Capacity Strengthening


In late 2013, the Nile Basin Development Challenge developed eight key messages. Taken together, these messages form a new paradigm that can help further transform policies and programs and better enable poor smallholder farmers to improve their food security, livelihoods and incomes while conserving the natural resource base.

The fifth key message from the Nile Basin Development Challenge is to ‘adapt new models, learning and planning tools and improved learning processes to increase the effectiveness of planning, implementation, and capacity building’.  Planners, development agents and farmers, together with researchers, can use a variety of tested tools to plan and implement rain water management solutions, and to develop capacities of all actors along the way. Tools such as Wat-A-Game, hydrological modeling, Cropwat modeling for crop-water productivity, the Nile Goblet tool and feed analysis tools etc. have been all used and tested in the NBDC and are available for anyone.

See the overall digital story ‘An integrated watershed rainwater management paradigm for Ethiopia: Key messages from the NBDC‘.

Download the brief covering the full set of key messages.

Read the full technical report “A new integrated watershed rainwater management paradigm for Ethiopia: Key messages from the Nile Basin Development Challenge, 2009–2013


This digital story was produced to communicate the key messages resulting from the Nile Basin Development Challenge (NBDC). The Nile BDC aimed to improve the livelihoods of farmers in the Ethiopian highlands through land and water management and was funded by the Challenge Program for Water and Food. The eight key messages constitute a ‘new integrated watershed rainwater management paradigm’ and are based on the outputs and outcomes of trans-disciplinary scientific research for development

In late 2013, the Nile Basin Development Challenge developed eight key messages. Taken together, these messages form a new paradigm that can help further transform policies and programs and better enable poor smallholder farmers to improve their food security, livelihoods and incomes while conserving the natural resource base.

In this third message Simon Langan (co-Basin leader and Ethiopia country director for the International Water Management Institute) reminds us that capacity development for rainwater management strategies at landscape scale requires a strong focus on development agents, helping them access resources, develop soft skills and strengthen the development agents’ system at institutional scale.

See the overall digital story ‘An integrated watershed rainwater management paradigm for Ethiopia: Key messages from the NBDC‘.

Download the brief covering the full set of key messages.

Read the full technical report “A new integrated watershed rainwater management paradigm for Ethiopia: Key messages from the Nile Basin Development Challenge, 2009–2013


This digital story was produced to communicate the key messages resulting from the Nile Basin Development Challenge (NBDC). The Nile BDC aimed to improve the livelihoods of farmers in the Ethiopian highlands through land and water management and was funded by the Challenge Program for Water and Food. The eight key messages constitute a ‘new integrated watershed rainwater management paradigm’ and are based on the outputs and outcomes of trans-disciplinary scientific research for development

In late 2013, the Nile Basin Development Challenge developed eight key messages. Taken together, these messages form a new paradigm that can help further transform policies and programs and better enable poor smallholder farmers to improve their food security, livelihoods and incomes while conserving the natural resource base.

The first key message from the Nile Basin Development Challenge is to ’empower local communities and develop their leadership capacities to achieve long-term benefits and sustainable outcomes.’ Participatory design and planning on rainwater management interventions ensures key issues are addressed, the right pilot interventions are taking place and provides long term solutions with the commitment of everyone.

See the overall digital story ‘An integrated watershed rainwater management paradigm for Ethiopia: Key messages from the NBDC‘.

Download the brief covering the full set of key messages.

Read the full technical report “A new integrated watershed rainwater management paradigm for Ethiopia: Key messages from the Nile Basin Development Challenge, 2009–2013


This digital story was produced to communicate the key messages resulting from the Nile Basin Development Challenge (NBDC). The Nile BDC aimed to improve the livelihoods of farmers in the Ethiopian highlands through land and water management and was funded by the Challenge Program for Water and Food. The eight key messages constitute a ‘new integrated watershed rainwater management paradigm’ and are based on the outputs and outcomes of trans-disciplinary scientific research for development.

During the recent NBDC science meeting, associate consultant – and former staff member of the International Water Management Institute – Doug Merrey took stock of a number of interviews carried out to map the Nile Basin’s ‘institutional history‘ (1). The presentation focused on what the NBDC has done to implement a research for development (R4D) approach that brings research activities out of the scientific silo and into communities’ landscapes, as well as the figurative landscape of development outcomes.

