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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.

The Nile Basin Development Challenge (NBDC) is one of six global focal basins of the Challenge Program on Water and Food (CPWF). The overall objective of the CPWF program is to increase water productivity and resilience of social and ecological systems, through broad partnerships and research that leads to local impact and wider change.
Within this framework, the NBDC has set out to improve and build on rainwater management strategies as a way to improve livelihoods and reduce poverty. The focus of the work has been on the Blue Nile where rainfed agriculture dominates and over 80% of the population relies on subsistence, rainfed agriculture. In contrast, the downstream countries, principally Egypt and Sudan, are dominated by large-scale irrigated agriculture. However they will also potentially benefit from improvements in rainwater management upstream through reductions in land degradation and associated soil erosion which when transported downstream reduces the efficacy of irrigation schemes.

To meet the Nile Basin Development Challenge, it was found necessary to adopt an outcome logic model in which a range of approaches have been used to generate outputs and outcomes to support policy development and enhance best practices in relation to selected land management. These are briefly presented in summary here with subsequent papers in the proceedings developing the issues in greater a depth.

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.

In the Blue Nile basin, crop cultivation is predominantly rainfed and water availability is highly variable across both space and time. As a result, it often constitutes a limiting factor for reaching full agricultural potential in the region. While one third of the basin is estimated to have no soil moisture limitations, the remaining two thirds are crop water constrained in various ways.

Analysis shows that across approximately 40% of the basin available soil moisture is utilized sub-optimally with smart management and crop water limitations can be alleviated. In contrast, across a further 25% of the basin, water deficits strongly limit plant growth. While rainfed agriculture is still possible in some of these areas, appropriate management is even more important. A great deal of variation also exists in terms of market access for agricultural inputs and produce.

Travel time to markets in the basin can be up to 12 hours. One’s distance to market centres influences the accessibility of farm inputs such as fertilizers, improved seeds and veterinary services. Inaccessibility vs. accessibility to population dense areas also determines the potential for agricultural production and the marketing of crops and livestock products, in particular for perishable produce.

To capture the complexity and heterogeneity regarding both crop water limitations and agricultural market access, this study combines information on rainwater management potential and market proximity to map so-called water investment domains (WID). Context-specific recommendations for each of the domains are provided.

In the short term, the results point to a need for agricultural produce strategies that are spatially differentiated and in the longer term for investment in infrastructure in order to enable full utilization of the agricultural potential across the entire basin. The results are intended to guide policymakers and other rural development actors in the identification of appropriate investment decisions and for improved planning of rural development strategies. Thus, the study aligns to the ‘water-centred agricultural growth’ strategy adopted by the Ethiopian Government, developed in response to the poverty and food security challenges faced in the country.

The approach is widely applicable, easily replicable and can be used to inform decision-makers beyond the Blue Nile basin.

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.

Considering that agriculture remains a key sector in Ethiopia, commercialization of the sector necessitates improving participation of smallholder farmers in markets, hence improving their incomes and livelihoods.

Promoting smallholder commercialization through cash crop production is one avenue of such efforts. The main argument for smallholder commercialization through cash crop production is that it can allow households to increase their income directly. Sesame in Ethiopia can be taken as a good example in this regard. Although Diga has a potential land and the area is among the few areas which are agro-ecologically suitable for sesame production and productivity in the country, smallholder farmers are not participating actively in its production (constrained by a number of factors).

This study assesses factors determining smallholders’ participation in sesame production in Diga, West Ethiopia. Using structured questionnaires, the data was collected from a random sample of 120 smallholder farmers and analysed by using a double hurdle approach.

After all, this study highlighted that access to credit, farm landholding size, family labour, household assets (oxen, donkey), access to family food for the whole year and proximity to extension service centres significantly influence smallholders’ decision probability of participating in sesame production. On the other hand, access to credit, number of oxen owned and number of active family labour significantly determine the level of smallholders’ participation in sesame production.

The implication is that production potential due to favourable agro-ecological condition is necessary but not sufficient for smallholder farmers to participation in sesame production. Indicating household specific and institutional factors also influence their decision. Thus, if active participation of smallholder farmer is required in the field, institutional innovations should be developed and strengthened—in a way to involve all smallholder farmers.

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.

The Nile Basin

The Nile Basin

As the Nile Basin Development Challenge (NBDC) comes to an end this short document from the CGIAR Challenge Program on Water and Food offers a summary of research conducted in the past four years.

