Nile 2


The Nile Basin Development Challenge (NBDC) program established three local Innovation Platforms (LIPs) in Jeldu, Diga and Fogera Woredas and these have been addressing different specific issues around Rainwater Management. Diga is one of seventeen woredas of East Wollega zone of Oromia state, located close to Nekemte, the zonal capital of east Wollega. It features a mixed crop-livestock farming system and is characterized by two agro-ecologies: midland and lowland. Natural vegetation is comparatively widespread, although deforestation and land degradation are increasingly prevalent.

Diga Kebeles base map, Ethiopia

Diga Kebeles base map, Ethiopia

As part of the NBDC research for development interventions, the Diga Innovation Platform (IP) was initiated in July 2011. The platform consisted of key local partners including the Woreda administration, experts from the Bureau of Agriculture, development agents, farmer representatives, researchers from research institutes and the university as well as non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

In March 2012 a meeting was held to identify the main issues/agendas that the IP would work on. Land degradation was identified as a major issue by all stakeholders, as well as termite infestation.

Platform members agreed that the main objectives of the IP were to find ways to address land degradation through improved management of land and water, to tackle termite infestation and rehabilitate the degraded landscape.

Forage development was identified as an entry point to address the prevailing livestock feed shortage, degraded land and severity of termite infestation. Following this meeting a technical team representing various partners’ institution was formed and a local innovation fund was introduced to provide seed money to initiate interventions to address the prioritized issues.

Following identification of forage development as an entry point, backyard, on-farm and communal land forage development was piloted in 2012 at Dapo and Denbi villages of Arjo Kebele following the supply of inputs and provision of training to 40 men and women farmers selected from the two villages.

Farming landscape in Diga (Photo credit: ILRI / Gerba Leta)

Farming landscape in Diga (Photo credit: ILRI / Gerba Leta)

Forage development was demonstrated on about four hectares of land. Various grass species including Rhodes grass (Chloris gayana), Napier grass (Pennistum purpureum) and Chomo grass (Bracharia humidicola), and multipurpose trees such as Sesbania sesban and Leucaena leucocephala were grown.

However, the late supply of inputs severely affected the performance of the fodder for the season. Despite the late planting, the pilot interventions created good ground for sharing the information about the fodder through farmer field days.

Researchers and platform members observed that the interventions had a significant positive influence on both direct and indirect beneficiaries. Community involved in developing bylaws for communal land management and the bylaws got approval from woreda line offices and then fed back to the community. However, the forage development on common land undertaken in the first year was largely unsuccessful due to conflict of interest among the community members. The main reason for lack of consent in Diga case is lack of communal land in reality. The so called communal land was already appropriated by different individuals.

Many lessons were drawn from the first season and good measures were taken to improve IP activities and interventions. In 2013 the central IP facilitation role – previously ensured by researchers from the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) – was devolved to local partners in order to ensure longer-term sustainability of the platform.

An agreement was made with Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus (EECMY) – Development and Social Services Commission (DASSC), as a local NGO, to play a leading role of coordination, managing the innovation fund, facilitation and reporting. Representatives of key institutions were involved as Technical Group members of the IP, in order to support the on-going fodder interventions.

The handing over of facilitation was an important step in enhancing the role and ownership of local partners. This had a positive impact on budget delivery, and as a result Participatory Action Planning exercises, new site selection, input supply and training of farmers were conducted in a timely fashion. In addition the technical group members were offered various capacity buildings opportunities by ILRI/IWMI researchers, notably training on IP facilitation, participatory research approaches, farmer needs assessment, and the Feed Assessment Tool (FEAST). These opportunities have helped the technical team build their facilitation, research, execution and mentoring capacity.

Reflection meeting with community after field visit at Dembi village (Diga) - The local IP's action research site (Photo credit: ILRI / Gerba Leta)

Reflection meeting with community after field visit at Dembi village (Diga) – The local innovation platform’s action research site (photo credit: ILRI/Gerba Leta).

The backstopping services from IWMI/ILRI  researchers also improved the technical group’s’ approaches to training delivery for the farmers. As a result, the farmers’ interest to engage and their implementation capacity have improved immensely. The number of villages increased from 2 to 3, participant farmers rose from 40 to 60 and the size of land allocated to forage development went from 4 hectares to over 11 hectares. Moreover, access to quality seed, and quantity of planting materials and fertilizer also increased.