In his presentation ‘Is research for development a good investment? Reflections on lessons from NBDC’, Merrey pointed to a number of interesting aspects.

Historically, CGIAR is a collective of research institutes and its scientists have been assessed against the amount of peer-reviewed papers published every year, but the CGIAR reform is pushing CGIAR scientists to ensure their research brings about development outcomes. These scientists are increasingly involved in processes of facilitation of innovation and action-research activities verging on development work.

The question is whether these efforts are worthwhile. Such efforts are long-term, resource-intensive, require strong process skills that CGIAR scientists have not necessarily had to develop and nurture until now. In addition, the NBDC experience shows that R4D means different things to different people. In his presentation, Merrey noted that despite some shortcomings, the NBDC did promote one authentic innovation: to bring together a large and diverse group of partners, which gave more thrust to the collective capacity to innovate.

Merrey concluded with the four main recommendations from the Nile BDC’s experience with R4D:

  • Effective partnerships – empowered demand-side institutions;
  • Strong linkages to existing development investment programs;
  • Long-term commitment by funding agencies as well as scientists;
  • A foundation in excellent science.

As the project comes to an end and folds into the CGIAR Research Program on Water, land and ecosystems, these lessons are increasingly relevant.

Note:

(1) Institutional histories are a documentation and monitoring approach followed throughout the Challenge Program for Water and Food to better understand how the program’s dedicated R4D approach was implemented across the six basins (Andes, Ganges, Limpopo, Mekong, Nile and Volta).

The NBDC recently organized a capacity building workshop (8-10 May 2013) to address feed resource needs identified by local NBDC partners and beneficiaries.

Innovation platforms (IP) established by the Nile Basin Development Challenge Program (NBDC) have identified fodder as an important intervention for soil and water conservation efforts in the Blue Nile Basin. In all three NBDC sites (Diga, Fogera, Jeldu) platforms decided to introduce fodder varieties to improve the supply of livestock feed, control gazing and support current government soil and water conservation interventions.  IP members began piloting fodder interventions during 2012. Improved forages were chosen by experts to suit local agro-ecologies: rhodes grass and elephant grass in Diga, desho grass, elephant grass and tree lucerne in Jeldu and elephant grass, vetch and sesbania in Fogera. Different approaches were applied in each to explore factors influencing the adoption and effectiveness of interventions:

  • Backyard fodder development by individuals at household level;
  • Planting of fodder on SWC structures;
  • Enclosure of communal grazing areas through collective action. In the first year 40 farmers participated in Diga, 96 in Jeldu and 13 in Fogera.

After the first year of pilot interventions the innovation platform members evaluated their activities and identified some gaps in knowledge and skills related to the design of fodder interventions. To assist this process, NBDC researchers organized a capacity building workshop (8-10 May 2013) to train local partners in the use of tools that would enable the assessment of the existing feed situation in their area, current livestock management practices and farmer needs. This was followed by practical fieldwork so that IP members could experience implementing the tools first-hand.

The tools

FEAST training - group picture The Feed Assessment Tool (FEAST) which was developed by ILRI’s Alan Duncan and colleagues is a systematic method to assess local feed resource availability and use. It helps in the design of intervention strategies aiming to optimize feed utilization and animal production. It comprises two parts: PRA part which aids group discussion with groups of farmers and individual questionnaire interview part which captures information at house hold level.

The Farmers’ Need Assessment (FNA) tool is complementary to the FEAST and helps list the possible existing problems/needs and prioritizing by pair-wise ranking.

The combined FEAST and FNA produces complementing information which can be used to identify possible interventions.

The training

FEAST CD training 2 Fifteen innovation platform technical group members from the three NBDC sites attended the three day training at Beshale Hotel in Addis Ababa. These included representatives of local research institutions, universities, NGOs and experts from woreda agricultural offices.

