Nile 2


Skilful facilitation is needed to overcome difficult power relationships (photo credit: ILRI/Alfred Ombati)

Skilful facilitation is needed to overcome difficult power relationships (photo credit: ILRI/Alfred Ombati)

Innovation systems thinking is increasingly influencing approaches to sustainable agricultural development in developing world contexts. This represents a shift away from technology transfer towards recognition that agricultural change entails complex interactions among multiple actors and a range of technical, social and institutional factors.

One option for practically applying innovation systems thinking involves the establishment of innovation platforms (IPs). Such platforms are designed to bring together a variety of different stakeholders to exchange knowledge and resources and take action to solve common problems. Yet relatively little is known about how IPs operate in practice, particularly how power dynamics influence platform processes.

This paper focuses on a research-for-development project in the Ethiopian highlands which established three IPs for improved natural resource management. The ‘power cube’ is used to retrospectively analyse the spaces, forms and levels of power within these platforms and the impact on platform processes and resulting interventions. The overall aim is to highlight the importance of power issues in order to better assess the strengths and limitations of IPs as a model for inclusive innovation.

Findings suggest that while IPs may achieve some short-term success in creating spaces for wider participation in decision-making processes, they may be significantly influenced by forms of power which may not always be visible or easily challenged.

Read the article

Activities conducted as part of NBDC innovation platform work in Fogera (photo credit: ILRI/Apollo Habtamu).

Activities conducted as part of NBDC innovation platform work in Fogera (photo credit: ILRI/Apollo Habtamu).

This paper draws lessons from two years of work with ‘innovation platforms’ that were established by the Nile Basin Development Challenge (NBDC) program in an attempt to strengthen landscape-level rainwater management in Ethiopia. The NDBC’s work included the use of an innovation fund to support pilot interventions.

This paper particularly reviews questions of political economy and equity in platform activities and examines decision-making processes, the roles and level of influence of different platform members, the nature of platform-community relations and the extent to which different groups are benefiting.

The information presented in this working paper was gathered from a mixture of sources: interviews conducted with platform members; observation of meetings and activities by NBDC staff; official minutes of platform meetings and other associated events (e.g. training sessions) and informal discussions between NBDC staff and platform members.

This paper is the latest of a ‘research for development (R4D)’ series of working papers developed by the Challenge Program for Water and Food (CPWF).

Read the working paper ‘Innovation Platforms to Enhance Participation in Rainwater Management: Lessons from The Nile Basin Development Challenge with a Particular Focus on Political Economy and Equity Issues‘.

Discover the rest of the CPWF’s R4D working paper series.

Fogera Woreda is one of the three “Research for Development” intervention sites for the Nile Basin Development Challenge (NBDC) project. A local Innovation Platform (IP) was established to bring different stakeholders together for knowledge sharing, joint planning and implementation of development intervention.

The IP was used as an instrument to identify and prioritize major Natural resource Management (NRM) challenges through a participatory multi-stakeholder process. Free grazing emerged as a key NRM challenge and fodder development interventions were proposed as an entry point to tackle the problem of land degradation and animal feed shortage in the area.

In 2012 the fodder intervention was piloted at Gebere-Gesa village, in Wej-Awramba Kebele, after a baseline assessment was carried out by IP Technical Group (TG) members. In the village a total of 20 farmers were involved in the fodder development intervention. Farmers sowed and planted improved fodder species on the communal grazing land and backyard to deal with the problem. Different fodder species mainly Sesbania, Vetivar, Elephant grass, Cow pea and Pigeon Pea were introduced. All of the farmers showed interest in the intervention as they have serious livestock feed shortage and have witnessed how their communal land biomass production is decreasing over the years.

Even though the intervention went well initially and the IP was successful in introducing the fodder, it was not able to proceed as planned on the communal grazing land as farmers started uprooting the plants. The community was fearful of losing the communal grazing land which is also a place for important social events and religious festivals. Farmers had recently experienced government-led NRM interventions where degraded steep slopes were enclosed for rehabilitation, to be only used for bee keeping by the village youth. Farmers were not happy as they thought it limited their access to the resources and ruled out their sense of ownership.

When the new fodder intervention on the communal grazing land was brought by TG members, they thought the government might be “planning” again to claim their communal land despite the challenges they are facing. Being relatively new to community engagement the members of the IP technical group were not able to introduce an adequate and carefully facilitated process to build trust and ensure an effective dialogue. According to a Woreda expert, lack of follow up and consultation has boosted farmers’ skepticism about new interventions. This time Gebere Gesa farmers are trying the fodder development in their backyards and are willing to scale it up if they have better access to fodder seed and seedlings.

A new start
Thus, IP members shifted their intervention site to Gunguf Village where previous fodder development activities had started on communal grazing land (size of 1.5 ha) owned by 13 farmers with support from a development agent. This intervention was successful as the farmers already agreed among themselves and were ready to accept the intervention plan with full confidence. These farmers were relatively better suited for the intervention than the farmers in Gebere-Gesa, since they had large-sized communal grazing land and each farmer also owned private grazing land.

The TG members have been backstopping the farmers with training and input supply from the Innovation Fund of the Challenge Program for Water and Food to start over-sowing different improved fodder species in the communal land and backyards. Farmers developed bylaws to protect the communal land and were able to harvest a good amount of fodder and shared it equally among themselves.

This intervention also addressed equity issue among the farmers: Birke is heading a household without livestock but she has benefited from the sales of fodder that she shared from the communal land. Farmers were happy to continue developing fodder for the seasons to come and decided to allocate land for the establishment of a nursery site to increase the supply of improved fodder species seeds in their vicinity.