As a result of the innovation fund and the generous supply of seed from Bako ARC, the IP has also introduced two additional fodder species, Desho grass (Pennisetum pedicellatum) and Desmodium (Desmodium uncinatum) to the district. Desho grass is well developed in the Jeldu site (one of the NBDC sites) and was introduced to Diga through a capacity-building and experience-sharing event organized for IP members from the three NBDC sites at the ILRI campus.

As well as supplying feed for livestock both grasses contribute to the control of soil erosion and to improve soil fertility and are therefore promising resources for the woreda’s future endeavours in livestock production and land management.

Unfortunately over the two years of interventions, attempts to cultivate fodder on communal lands did not succeed. However, on-farm fodder development integrated with soil and water management practices was enthusiastically adopted by participating farmers. They implemented a combination of soil bunds and cut-off drains as part of their fodder plots, in addition to planting multipurpose tree species as buffers and use of Napier grass and other multi-purpose trees to stabilize soil bunds.

The income that farmers have generated from the sale of forage seed (e.g. a farmer called Lata Tuge sold for ETB 1000 in 2012) as well as the ability to store feed for the dry season have had significant effects on farmer livelihoods. In addition, the fodder development has shown some initial impact on land cover which indicates the potential role of fodder in restoring degraded lands.

Another beneficial effect is the mitigation of termite infestation, through the cultivation of termite resistant fodder species. The benefits accrued from these interventions are beyond monetary value and offer a range of incentives which ensure the sustainability of the practices in the longer-term. However, farmers are also looking to the future and requesting further support to improve livestock management, access to market and the processing of livestock products.

These achievements have received appreciation from other farmers, who have been directly and indirectly involved, as well as zonal and woreda officials. The interventions have been commended by local government who recognize that fodder development and soil and water management are priority issues. As a result the Diga IP intervention sites have not only become demonstration sites for farmers and government line offices but also for University students.

During 2013 a series of field days have been organized by the woreda livestock agency and IP members to show-case the interventions to partners. Participants were astonished by the success and praised the IPs contribution. The Woreda Livestock Agency Head said there had been a “remarkable change with little investment” and while addressing the 8th IP meeting the Woreda Administrator added that the interventions were a “surprising outcome”. In addition, the Diga Livestock Resource, Health and Market Agency was prized by East Wollega Zone Administration as the number one office among seventeen districts in working to achieve its annual goal, largely due to the success of the innovation platform.

Nile Basin Development Challenge experience in Ethiopia shows that natural resource management (NRM) requires multi-sector integration and the strong involvement of farmers to identify problems and implement solutions. However, research shows there is a ‘disconnect’ between farmers and decision makers in their perceptions of NRM problems and ideas for solutions.

Participatory tools – such as ‘WAT-A-GAME‘ that can be used to encourage better communication and joint understanding among different actors are essential for successful planning processes. NBDC researchers, in collaboration with the AfroMaison project and local partners, have been experimenting with the WAT-A-GAME tool in Fogera, Ethiopia. 

Learning event

Mulugeta Lemenih facilitates the WAT-A-GAME learning event (Photo credit: ILRI / Apollo Habtamu)

Mulugeta Lemenih facilitates the WAT-A-GAME learning event (Photo credit: ILRI / Apollo Habtamu)

In February 2013 a ‘learning event’ was organized to present the tool and experiences from Fogera woreda to an expert group of regional and national partners. The participants included representatives from the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ethiopian Insitutue of Agricultural Research, OXFAM- African Climate Change Resilience Alliance, Forum for Environment Ethiopia, Ethio Wetlands and Natural Resources Association, Horn of Africa Regional Environment Centre, Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus, Ethiopian Rainwater Harvesting Association, World Vision Ethiopia, Hundee-Oromo Grassroots Development Initiative, Fogera Woreda Livestock Agency and SOS Sahel Ethiopia.  The aim of the event was to discuss the tool and its potential use in supporting landscape scale strategy development for integrated NRM at a larger scale. Participants played the game using two similar game boards designed for the Fogera landscape. Seven volunteer participants from each group represented the farmers living in the highland, mid-land and wetland areas and also a landless farmer.