The training was given by Professor Adugna Tolera of Hawassa University who has provided similar training to stakeholders in other ILRI projects, and Ato Adissu Mulugeta, a private consultant who introduced the data entry software. ILRI-NBDC staff (Zelalem Lema, Gerba Leta, Tsehay Regassa and Aberra Adie) assisted the training in facilitating group works and field survey exercises.  Zelalem Lema led the overall facilitation process during the training period. Beth Cullen (ILRI) who coordinated the training event made the opening speech on the first day and emphasized the importance of the training to assist the ongoing action research at the NBDC sites.  Kindu Mekonnen (ILRI) made technical contributions to the FNA format development and other issues discussed during the training.

The first day of the training oriented the participants about the background and contents of the tools, including familiarization with the software. Holeta Agricultural Research Centre facilitated the practical field testing of the tools which included a data collection exercise with farmers in the village of Wolmera Woreda in the Holeta area. During the third day the trainees practiced data entry and reporting using software.

FEAST CD training3 During the reflection session at the end of the training, the participants appreciated the usefulness and user-friendliness of the tools.  Finally, the trainees expressed their ambition to implement the knowledge they acquired during the training and generate baseline information to contribute to the action research at their respective sites. They soon developed an action plan to collect and analyze data and produce a report in order to gather information before the commencement of the cropping season.

The aim will be to build the local research capacity of key IP members and to use the results to tailor the innovation platform pilot fodder interventions to the local needs and situations.

By Aberra Adie, Beth Cullen and Zelalem Lema

In April 2013, the Africa Research in Sustainable Intensification for the Next Generation (Africa RISING) and Nile Basin Development Challenge (NBDC) jointly organised a ‘Training of Trainers’ workshop in the use of SLATE: A tool for Sustainable Livelihoods Asset Evaluation. The initial workshop was held in Addis Ababa. 30 participants from the Africa RISING’s four project sites and NBDC Innovation platforms attended the training. The training combined both conceptual and practical sessions in Jeldu woreda, one of the NBDC research sites.

Trainees practicing SLATE on their laptops (photo credit: ILRI/Simret Yasabu)

Trainees practicing SLATE on their laptops (photo credit: ILRI/Simret Yasabu)

SLATE has been developed by ILRI (International Livestock Research Institute) Scientist Peter Thorne. The SLATE tool uses the Sustainable Livelihoods approach of the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID) to think about scope, priorities and objectives for development.

The tool helps identify the range of assets and options open to households and get a clearer idea of the constraints and opportunities available to them. By concentrating on the range of different assets that are accessible to farm households, it ensures that these can be taken into account when designing development interventions.

How does SLATE complement NBDC innovation platform activities?

There is a recognized need to tailor soil and water conservation (SWC) interventions to specific socio-economic and biophysical conditions. The NBDC pilot interventions aim to improve collaboration between stakeholders at woreda level in order to ensure that SWC activities are better tailored to local contexts. Although farmers participating in the first year pilot interventions expressed an interest in fodder development, there had been limited consideration for the needs of different types of farmers. In order to improve the fodder interventions undertaken in 2013, innovation platform members realized they needed to consider variations in livestock holdings, land size and wealth between participating farmers as well as the inclusion of farmers without livestock. NBDC researchers organized the SLATE training to build the capacity of platform members to identify the needs of different farming households.

SLATE training

On the First day, Peter Thorne and Amare Haileslassie  shared the previous SLATE-based survey processes and findings undertaken at Bekoje, Arsi as well as the various steps around data collection and software demonstration. This was followed by a group exercise to familiarize the participants with the software.

For the field work, trainees were divided up in to three Kebeles (Seriti, Kolu Gelan and Chelanko) in Jeldu woreda of the Oromia Region, one of the NBDC Innovation Platform sites. During the first day of the field work, each group had a chance to meet and discuss with selected farmers to identify livelihoods indicators for their specific communities. With the selected farmers each group were able to identify 49-53 livelihoods indicators. On the second and third day individual household interviews were conducted with farmers (50 farmers in each kebele) to assess their asset status based on the already identified livelihoods assets indicators. The data collected from each household were then entered in the SLATE software to generate a set of livelihoods asset pentagons which gave a quick overview of the areas in which households and communities may differ.

On the last day of the training, participants presented review of the field exercise which covered the approaches they followed, the challenges and lessons learned, the results of their interviews as well as key issues for future considerations.

