GIS


Best practices for rainwater management in the Ethiopian Blue Nile are well known. They include many practices related to crop livestock and trees that increase water availability or productivity within the watersheds, such as soil and water conservation, small scale irrigation, fertility management, or livestock management. Nonetheless, adoption of many of these practices is still low, mainly because they have been promoted in locations where they are not suitable, or have not been combined with symbiotic practices that would result into real benefits for farmers.

Rainwater management practices therefore need to be combined at landscape scale to form rainwater management strategies. These strategies fit a specific context that is defined by the bio-physical, socio-economic and institutional constraints. In other terms, best bet rainwater management strategies are location-specific and best practices should be combined differently in different locations.

Suitability analysis

In geographic information systems (GIS), suitability analysis is a procedure that allows to select locations where a given practice is suitable. It is a four-step procedure :

  1. Selecting bio-physical suitability criteria
  2. Selecting the geographical layers that represent the bio-physical suitability criteria
  3. For each criteria, selecting location from the geographical layer where the criteria is met (in other words, creating criterion maps)
  4. Selecting all locations where all criteria are met (overlaying criterion maps) and creating practice suitability maps

For the Nile basin, adoption maps were created, based on economic models. These show the percentage of farmers that are predicted to adopt a practice, given the socio-economic and institutional constraints. When the suitability maps are overlaid with adoption maps, a feasibility map is created that shows how many farmers will likely adopt the technology on a suitable location allowing to prioritize locations with suitable socio-economic conditions.

The Nile Goblet tool

The Nile Goblet tool (also presented here) is an open source GIS tool that allows easily to make suitability and feasibility maps without prior GIS knowledge. It is a very flexible tool that in principle allows to map any practice for any location of the world, and helps consider combinations of practices. A database has been developed which includes all the (freely) available layers for the Nile basin, as well as the suitability thresholds suggested by the “integrated participatory watershed management guidelines” from the Ministry of Water and Energy.

Using the results of the tool on the ground

The maps resulting from the tool can be very inaccurate, due to the scale and inaccuracy of the input data. As such the maps present windows of opportunities based on expert knowledge of what communities could do. Action on the ground should help unlock local knowledge and complete this picture. Implementation should therefore be done in a participatory manner for instance with approaches such as the ‘happy strategies’ game. It can enable a dialogue between communities, non-governmental organizations and local government agencies around rainwater management practices, so as to validate the maps and come up with a feasible plan on the ground.

Conclusion

Offering a tool that allows policy-makers and practitioners to introduce their own or expert knowledge about suitability criteria into a transparent procedure will help them understand and trust the resulting maps, better understand why promotion of rainwater management should be location-specific and move away from today’s blanket approaches. Indeed, the resulting maps can support the elaboration of context-specific policies. In combination with the happy strategies game, the maps also enable expert knowledge to blend into a participatory approach and improve the planning on the ground with communities.

Catherine Pfeifer (credit: ILRI / C. Pfeifer)

Catherine Pfeifer, Post-doc at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), is going back to Switzerland in late December. For the past three years, she was involved in the Nile Basin Development Challenge project (‘N3’) on ‘Targeting and scaling out of rainwater management systems‘.

In this interview she shares some views on her involvement in the NBDC  and particularly her work around gaming solutions for targeting relevant land and water management options.

What range of NBDC activities have you been involved in?

My main activity has been the Nile-goblet tool, including finding the data, setting up the database (linked to our suitability data), developing the concept of the tool. In a way, the Nile-goblet brings everything from the N3 project together: concepts, suitability data and adoption maps. This work aims to explain how to introduce socio-economic constraints in biophysical targeting.

The other main activity has been the Happy Strategies game which helps people assess most suitable land and water management interventions in a given area.

In addition to this, she did a lot of capacity building: A one-week training on geographic information systems (GIS) in 2011 and two training courses more recently this year. Finally there was the learning event last week which introduced the Nile-Goblet tool to members of the NBDC national platform thematic working group on technological innovation.

What has been most successful / what are you most proud of?

The tools: the Nile-goblet and the Happy Strategies game. They are taken up by partners (the Water and Land Resource Centre will further promote and work with those tools. They are considering developing them further in future learning events of the thematic working group on technological innovation. The reason I am proud: our initial objective was to get other people involved in developing these tools and we seem to have achieved this objectives.

Working with partners has generally been successful, despite challenges (see below).

The Spatial Analysis and Modeling topic working group has also been great to work with and quite a success.

What has also been successful is the work in our team: as the GIS specialist, I could take care of the adoption maps and developed a participatory tool. The team was very flexible throughout the process. I had enough freedom to do the things the way I thought they should work out.

What has been most challenging? Why?

Working with partners has been challenging at times, but we overcame challenges.

