On 12 November 2012, 26 participants attended a  ‘symposium on modeling in the Blue Nile / Abay Basin‘. It was organized by one of the projects of the Nile Basin Development Challenge (NBDC) – the so-called N4 project on ‘Assessing and anticipating the consequences of innovation in rainwater management systems‘.

Adanech Yared (Ethiopian Institute of Water Resources) introducing her work (Credit: ILRI / Le Borgne)

Adanech Yared (Ethiopian Institute of Water Resources) introducing her work (Credit: ILRI/Le Borgne)

Building upon recent results of this project, the team invited representatives from Nile Basin Authorities, the Ministry of Water and Energy and the Nile Basin Initiative Decision Support System Office to map out existing modeling work and to identify priorities for water resource and agricultural water management modeling in the Blue Nile Basin.

Past and current experiences

The presentations from the Nile Basin (Tana and Beles sub-basin) Authorities, from the Ministry of Water and Energy, from Bahir Dar University and from the Ethiopian Institute of Water Resources highlighted a wide spectrum of experiences. These presentations were later completed by additional presentations from NBDC scientists to form a collection of experiences spanning climate modeling, hydrological modeling, crop productivity modeling, economic modeling tools. The final presentation emphasized the need to integrate biophysical and socioeconomic model outputs and kick-started the discussion among participants.

The different presentations emphasized a number of crucial common challenges preventing modeling from being more fully exploited or useful in agricultural water management and water resource modeling initiatives: the diversity of modeling tools and their inconsistent use, the lack of good quality data, the insufficient capacity to use existing modeling tools, the lack of integration of modeling outcomes in planning and implementation strategies.

Ways forward

Later in the afternoon, participants discussed the key priorities for agriculture-water and water resource modeling in the Basin, related to either:

  • Scaling issues (integrating small scale practices and large scale impacts in planning and management)
  • Data needs
  • Uptake and acceptance of model outputs
Randall Ritzema (IWMI) Introduces the project of integrating modeling approaches (Credit: ILRI/Le Borgne)

Randall Ritzema (IWMI) Introduces the project of integrating modeling approaches (Credit: ILRI/Le Borgne)

In terms of scaling, the selection of scales depends on different variables (hydrology / erosion, population, greenhouse gas emissions, economic process, spatial variability). In turn, what is to scale varies with the scale: spatial variability, system dynamics variation within t, factors such as runoff capacity. Small scale modeling works better for better characterization of an area and at any rate there is always uncertainty in modeling for planning and management.

As regards data needs, all agreed that the main challenge was how to access data. All of the group were familiar with the bottleneck in getting met data, and the generally low resolution of soil and landcover data. The group also agreed on the need to update a range of data sets including hydro data and land cover-land use. The group also discussed the problem of numerous ungauged basins in terms of met and flow data. Some potential opportunities to use remote sensed data to fill these gaps were discussed and the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) team distributed a MET data set for Ethiopia derived from the US-NCEP CFSR (Climate Forecast System of Reanaysis) global weather data set, prepared by IWMI staff and Cornell researchers to make it useable in Ethiopia.

Finally, in terms of ensuring acceptance and uptake of modeling, a number of factors play out. The first and foremost is to think about the relevance of modeling data for the target audience, but issues of data quality, modeling complexity (and its potential to be communicated clearly) also affect the acceptance. Models should not be trusted – rather their outputs should be verified before their outputs are communicated to intended end users. In order to improve uptake of modeling outputs, the participants highlighted various strategies: tailor modeling output messages to different target audiences, develop capacities (both of modelers to communicate their outputs and of end users to use them), use various communication outputs (policy briefs, face-to-face sensitization etc.) and to engage with intended audiences throughout the process.

This symposium was the first of its kind and perhaps layed the first stone on the way to a water-agriculture modeling community of practice.

Read notes from the event.

See presentations from the event.

See some pictures of the event.