After the learning event, participants raised many questions:

  • Was the tool new?
  • Does ‘landscape’ mean the same as ‘watershed’?
  • Were users surveyed before and after they played the game?
  • What time framework is involved in playing the game?
  • Participants gave constructive feedback on the game itself and how to make it useful for other organizations and experts working in the area of NRM.

All agreed on the need to simplify the tool and called for further research to investigate ways in which the tool could be used to complement current government approaches towards watershed management. They also suggested that community level representatives should be grouped by gender and that land management strategies should be developed separately to ensure that women’s views are recognized.

More generally, playing the game stimulated a discussion around different approaches towards integrated planning of NRM used in Ethiopia. It seems that most of the approaches in the past lacked genuine community participation and they failed to create a sense of ownership. At the learning event it was agreed that the WAG tool could usefully complement ongoing watershed management planning and implementation.

Participants also felt that the role playing element would help communities better understand their problems, from household to landscape levels, and give them an opportunity to identify potential solutions from their own perspectives. The game also presents an opportunity for decision makers to better understand the challenges facing communities in the implementation of NRM interventions.

Some participants showed interest in taking and adapting the tool to their own organizations and programs. However, a simple set of guidelines is needed to explain how to design the game board for a specific landscape and then to use the game effectively to reflect and address different actors’ views. This will help the scaling up of the tool by other organizations. In-depth training is also needed for organizations that are interested to use it in their project sites with necessary documents and materials.

See this presentation about using WAT-A-GAME for participatory NRM planning in Fogera – presented at the NBDC science meeting in July 2013:

Read the WAT-A-GAME brief

The NBDC recently organized a capacity building workshop (8-10 May 2013) to address feed resource needs identified by local NBDC partners and beneficiaries.

Innovation platforms (IP) established by the Nile Basin Development Challenge Program (NBDC) have identified fodder as an important intervention for soil and water conservation efforts in the Blue Nile Basin. In all three NBDC sites (Diga, Fogera, Jeldu) platforms decided to introduce fodder varieties to improve the supply of livestock feed, control gazing and support current government soil and water conservation interventions.  IP members began piloting fodder interventions during 2012. Improved forages were chosen by experts to suit local agro-ecologies: rhodes grass and elephant grass in Diga, desho grass, elephant grass and tree lucerne in Jeldu and elephant grass, vetch and sesbania in Fogera. Different approaches were applied in each to explore factors influencing the adoption and effectiveness of interventions:

  • Backyard fodder development by individuals at household level;
  • Planting of fodder on SWC structures;
  • Enclosure of communal grazing areas through collective action. In the first year 40 farmers participated in Diga, 96 in Jeldu and 13 in Fogera.

After the first year of pilot interventions the innovation platform members evaluated their activities and identified some gaps in knowledge and skills related to the design of fodder interventions. To assist this process, NBDC researchers organized a capacity building workshop (8-10 May 2013) to train local partners in the use of tools that would enable the assessment of the existing feed situation in their area, current livestock management practices and farmer needs. This was followed by practical fieldwork so that IP members could experience implementing the tools first-hand.

The tools

FEAST training - group picture The Feed Assessment Tool (FEAST) which was developed by ILRI’s Alan Duncan and colleagues is a systematic method to assess local feed resource availability and use. It helps in the design of intervention strategies aiming to optimize feed utilization and animal production. It comprises two parts: PRA part which aids group discussion with groups of farmers and individual questionnaire interview part which captures information at house hold level.

The Farmers’ Need Assessment (FNA) tool is complementary to the FEAST and helps list the possible existing problems/needs and prioritizing by pair-wise ranking.

The combined FEAST and FNA produces complementing information which can be used to identify possible interventions.

The training

FEAST CD training 2 Fifteen innovation platform technical group members from the three NBDC sites attended the three day training at Beshale Hotel in Addis Ababa. These included representatives of local research institutions, universities, NGOs and experts from woreda agricultural offices.