The other challenge was the integration with other NBDC projects. The program aimed to work in an interdisciplinary manner but it hasn’t always worked, perhaps because of the the way the project was set up. I wonder if we really had the space to develop such interdisciplinary work. At any rate we haven’t really worked together across teams as much as we could have. Every team worked in its interdisciplinary approach but this didn’t extend across projects. We missed opportunities to think together about how outputs could have been developed.

What lessons learned will you use or build upon (from your NBDC work) in your next job?

I want to keep working on integrating socio-economic constraints in spatial models. There is scope to understand how this integration works much better. I learned a lot about it in the past two years but there’s a lot of space for improvement still.

What I also really learned was how important it is to involve farmers and mix expert and local knowledge. For example we can do this geographic targeting but it will never be perfect. We need a space to interact, validate and learn and adjust, which is what we tried to offer with the Happy Strategies game. That integration is something where the CGIAR is very strong.

I also learned to not be scared, to trust that things will work out in the end somehow…  Three years ago, I would have been scared to talk to farmers and now I’m ready for it any time.

Any advices to the NBDC for the final year?

  • Get the right people involved at the right moment. E.g. the learning event was small but it brought together interested people and they will take it up.
  • Move away from trying at all costs to bring the diversity of the NBDC together. Think also about bringing similar people together to take over the work. Perhaps in our innovation platforms we would do well to reduce the diversity and invest in people that will take things up.
  • Mind the fatigue of our partners. Only invite partners that can really benefit from the events we organize. Otherwise there is a risk of a lot of talking and nothing much happening. And some partners are investing precious time and money in the events we organize, we need to remember that when planning our meetings.
  • Don’t get lost in interdisciplinarity: Try to link the NBDC teams and people but don’t try to force them to work together. There is a lot of good work that could be used at different scales and for different people. Not everything needs to be integrated.
  • If you really want to integrate the NBDC work, develop a Google layer and look seriously into collecting geo-coordinates for each NBDC output, so it can be shown on Google Earth and linked to actual NBDC documents. This could be the easiest way for NBDC to integrate our work. If I were to stay another year I would work on that and try to develop a public layer on Google Earth or a KML file (for Google Earth) which people can download, click on and display the NBDC outputs.

How do you look back at the whole experience?

I had a great time. I loved my job. I loved the fact that my job was free, despite the occasional tensions. I’m happy to see it finish nicely.

Catherine Pfeifer regularly blogged about her NBDC work on her own blog: http://catherinepfeifer.blogspot.com/

Discover the Nile-Goblet tool: http://nilebdc.wikispaces.com/Nile+Goblet+tool+and+training

Discover and use the Happy Strategies game: http://happystrategies.wikispaces.com/

The first learning event of the thematic working group on technological innovation (1) of the national platform on land and water management took place on 6 December 2012. The event brought together representatives from the Amhara Regional Agricultural Research Institute (ARARI), the Water and Land Resource Center, Nile river basin authorities, the Ethiopian water harvesting association (ERHA), and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation. All participants were invited to discover and test the new open source geographic information system (GIS) tool for suitability mapping “Nile-Goblet” and to ponder how to bring technical innovation on the ground.

The participants liked the tool very much, for its ease to make suitability maps without prior GIS knowledge. They also appreciated the fact that the tool allows anyone to introduce their technical expertise or local knowledge about suitability criteria following a very a transparent procedure. Subsequently, policy-makers and practitioners can identify with, understand and trust the resulting maps.

The tool is expected to emphasize the necessity to promote location-specific rainwater management and to help move away from today’s one-size-fits-all blanket approaches. Indeed, the maps generated by users can support the elaboration of context-specific policies. In combination with participatory approaches such as the Happy Strategies game, the maps also allow bringing in expert knowledge into a participatory approach and improving planning on the ground, together with communities.

The Nile Goblet tool: screenshot (Credit: ILRI / C. Pfeifer)

The Nile Goblet tool: screenshot (Credit: ILRI / C. Pfeifer)

Participants of the learning event found it very useful to come together to learn and discuss. It is likely that this group will meet again and possibly combine learning events with other events that are already planned and funded. Additionally, the Water and Land Resource Center – in collaboration with the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation – will look into opportunities to use and promote the Nile-Goblet tool for their own work.

On the second day of the workshop, an informal training course took place, aiming at adapting the tool for participants’ own needs.

The learning event brought together a budding community of practice which seems truly interested in location-specific rainwater management and has the capacity to carry out the work of the Nile Basin Development Challenge in this field further along.

On 18 December 2012, the learning event was followed by another introduction to the Nile-Goblet tool, this time for CGIAR staff in Ethiopia.

Read the notes of the Learning Event here.

Read more about the Nile-Goblet tool here.

View the presentation

Download a report of the workshop

(Article by Catherine Pfeifer)

Notes:

(1) The national platform on land and water management launched four thematic working groups in the course of 2012. Technological innovation is one of these working groups.