Read more about the SLATE training on the Africa RISING workspace.

By Beth Cullen and Simret Yasabu

To strengthen the planning and implementation of rainwater management strategies at local level, the NBDC has supported the establishment of Innovation Platforms (IPs) in its three study sites: Jeldu, Diga and Fogera woredas. IPs bring together local stakeholders with an interest in rain water management (RWM) and aim to facilitate a collaborative approach to RWM.

The NBDC innovation platforms aim to build on existing local capacities and knowledge, link woreda level actors with external support and research, to develop new, locally-appropriate solutions to RWM challenges, as well as building the conditions for long-term collaborative relationships.

Devolution of platform facilitation

Backyard fodder development with farmers in Limbichoch village (Photo credit: ILRI)

Backyard fodder development with farmers in Limbichoch village (Photo credit: ILRI)

The NBDC platforms were initially established and facilitated by researchers from the  International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI). After one year of platform activities, due to concerns about platform sustainability, a decision was taken to devolve platform facilitation to local institutions.

Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) were identified to play this role in each of the sites because of their relative flexibility in terms of budget and human resource utilization: HUNDEE- Oromo Grassroots Development Initiative at Jeldu, Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus (EECMY) at Diga and Ethio-Wetlands and Natural Resources Association (EWNRA) at Fogera.

A partnership agreement was signed with each of the NGOs, thereby transferring responsibility for the facilitation of regular IP meetings and management of ‘Innovation Funds’ for the platform pilot interventions.

As part of the agreement, NGO facilitators were required to work closely with IP Technical Group (TG) members to design the pilot interventions, engage in community capacity building and assist with regular IP activities and financial reporting.

Capacity building

NBDC researchers continued to observe the innovation platforms after responsibilities had been devolved and noticed some problems including a lack of understanding about the platform concept among key partners, poor facilitation skills, lack of clarity on the roles of each TG members and lack of capacity to conduct participatory action research with farmers.

As a result, a training event was arranged from 18 to 20 March 2013 at the ILRI campus in Addis Ababa. Five members of the IP technical working groups from each site, as well as representatives from the NGO head office, were invited to attend. The aim of the workshop was to develop a clear understanding of the aims and objectives of the innovation platforms among the key actors, to evaluate the activities undertaken in the previous year, to plan activities for 2013 and to provide training on IP facilitation and action research methodologies. The trainers included an IP member from Jeldu, representing Holeta Agricultural Research Centre, and ILRI Researchers.

In addition to enhancing the skills of local partners, the training was also an opportunity to bring platform members from the three sites together in an environment where they could share their experiences. Participants from each platform were encouraged to reflect on the successes and the challenges they had encountered in order to learn from one another.

On the third day participants went on a field visit to the Jeldu area, which included a visit to a Farmer Research Group established by Holetta Agricultural Research Center. The field day helped the trainees to understand the processes involved in consulting and working together with farmers and to see first-hand the contribution that participatory approaches can make to pilot projects in their respective areas. They also got a chance to visit the research centre’s fodder demonstration sites and improved and local livestock breeds at the breeding center.

Participant responses

Local partners (research centers and universities) at the training (Photo credit: ILRI/Meron Mulatu)

Local partners (research centers and universities) at the training (Photo credit: ILRI/Meron Mulatu)

At the end of the event the participants were given the chance to reflect on the training and give their comments and feedback. All of the participants found the topics of the training interesting and pertinent for both the IP intervention work as well as their day-to-day activities.

They particularly appreciated the training on participatory approaches, and the emphasis on methods and tools for enabling farmers to identify problems and solutions which was new for the majority of the participants.

They also enjoyed visiting the Farmer Research Group established by Holetta. The chance to share experiences with other innovation platform members was valuable and they learned lessons that they will use in the next round of pilot interventions.

The roles of the TG members were clearly developed in a collaborative effort between all of the participants; this was an important step in clearly identifying roles and responsibilities for the ongoing IP activities. Overall the participants expressed their gratitude for the training and requested NBDC researchers to organize similar events focusing on capacity building for the future.

Beth Cullen and Zelalem Lema

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