It covers:

  • What the NBDC was about
  • The main challenges addressed
  • The eight key messages identified in 2013
  • Some outcomes and lessons

As much NBDC work is slowly integrated into CGIAR research programs on Water, Land and Ecosystems and on Integrated Systems for the Humid Tropics, this summary is a neat and short introduction to some essential issues that NBDC has left as a legacy to improve land and water management in Ethiopia and the wider Nile Basin.

Read the full Nile Basin Summary

The Nile Basin Development Challenge (NBDC) Program of the Challenge Program on Water and Food (CPWF) has been working in three woredas (districts) in Ethiopia – Jeldu, Diga and Fogera.

Each of the project established an innovation platform (IP) in which lessons and knowledge are shared and joint approaches towards problem identification and solutions are sought.

The Jeldu IP was established in September 2011 with 25 members representing farmers, district level institutions including the Office of Agriculture, Livestock Agency, Women’s Affairs, Office of Environmental Protection and Land Administration, Cooperatives Promotion and the Office of Water, Mining and Energy, and research and development partners such as Ambo University, Holetta Research Center, RiPPLE (Research-inspired Policy and Practice Learning in Ethiopia), the German development cooperation program on sustainable land management (GIZ-SLM), the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and the International Water Management Institute (IWMI).

Innovation platform meeting at Jeldu district administration office (Photo credit: ILRI/Adie)

Innovation platform meeting at Jeldu district administration office (Photo credit: ILRI/Aberra Adie)

More institutions joined the platform in the course of its operation including a local NGO called HUNDEE which later took on the responsibility of facilitating the IP.

The IP conducted a total of seven meetings from September 2011 up to December 2013. Earlier meetings focused on identifying challenges and opportunities of rainwater management interventions along with the key priority issues of land and water management in the district. Later meetings were used for sharing of lessons and experiences around the action research and beyond.

Community engagement exercises

Despite some representation of farmers in the IP at the district level, the NBDC team early on felt that a more representative community members were required to decide on priority issues while ensuring effective participation of the community. Subsequently community members from Kolugelan, Sirity and Chilanko kebeles representing different gender, age, wealth, and education levels were invited to participate in platform discussions. After thorough discussion among IP members and the community, it was agreed that soil erosion was the most serious problem in the area.

Community engagement exercise with men and women groups at Jeldu (Photo credit: ILRI/Adie)

Community engagement exercise with men and women groups at Jeldu (Photo credit: ILRI/Aberra Adie)

Action research

The CPWF innovation fund granted USD 6,000 to conduct action research around the identified problem by the IP and the community. Platform members were requested to write a research proposal. A series of discussions were made in IP meetings and community dialogues to point out possible solution options to alleviate soil erosion problems. Primary and secondary factors contributing to soil erosion and its effects at different levels were discussed with deforestation and overgrazing of land by livestock and feed shortage identified as major contributing factors to soil erosion.The IP group identified fodder development as a feasible intervention that could also support the physical soil and water conservation campaign of the government. Following this,  technical group (TG) members of the platform (with experts and researchers from Holetta research center, Ambo University, HUNDEE, Livestock Agency and Office of Agriculture) carried out action research on fodder development.

Fodder Development Intervention – 2012

Kologelan Kebele was chosen as a first pilot intervention for its strategic representation of other kebeles in the woreda. Initially about 32 farmers registered to take part in the fodder intervention. But eventually more and more farmers showed interest when they saw their friends planting forages in their plots. Participating farmers became 96, even though project follow up only focused on the initially registered 32 farmers. The emphasis was on forage options that are already in the system, instead of introducing a brand new material to the farming system.

Desho and Wodajo

Desho grass (Pennisetum pedicellatum ), was initially introduced by Wodajo, a farmer in Chilanko kebele. Wodajo brought some splits of the grass when he went to Southern Ethiopia for an experience sharing visit sponsored by the government. He planted the grass at his backyard and the grass performed so well that it attracted the attention of his fellow farmers and the government’s extension workers. Wodajo then started making money from the sales of the splits. In one year, he sold the grass for over Birr 40,000. Wodajo and Desho became very popular in the woreda. In fact Wodajo currently owns a wood workshop in Gojo town as a result of the capital he made from consecutive sales of the Desho grass. This has played a huge motivational role in the community for the adoption of Desho grass.

The farmers at Kolugelan were also interested to plant this grass at their backyards and on soil bands for livestock feed and soil water conservation (SWC). All 96 farmers planted Desho grass (some in backyards, some on soil bands, some both ways). Farmers were also provided with Tree Lucerne (Chamaecytisus Palmensis), and Napier grass (Pennisetum purpureum).

