see. But right now, in Côte d’Ivoire, it is as clear as a sunny day. In fact, between the sunny days that have been happening so frequently and the delayed start of the rainy season, Côte d’Ivoire is experiencing load shedding. 

Load shedding is the temporary stoppage of the electricity supply to a part of the final customers in some parts of the country – and its having a major impact on the country’s powerful food industry. 

Since May, Abidjan’s inhabitants have often woken up in the dark, without electricity. No lights, no fans. Following the Ivorian Electricity Company (CIE) being forced to carry out a power cut to avoid a saturated electrical grid, Ivorians have lived through some difficult months. 

Why is this happening? Because we are in a situation where water, energy, and power are linked more closely together than ever before. 

This is mostly due to a lack of rainfall that has dried up the hydroelectric dams – the country’s main source of energy. Now the hydroelectric dams are at risk of emptying, while Côte d’Ivoire      experiences power shortages. In the southeast of the country, Ayamé and Aboisso are now almost dry. In Ayamé, the dam has recorded a historic drop in water level of five metres. The country’s other dams are not left out; at Kossou, Soubré, Taabo, and Buyo, the lack of water is becoming problematic as it is considerably limiting electricity production. 

As a result of the lack of water and energy, the food industry faces a slow down.

How Did Côte d’Ivoire Get Here?

To start, the region’s rain arrived late. For Côte d’Ivoire’s coastal zone in particular, cumulative rainfall was below average for the entire season. Unfortunately, this trend is not new. Despite being a traditionally humid country, Côte d’Ivoire has experienced a significant drop in rainfall in recent years, with a 9% drop in rainfall in the months of April and May. This has repercussions on water      availability for hydroelectric dams and the quality of Ivorians’ living conditions. Especially as in Côte d’Ivoire, 75% of the energy produced comes from thermal power plants, while 25% comes from hydroelectricity. Therefore, the lack of water has dramatic consequences on the production of electricity in the country.

In the following months, the precipitation level has not lived up to expectations. July will be decisive.      The last hope for a rise in water levels is the expected heavy rainfall; if they occur, it  will put an end to load shedding.  If there is no heavy rainfall, the Ivorian government will need to obtain supplies from countries in the sub-region. One measure announced is the rationing of electricity, meaning that each zone would be cut off for four to six hours a day.       

The lack of rainfall and the resulting power cuts affect both households and businesses. Ivorians have only six hours of electricity every 48 hours, all during periods of high heat. People face many difficulties, especially with preserving food. Without electricity – and refrigerators – the risk of food poisoning increases. Also load shedding, with its power surges, voltage drops, and short circuits, damages appliances and has even caused tragedies, like fires.

Effects on the Private Sector

At the company level, all levels of the production chain are affected. Investment in generators is required, and  production is reduced or even stopped. Load shedding leads to a significant loss of revenue. The food industry is not left out, as Nangban DegniMadame Seri, the Director of West Africa RIH’s partner organisation, Africa Foodies Industries confirms, “Load shedding reduces our production capacity and increases fruit losses, as fridges are often switched off”.  The production and processing of food is impacted. Distribution cannot proceed normally either, with supermarkets unable to receive their customers and they face numerous additional costs to preserve food. This electricity crisis has a huge impact on Ivorians’ food security     .     

But the energy crisis also represents a great opportunity for the country, namely a window of opportunity to accelerate the transition to renewable energy and an even more balanced and green energy mix. Furthermore, for a country that has traditionally had abundant water resources (especially in the south and center), the public debate on the availability of, the sharing of , and the usage of water, is becoming topical. It remains to be seen if and how the country’s powerful and prosperous agri-food industry will contribute to this transition, recognising more than ever the close linkage between water, energy and food.


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