Humid Tropics


The reasons why farmers are unable to harness the benefits embedded in technologies and take advantage of business opportunities in livestock sector in developing countries remain unresolved.

Drawing on insights from innovation systems approaches, this paper assesses innovation constraints, identifies the bottlenecks and missing links in dairy sector and suggests some instruments needed to address the constraints.

We find that missing actors, limited capacity of existing actors, inadequate interactions between actors and poor coordination of activities along dairy value chain have been the major reasons for low technology adoption and underdevelopment of the dairy sub-sector in developing countries.

Future research should pay attention to designing, prototyping and experimenting with alternative institutional arrangements that can effectively coordinate inputs, services, processes and outputs in livestock value chains.

See the presentation:

Read the paper

See the full proceedings of the NBDC Science meeting


This paper was first presented at the Nile Basin Development Challenge Science meeting. The NBDC Science meeting was held on 9 and 10 July 2013 at the ILRI-Ethiopia campus, with the objectives to exchange experiences and research results across NBDC scientists involved in the NBDC projects and to discuss challenges and possible solutions.

There’s a widespread belief that termites are a major threat to rural livelihoods and agricultural production in Est Africa. Is this true? How do termites affect agricultural water and land productivity? What practical options exist to reduce the apparent economic and human costs associated with perceived destructive behaviour of termites?

The CGIAR Challenge Program on Water and Food (CPWF) studied these issues as part of a Nile River basin wide collaborative research program extending from 2003 to 2012. Initial success in rehabilitating degraded rangelands led to the establishment of a new CPWF Research into Use (RIU) project ‘Uptake of integrated termite management for rehabilitation of degraded rangeland in East Africa’. The RIU project started in 2012, extends into 2014, and collaborates closely with Nile Basin Development Challenge.

This brief explains the history of these initiatives and objectives of the project.

Read the brief 

Read the technical report No. 9 “Integrated termite management for improved  rainwater management: A synthesis of African experiences

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

The Ethiopian highlands are losing many valuable tree and shrub species because of anthropogenic and climatic factors. The coverage of high value indigenous tree and shrub species has declined. The tree species that used to provide quality products and ecosystem services have become limited. As a result, there is increasing use of non-forest/tree products such as dung and crop residues to fill fuel and other household requirements.

This brief, co-produced by the Nile Basin Development Challenge and the Africa RISING research program on sustainable intensification, examines important issues to consider for the advancement of tree planting in the Ethopian highlands: germplasm issues, data and information-related issues, capacity development, working on a holistic and integrated approach, institutional issues and policy-related issues. Yet, trees can be a potential connector/integrator of the crop and livestock components of the farming system in the highlands of Ethiopia.

The brief was developed from the third meeting of the National Platform for Land and Water Managementread the meeting report.

Read the NBDC / Africa RISING brief on tree growing in the highlands of Ethiopia

Planning NBDC activities for researchers (Photo credit: ILRI/Le Borgne)The Nile Basin Development Challenge (NBDC) is entering its final year. By December 2013, all activities funded through the Challenge Program for Water and Food (CPWF) need to be complete.

A planning exercise on 15 and 16 November brought the core partners together to re-arrange priorities around specific outcomes and target groups that NBDC intends to influence.

About 25 participants representing the remaining four NBDC projects (the stock-taking project ‘Learning about rainwater management systems‘ ended earlier on) took part to the meeting.

Over the two days, participants:

  • reviewed the outcome logic model (the planning/monitoring framework) informing their activities to assess its validity in the current context,
  • took stock of important assets that the NBDC should capitalize on, in terms of outputs produced, networks strengthened and capacities developed,
  • discussed the integration of these assets and activities to support five key stakeholder groups: farmers and farming associations, researchers, planners, policy-makers and the internal NBDC team,
  • developed action plans to align these activities,
  • identified activities for cross-cutting issues such as gender, monitoring and evaluation, the sunrise strategy that is expected to ease the dawn of the program and a final session to plan the external stakeholder meeting in February 2013,
  • filled out a timeline of the project that tracked back important events, outputs, changes in the network or in the attitudes and skills of stakeholders. Participants were energized by the large numbers of outputs already produced as well as the extent of the capacity and network building efforts.

The workshop was a strong exercise in integrating across all the teams; it brought all the ‘N-project’ teams together around cross-cutting outcomes by stakeholder groups.

The next step in this planning is a full stakeholder meeting in February 203. Thereafter, the countdown for the NBDC will really tick with a renewed sense of urgency.

Read notes from the meeting here.

See some pictures from the meeting here.

Confronting project ideas with farmers’ realities is always an interesting game with sometimes unexpected outcomes. In one recent Nile Basin Development Challenge (NBDC) activity, this reality check has unearthed a potentially promising future for intensification in the Ethiopian highlands via chicken and fruit tree farming.