The training was given by Professor Adugna Tolera of Hawassa University who has provided similar training to stakeholders in other ILRI projects, and Ato Adissu Mulugeta, a private consultant who introduced the data entry software. ILRI-NBDC staff (Zelalem Lema, Gerba Leta, Tsehay Regassa and Aberra Adie) assisted the training in facilitating group works and field survey exercises.  Zelalem Lema led the overall facilitation process during the training period. Beth Cullen (ILRI) who coordinated the training event made the opening speech on the first day and emphasized the importance of the training to assist the ongoing action research at the NBDC sites.  Kindu Mekonnen (ILRI) made technical contributions to the FNA format development and other issues discussed during the training.

The first day of the training oriented the participants about the background and contents of the tools, including familiarization with the software. Holeta Agricultural Research Centre facilitated the practical field testing of the tools which included a data collection exercise with farmers in the village of Wolmera Woreda in the Holeta area. During the third day the trainees practiced data entry and reporting using software.

FEAST CD training3 During the reflection session at the end of the training, the participants appreciated the usefulness and user-friendliness of the tools.  Finally, the trainees expressed their ambition to implement the knowledge they acquired during the training and generate baseline information to contribute to the action research at their respective sites. They soon developed an action plan to collect and analyze data and produce a report in order to gather information before the commencement of the cropping season.

The aim will be to build the local research capacity of key IP members and to use the results to tailor the innovation platform pilot fodder interventions to the local needs and situations.

By Aberra Adie, Beth Cullen and Zelalem Lema

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

To strengthen the planning and implementation of rainwater management strategies at local level, the NBDC has supported the establishment of Innovation Platforms (IPs) in its three study sites: Jeldu, Diga and Fogera woredas. IPs bring together local stakeholders with an interest in rain water management (RWM) and aim to facilitate a collaborative approach to RWM.

The NBDC innovation platforms aim to build on existing local capacities and knowledge, link woreda level actors with external support and research, to develop new, locally-appropriate solutions to RWM challenges, as well as building the conditions for long-term collaborative relationships.

Devolution of platform facilitation

Backyard fodder development with farmers in Limbichoch village (Photo credit: ILRI)

Backyard fodder development with farmers in Limbichoch village (Photo credit: ILRI)

The NBDC platforms were initially established and facilitated by researchers from the  International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI). After one year of platform activities, due to concerns about platform sustainability, a decision was taken to devolve platform facilitation to local institutions.

Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) were identified to play this role in each of the sites because of their relative flexibility in terms of budget and human resource utilization: HUNDEE- Oromo Grassroots Development Initiative at Jeldu, Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus (EECMY) at Diga and Ethio-Wetlands and Natural Resources Association (EWNRA) at Fogera.

A partnership agreement was signed with each of the NGOs, thereby transferring responsibility for the facilitation of regular IP meetings and management of ‘Innovation Funds’ for the platform pilot interventions.

As part of the agreement, NGO facilitators were required to work closely with IP Technical Group (TG) members to design the pilot interventions, engage in community capacity building and assist with regular IP activities and financial reporting.

Capacity building

NBDC researchers continued to observe the innovation platforms after responsibilities had been devolved and noticed some problems including a lack of understanding about the platform concept among key partners, poor facilitation skills, lack of clarity on the roles of each TG members and lack of capacity to conduct participatory action research with farmers.

As a result, a training event was arranged from 18 to 20 March 2013 at the ILRI campus in Addis Ababa. Five members of the IP technical working groups from each site, as well as representatives from the NGO head office, were invited to attend. The aim of the workshop was to develop a clear understanding of the aims and objectives of the innovation platforms among the key actors, to evaluate the activities undertaken in the previous year, to plan activities for 2013 and to provide training on IP facilitation and action research methodologies. The trainers included an IP member from Jeldu, representing Holeta Agricultural Research Centre, and ILRI Researchers.

In addition to enhancing the skills of local partners, the training was also an opportunity to bring platform members from the three sites together in an environment where they could share their experiences. Participants from each platform were encouraged to reflect on the successes and the challenges they had encountered in order to learn from one another.