In 2013 the IP agreed to continue supporting the Gunguf farmers and added a new site called Chebi village. An estimated 200 m2 forage nursery site was established in Gunguf to be used as a seed/seedling source. This time,  58 farmers from both villages were involved in the fodder development intervention. Drawing upon lessons from Gebere Gesa the IP members saw to a better consultation process with farmers, whereby a portion of the communal grazing land was used for the intervention leaving the rest for important social events.

Good and promising results
In Gunguf, farmers witnessed the benefits of the intervention. Yeshi, a female farmer, explained how the new fodder intervention had helped improve her daily milk production from 1 liter to 2.5 liters per cow. All households in the village are now feeding their animals using cut-and-carry fodder from their communal land and backyards.

Most farmers in Gunguf are now stall-feeding their livestock in the dry season and only let them out in June, when all stored feed is depleted. A few farmers even traded their crop land for fodder and leased plots from other nearby farmers to cultivate food crops. Stall-feeding has another advantage for them: the farmers are now able to send their children to school, while before they would have spent their time on the field with the animals.

Training was given in 2012 on forage development and urea treatment and an experience visit was organized at Gunguf where farmers from eight Kebeles participated and shared lessons learned from the Gunguf experience. Woreda experts have a positive attitude vis-à-vis the NBDC intervention where integrated rainwater management approaches are combined options.

This intervention gave farmers access to enough alternative animal feed sources while at the same time helping to rehabilitate the natural resource base. For a researcher from Bahir Dar University, this was one of the main reasons why previous fodder intervention focusing only on rehabilitation of communal grazing land failed.

The Nile Basin Development Challenge (NBDC) and the wider Challenge Program for Water and Food tried out several communication tools and approaches to make its research more useful and more likely to be used.

Among these tools and approaches, digital stories or photofilms) have proven to be great ways to place stories and human lives at the core of our work and thereby to capture and communicate the research we have conducted in more effective ways. Digital stories  help bring a lively and authentic feel to the stories shared. They can be used at field level for real life stories, as well as at higher levels to summarize conceptual work in a simpler way.

See an example of these digital stories below: a story weaving together the eight key messages of the Nile Basin Development Challenge and introducing a new paradigm for rainwater and land management in Ethiopia:

 

 

The latest NBDC technical report is an introductory guide to help people use photos, videos and audio files to develop such digital stories. The guide was produced for internal use by the Nile Basin Development Challenge (NBDC) but has wider usefulness.

The guide explains how to make a digital story. From interviewing and photographing to editing the pictures and audio-recordings and finally merging image and sound.

Download the guide

Discover 14 digital stories developed under the NBDC:

Discover these and all other NBDC videos

More on digital stories and photofilms at ILRI</em)

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.

The second key message from the Nile Basin Development Challenge is to ‘Integrate and share scientific and local knowledge and encourage innovation through learning by doing’. It emphasizes the need to embrace local knowledge as a trusted source of information and expertise. The alliance of scientific analysis and community validation (for instance in farmer field days) helps pay attention to bio-physical and socio-economic aspects and bring about much more robust rainwater management solutions.

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.

Poor rainwater management (RWM) practices and resultant problems of land degradation and low water productivity are severe problems in the rural highlands of Ethiopia.

The current study was undertaken at Meja watershed, which is located in the Jeldu district of Oromia region. The study investigated rainwater management practices and associated socio-economic and biophysical conditions in the watershed. The existing RWM interventions, their extent and the nature of changes in land use and land cover (LULC) conditions were mapped and evaluated.

Results indicated that over the two decades between 1990 and 2010 there was an increase in the extent of cultivated land and large expansion in eucalyptus plantation at the expense of natural forest and grazing lands. Results indicate that, with few exceptions of RWM interventions practised, there were mainly poor and inefficient rainwater management practices. The overall effect leads to inadequacy of water for household consumption, livestock and for intensifying agricultural production via small scale irrigation systems. Deforestation and poor resource management resulted in soil degradation, reduction of hydrological regimes and water productivities in the watershed.

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 hydrology of Holetta River and its seasonal variability is not fully studied. In addition to this, due to scarcity of the available surface water and increase in water demand for irrigation, the major users of the river are facing a challenge to allocate the available water.

Therefore, the aim of this research was to investigate the water availability of Holetta River and to study the water management in the catchment. Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT) modelled the rainfall runoff process of the catchment. Statistical (coefficient of determination [R2], Nash- Sutcliffe Efficiency Coefficient [NSE] and Index of Volumetric Fit [IVF]) and graphical methods used to evaluate the performance of SWAT model.

The result showed that R2, NSE and IVF were 0.85, 0.84 and 102.8, respectively for monthly calibration and 0.73, 0.67 and 108.9, respectively, for monthly validation. These indicated that SWAT model performed well for simulation of the hydrology of the watershed. After modelling the rainfall runoff relation and studying the availability of water at the Holetta River, the water demand of the area assessed. CropWat model and the survey analysis performed to calculate the water demand in the area. The total water demand of all three major users was 0.313, 0.583, 1.004, 0.873 and 0.341 MCM from January to May, respectively. The available river flow from January to May obtained from the result of SWAT simulation. The average flow was 0.749, 0.419, 0.829, 0.623 and 0.471 MCM from January to May respectively. From the five months, the demand and the supply showed a gap during February, March and April with 0.59 MCM.

Therefore, in order to solve this problem alternative source of water supply should be studied and integrated water management system should be implemented.

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.

Next Page »