As part of the NBDC, one of the program teams (in the so called ‘Nile 3’ project on targeting and scaling out water management systems), held field focus groups in four watersheds, namely in Gorosole (Ambo, Oromia), Laku (Shambu, Oromia) Maksenit (Gondar, Amhara) and Zefie (Debre Tabor, Amhara). The focus group discussions, focusing on a participatory mapping exercise, were held separately in each location for women and men.

The objectives of the discussions were to identify the ‘ideal’ landscape management from a community perspective and understand why that ideal landscape has not been implemented. We hoped that the rainwater management practices that the focus groups find most suitable in each watershed would allow us to validate the suitability maps developed by the project team.

Unsurprisingly, soil and water conservation related to small scale irrigation practices was found to be suitable. In some locations, farmers wished they had better access to pumps to intensify these practices.

More surprisingly however, two other major rainwater management practices across all the watersheds were seen as important: Fruit tree cultivation and chicken farming.

In all watersheds, fruit trees scored high in the mapping exercise. In the highlands (Laku, Gorosole and Zefie), farmers put apple trees high on their wishlist. In the warmer Maksenit area, (mostly) women talking of ‘home gardens’, i.e. small papaya orchards combined with pepper production. Fruit trees are a source of hope for most farmers that the project team encountered.

Remarkably, each watershed was at a different level of implementation but it did not affect the results. In Gorosole there are no trees because farmers cannot access seedlings, whereas in Zefie and Maksenit the first farmers are planting trees, however they are yet to yield any fruits. Laku watershed was the only location where farmers do have apple orchards and are facing challenges to bring apples to the market. Given the high price of apples in Ethiopian towns, apples seem a promising business – a pathway to make the value chain work for smallholders?

In two watersheds – Laku and Maksenit – farmers were dreaming of chicken farms (with about 20-30 chickens). In those areas, chicken prices are high. Diversifying their activities to include poultry would allow farmers to de-stock other livestock and decrease the pressure on natural resources. However, this promising track is not without its hazards: In Laku, farmers struggle with their limited knowledge about how to increase the chicken population and move towards chicken farming; in Maksenit the limiting factor is pest management.

Given that chickens often cost less in Ethiopian cities than they do in rural locations, farmers might want to promote and handle poultry farming carefully. The poultry road to intensification is perhaps not as promising as it first looks.

Read a detailed report from the focus group discussions (on the project wiki)

(By Catherine Pfeifer)

Tilahun Amede, Nile Basin project leader is co-editor of a new book ‘Integrated Natural Resource Management in the Highlands of Eastern Africa: From Concept to Practice.’

It documents a decade of research, methodological innovation, and lessons learned in an eco-regional research-for-development program operating in the eastern African highlands, the African Highlands Initiative (AHI). It does this through reflections of the protagonists themselves—AHI site teams and partners applying action research to development innovation as a means to enhance the impact of their research.

This book summarizes the experiences of farmers, research and development workers, policy and decision-makers who have interacted within an innovation system with the common goal of implementing an integrated approach to natural resource management (NRM) in the humid highlands.

This book demonstrates the crucial importance of “approach” in shaping the outcomes of research and development, and distils lessons learned on what works, where and why. It is enriched with examples and case studies from five benchmark sites in Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania, whose variability provides the reader with an in-depth knowledge of the complexities of integrated NRM in agro-ecosystems that play an important role in the rural economy of the region. It is shown that the struggle to achieve sustainable agricultural development in challenging environments is a complex one, and can only be effectively achieved through combined efforts and commitment of individuals and institutions with complementary roles.

Chapter 1 gives an overview of INRM as a concept and the birth and evolution of AHI, including the methodological framework through which innovations were developed and tested and its results. Chapter 2 provides an overview of farm-level methodological innovations oriented towards participatory intensification and diversification of smallholder farming systems for optimal system productivity (economic, social, and ecological). Chapter 3 summarizes AHI
experiences with a set of approaches employed to operationalize participatory watershed management through an integrated lens which looks not only at soil and water but at a wider set of system components and interations.

Chapter 4 explores lessons learned to date on methods and approaches for participatory landscape governance, exploring how processes that cut across farm boundaries, involve trade-offs between different land users or require collective action may be addressed effectively and equitably. Chapter 5 explores the role of district level institutions and cross-scale linkages in supporting grassroots development and conservation initiatives, including improved coordination and better support to local livelihood priorities and bottom-up governance reforms. Chapter 6 explores methods and approaches for scaling up and institutionalizing integrated natural resource management innovations (e.g., those presented in earlier chapters), as well as approaches for self-led institutional change that can institutionalize the process of methodological innovation and impact-oriented research.

Published by IDRC, ICRAF and Earthscan, the full report can be downloaded from the IDRC institutional repository