Fodder Development Intervention in 2013

In 2013, the IP expanding the intervention to a larger number of farmers in Kolugelan kebele using an additional USD 10,000. Sixty-five new farmers were registered for fodder intervention though, once again, more farmers joined and a total of 141 additional farmers were issued Desho planting materials. More ‘Wodajos’ appeared among the farmers who planted Desho in 2012. They became sources of planting material for the intervention in 2013. Some of them sold Desho planting material for up to Birr 10,000 to their fellow farmers. Establishing Desho in backyards and on soil bands thus became much clearer in the second year of intervention. During the field day organized by the IP, farmers from neighboring kebeles appreciated the performance of Desho on soil bands and backyards during the dry season.

Farmer explaning his experience with Desho grass to field day visitors at Kolugelan, Jeldu (Photo credit: ILRI/Adie)

Farmer explaning his experience with Desho grass to field day visitors at Kolugelan (Photo credit: ILRI/Aberra Adie)

Capacity development

ILRI staff trained IP technical group members on platform facilitation and participatory research methods, which helped them while undertaking the action research. After the training, HUNDEE, the local NGO assumed the total responsibility of facilitating the IP and overseeing the action research process, including handling of financial matters. This helped NBDC staff to take a backstopping role from some distance. IP members who took part in training events and workshops witnessed their exposure to wider networks adding value to their personal careers and they enjoyed tremendous lessons from one another.

Practical training to farmers about forage management at Kolugelan, Jeldu (Photo credit: ILRI/Adie)

Practical training to farmers about forage management at Kolugelan, Jeldu (Photo credit: ILRI/Aberra Adie)

In both 2012 and 2013, farmers were trained in establishment/management and utilization of feeds to their livestock. The training in the second year included management and utilization of existing/ traditional feed resources along with improved forages.

Achievements and challenges

Farmers during the last field day and stakeholders in the IP closing event which took place on December 31, 2013 evaluated and strongly commended the project’s achievements. They testified that the project has been able to bring them together around a common agenda and that they learned much from the process  itself as well as from one another in the IP and action research process.

They also appreciated the efficient use of resources:

With limited amount of money it has been possible to achieve much – community member

It is the day of celebration of our achievements and looking forward to continued efforts, not closing day – Ato Zegeye, HUNDEE general manager.

The technical group members of the IP witnessed that their skills in conducting participatory research as a team have increased with their involvement in the action research.  Nevertheless, some of the challenges faced by the IP, especially the technical group members include: less acknowledgement and appreciation of their work with the IP by their respective supervisors; occasional conflicts; time management issues as they have their own assignments from their offices, etc.

What next?

This has been a recurring question of both farmers and IP members. Options put on the table include:

  • Farmers request improved cattle breeds for dairy. They want to produce more milk for family and market.
  • They also envision small scale milk processors for production of butter and cheese.
  • Some consider fattening of beef and sheep.
  • Holetta research center heralded the new initiative around Jeldu to apply hormonal synchronization to introduce artificial insemination services.
  • Both farmers and IP members are optimistic about the Ginchi – Gindeberet road which crosses Jeldu (Gojo town) to be asphalted in the near future to facilitate product marketing for a better price.
  • Adding more fodder options, especially legumes, has been raised during the discussions with IP members.
  • Government partners are planning to take Desho Grass to wider distribution in the woreda as part of the watershed development strategy.
  • ILRI/IWMI envisions more activities in the site with CGIAR Research Programs such as Water Land and Ecosystems and Humidtropics.

For all, the message is – ‘strike the iron when it is hot!’

Article contributed by Aberra Adie

Termites are a major pest in the semi-arid and sub-humid tropics. They pose a serious threat to agricultural crops, forestry seedlings, rangelands and wooden structures. In Ethiopia the problem is particularly serious in the western part of the country, specifically in Wollega Zones of Oromia Region. In the past, several attempts were made to reduce damage caused by termites, including extensive termite mound poisoning campaigns. These interventions not only had a negative effect on the environment, but were also largely ineffective.

Based on previous work in Uganda showing that adding organic matter to the soil diverts termites from the plant and functions as alternative feed source, a project was commenced by the Challenge Program for Water and Food (CPWF). In partnership with IWMI and Makerere University, ILRI and Wollega University took the lead in working with local stakeholders to identify sustainable solutions to address the termite problem in Diga, Ethiopia. The research consisted of two major activities; 1) a baseline study to better understand the relation between land use, water, termites and local institutions; and 2) the design and testing of identified interventions.

