Intensification


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 sixth key message from the Nile Basin Development Challenge is to ‘integrate multiple rainwater management interventions at watershed and basin scales to benefit rainwater management programs.’ The NBDC took a landscape approach that integrated multiple rainwater management strategies affecting diverse users. The ultimate aim of this approachwas to multiply benefits within the landscape e.g. making water available for small scale irrigation, capturing rain water in semi-dry areas etc. Basin rain water management is more effective through such a landscape approach, as opposed to focusing on a plot of land or individual household only.

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.

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 irrigation system in Kobo-Girrana valley is extensively developed into modern drip irrigation using ground water sources. Tomato and onion are among the major vegetables grown under drip irrigation. However, the drip lateral spacing is fixed to 1m for all irrigated crops. This leads to low crop water productivity, loss of land, less net return income and un-optimized irrigation production.

An on-station experiment was conducted to determine the effect of drip line spacing and irrigation regime on yield, irrigation water use efficiency and net return income. The experiment was carried out for two consecutive irrigation seasons in 2010/11 and 2011/12 at Kobo irrigation research station. The experimental treatments were: two lateral spacing of single row and double row corresponding to each test crop and three irrigation regime (Kp = 0.8, 1.0 and 1.2).

The results revealed that an interaction effect between the lateral spacing and irrigation regime was obtained in marketable yield and water productivity of test crops. Application of 0.8 Kp with 2m lateral spacing and 1.2 Kp with 1m lateral spacing provided relatively higher marketable yield of tomato and onion, respectively. Similarly, high water productivity was recorded with same irrigation depths and spacing regimes as to the yield.

This result generally revealed that one lateral design for each two plant rows gave high net income than the one lateral design for each one plant row for drip irrigated fresh marketable yield of onion and tomato. An optimized production and irrigation efficiency can be attained by applying irrigation depth adjusted by the given pan coefficients and drip lateral spacing in Kobo areas.

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 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.

Six months before its formal end as a project, the Nile Basin Development Challenge (NBDC) hosted a science meeting to share ongoing and finalised research results.

Bedasa Eba introducing his paper60 participants met on 9 and 10 July 2013 and reviewed presentations organised around four main themes:

  • Livestock and irrigation
  • Water productivity, hydrological and erosion modeling
  • Rainwater, land and water resources management
  • Institutions, adoption and marketing

In addition, 10 posters were also featured in the science meeting, mainly from PhD and MSc students working in the NBDC. Presentations and posters are online.

Key lessons and conclusions emerging were:

  • The research for development approach adopted by the NBDC and other basins in the Challenge Program for Water and Food (CPWF) is valuable but it has not been able to go as far as planned, especially in terms of getting beyond research outputs towards development outcomes. See more about this in the presentation by Doug Merrey.
  • The Development Agents’ (DA) system has been somewhat left behind but have a crucial role to play and could be revitalised by actors like NBDC to involve DA staff in transdisciplinary research projects that can help move research outputs to outcomes.
  • NBDC research tends to focus on individual or household benefits of certain rainwater management interventions but less attention has been given to collective benefits and tradeoffs between upstream and downstream communities. The debate about on-site and off-site benefits and the link with ecosystem services at landscape level remains open.
  • Similarly, competition for water resources puts the stress on a new phenomenon: it is traditionally easier to promote individual technologies rather than collectively managed schemes (with their high transaction costs). However, adding too many individual pumps in the watershed stresses water resources.

The participants also highlighted a series of research gaps that ought to be taken up by future initiatives focusing on land and rainwater management (RWM). These included: appropriate land use planning, strengthening local agencies to deal with RWM and to plan land use, identifying suitable scalable solutions that are appropriate for a given context or focusing on scalable practices and methods or approaches; improving biomass production.

Finally, they noted that NBDC science remains somewhat scattered but the evidence base collected is an important asset to carry into other initiatives that will build on the NBDC legacy.

The presentations and individual papers featured in the NBDC science meeting will be individually featured on this website – watch this space!

Read conversation notes and links to outputs from the meeting

Discover the presentations and the posters shared at the science meeting

Download the meeting proceedings.

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

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)

The national platform on land and water management held its third meeting on 23-24 July 2012 at the campus of the International Livestock Research Institute in Addis Ababa. About 70 participants attended this event and represented Governmental agencies and regional bureaus, research institutes and universities, non-governmental organizations and donor agencies.

After having been established with a specific vision and mandate in the first national platform meeting, the National Platform was further developed in the second national platform meeting, where participants teased out priority work areas for which four thematic working groups are developing an agenda.

This third event offered an opportunity to:

  • Inform a wider audience about the national platform: what it is about, what it aims to do and how it relates to other projects, in particular Africa RISING;
  • Introduce the four thematic working groups and their agenda for the coming months and gather feedback on their rationale and activities.

This meeting was a first for the platform as it was hosted with the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) – more specifically, one of the Africa RISING ‘early win’ projects on ‘Sustainable tree-crop-livestock intensification as a pillar for the Ethiopian climate resilient green economy initiative‘. As a result, the main part of the event was dedicated to this particular project which ties in naturally with the agenda of the land and water management national platform.

The agroforestry part of the event culminated with a panel discussion which discussed some challenges faced in Ethiopia: Weak coordination and integration, climate change, and (insufficiently?) participatory approaches to policy-making. One of the panelists and some  platform members advocated a holistic approach that integrates crops, livestock and agroforestry.

Following these sessions, the four thematic working groups of the national platform introduced themselves, their agendas for the next 12 to 18 months and collected additional ideas of relevant initiatives, actors and documents that could inform their work on institutional innovation, technological innovation, ecosystem resilience and policy support.

The third national platform meeting ended by raising some challenging considerations for the platform itself: How wide or focused should it be? How to avoid duplication and competition with the Sustainable Land Management project funded by the German Development Cooperation Agency (GIZ), how (and perhaps whether) to sustain this platform beyond the Nile Basin Development Challenge…

Expanding a platform to invite other actors and initiatives can be crucial for its healthy development, although it begs the question of the added value and unique selling point of the platform.

Read the workshop report

See some pictures from the workshop

Read the notes from the sessions

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