The baseline findings indicated that termite damage depends on various biophysical and socio-institutional factors, which requires an integrated, but also targeted, termite management approach; two termite species are locally recognized, but level of knowledge highly varies among farmers within and between kebeles. Various trials were designed for on-farm experimentation using cattle manure and crop residues as alternative feed source for termites in combination with other cultivation techniques.

The result obtained indicated that application of cattle manure and crop residues increases the organic matter content of the soil by 24.5 and 13.9%—grain yield of maize by 38.8 and 16.7% and reduces termite count per plant by 29.6 and 21.6% as compared to the control treatment, respectively. The results are in line with farmers’ own evaluation of the trials. Results and implications are discussed.

See the presentation:

Read the paper

See the full proceedings of the NBDC Science meeting

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


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.

Agricultural productivity in Ethiopian highlands is constrained mainly by high climate variability. Although use of soil and water conservation technologies is recognized as a key strategy to improve agricultural productivity, adoption of technologies has been very low as farmers consider a variety of factors in their adoption decision.

This study assesses the adoption pattern of interrelated rainwater management technologies and investigates factors that influence farm household adoption and scaling-up of rainwater management technologies and draws recommendations for policy. Our results show that rainwater management technologies are interdependent to each other implying that technology adoption decisions need to capture the spillover effect on the adoption of other technologies and have follow a multi-dimensional approach. Moreover, our results suggest that instead of promoting blanket recommendations, it is important to understand the socio-economic, demographic characteristics and biophysical suitability of the rainwater management technologies.

Although impact of gender is likely technology-specific and generalization is not possible, our result indicates that male-headed households have a comparative advantage in rainwater management technologies adoption in the Nile Basin and suggests the need to address the constraints of women farmers to give them an opportunity to actively participate in rural economic activities.

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.

Termite infestation is symptomatic of severe land degradation in many semi-arid regions of the Nile Basin. One characteristic of land degradation is low organic matter (OM) reserves in vegetative biomass and soil. One consequence is excessive rainwater depletion through non-productive evaporation and runoff leading to low agricultural water productivity and diminished livelihoods.

CPWF research demonstrated that rapid restoration of pasture production is possible by providing manure through night corralling of cattle prior to re-seeding termite affected rangeland in Uganda. In degraded Ethiopian and Ugandan croplands, preliminary results also suggest that application of maize or sorghum stover to growing maize crops reduces termite damage and associate yield losses. Termites appear to prefer feeding on litter, manure and stover rather than on living plant material.

We hypothesize that sustainable crop and livestock production requires a minimum threshold of available dry-season ‘litter’ to avoid termite-driven destruction. We propose an integrated termite management (ITM) approach that involves establishment of sufficient OM reserves to sustain termites and other ecosystems services. One anticipated consequence is enabling termites to resume their beneficial roles in promoting nutrient recycling, infiltration and aeration of soil.

In this context, ITM requires an appropriate mix of relevant bio-physical and socio-economic interventions. Besides providing water for animal and crop production, the process of rebuilding OM reserves on degraded termite affected rainfed agricultural land requires additional water. We anticipate that the long-term results of increasing OM reserves will be higher agricultural water productivity, increased crop and animal production and improved livelihoods.

See the presentation:

Read the paper

See the full proceedings of the NBDC Science meeting

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


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.

Inefficient management and use of water is unanimously the most single constraint of agricultural production of Ethiopia.

This study was conducted to assess the effect of livestock feed sourcing and feeding strategies on livestock water productivity (LWP) in mixed crop–livestock production systems of the Blue Nile Basin in Ethiopian Highlands. Three districts representing diverse agricultural farming systems were considered. Each district further stratified to different farming systems. Multi-stage stratified random sampling technique was employed to select farm households. Household survey, group discussions and plant biomass sampling were done to generate data on beneficial outputs, water depleted and feed sourcing and feeding strategies. LWP was estimated as a ratio of livestock’s beneficial outputs and services to depleted water.

The results indicated that the major feed sources were mainly from crop residues (58.5 to 78.2%), natural pasture (10.9 to 33.4%) and aftermath grazing (9.9 to 24.3%) in study farming systems. The feed source from energy dense (improved forages) was low. The feeding strategies were relatively similar among the study farming systems. No apparent difference (P>0.05) was observed in LWP within all districts among the farming systems and the value falls between USD 0.15–0.19 m-3. However, LWP difference was observed within clustered wealth status within all farming systems and lower value of LWP general observed for the poor farm households. Such differences of LWP values can be accounted for by the strategies farm households are following in feed sourcing and how water productive those feed sources are.

In the context of this work, options to improve LWP mainly involve sourcing water productive and higher quality feed.

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.

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