On the third day participants went on a field visit to the Jeldu area, which included a visit to a Farmer Research Group established by Holetta Agricultural Research Center. The field day helped the trainees to understand the processes involved in consulting and working together with farmers and to see first-hand the contribution that participatory approaches can make to pilot projects in their respective areas. They also got a chance to visit the research centre’s fodder demonstration sites and improved and local livestock breeds at the breeding center.

Participant responses

Local partners (research centers and universities) at the training (Photo credit: ILRI/Meron Mulatu)

Local partners (research centers and universities) at the training (Photo credit: ILRI/Meron Mulatu)

At the end of the event the participants were given the chance to reflect on the training and give their comments and feedback. All of the participants found the topics of the training interesting and pertinent for both the IP intervention work as well as their day-to-day activities.

They particularly appreciated the training on participatory approaches, and the emphasis on methods and tools for enabling farmers to identify problems and solutions which was new for the majority of the participants.

They also enjoyed visiting the Farmer Research Group established by Holetta. The chance to share experiences with other innovation platform members was valuable and they learned lessons that they will use in the next round of pilot interventions.

The roles of the TG members were clearly developed in a collaborative effort between all of the participants; this was an important step in clearly identifying roles and responsibilities for the ongoing IP activities. Overall the participants expressed their gratitude for the training and requested NBDC researchers to organize similar events focusing on capacity building for the future.

Beth Cullen and Zelalem Lema

The CGIAR Challenge Program on Water and Food just published a new report from the Nile Basin setting out ways to enhance rainwater management (RWM) development processes.

In Ethiopia, considerable potential exists to enhance food production and rural livelihoods through better rainwater management – interventions which enable smallholder farmers to increase agricultural production – focusing on livestock, trees, fish as well as crops – by making better use of available rainwater while sustaining the natural resource base (water and soils) in rainfed farming systems.

Ethiopia has invested extensively in RWM interventions, in particular soil and water conservation and afforestation, over the last 40 years, but often with disappointing impact, for multiple reasons. Given this limited success in natural resource conservation, a new approach is clearly needed, but what should it be?

This report highlighted various livelihood issues that need to be considered if RWM activities are to be successful; it concludes with six recommendations:

  1. Shift the focus of targets from outputs to outcomes;
  2. Enhance monitoring and evidence collection on RWM with a focus on impact and sustainability;
  3. Revitalize and capitalize on the development agent system;
  4. Strengthen local institutions’ roles in natural resource management;
  5. Move towards more meaningful participation;
  6. Open lines of communication to foster innovation capacity.

Download the report

2013 is the final year for the Nile Basin Development Challenge (NBDC). On 20 and 21 February 2013, the NBDC convened a meeting of the  National Land and Water Management Platform to review progress and directions for the coming phase.

Group photo: NBDC / Land and Water Management National Platform Meeting 4 (Credit: ILRI/Zerihun Sewunet)

Group photo: NBDC / Land and Water Management National Platform Meeting 4 (Credit: ILRI/Zerihun Sewunet)

The workshop reflected on past work – approaches developed, research findings, key messages – in order to prioritize future interventions. Over 60 participants from partner organizations and other governmental, research and non-governmental institutions participated to the two-day workshop.

After an introduction to the NBDC timeline, some key messages compiled by project staff were presented and discussed. A series of NBDC approaches, methods or areas of work were introduced later in the day: innovation platforms and recent insights, modeling, Wat-A-Game, Happy Strategies game, GIS, Goblet tool and suitability maps, participatory hydrological monitoring, digital stories and participatory video, and local planning processes.

The participants formed groups to discuss the relevance of the messages they heard and to identify priority activities to build upon NBDC work and embed it in organizational and individual practices. A special policy session also looked at possible contributions of the NBDC to priority development challnges in Ethiopia.

At the end of the workshop, the Nile basin leaders Simon Langan and Alan Duncan reflected on the feedback received and the directions that the NBDC will take. Key directions include: repackaging research in accessible ways for farmers, policy-makers and other organizations; focusing on capacity development; finding practical ways to bring farmers’ and scientists’ voices together in crafting common approaches and discourse; addressing the regional gaps between local level work and national level engagement; and joining forces with existing initiatives that can reinforce the messages of the NBDC such as the Sustainable Land Management program.

Read the notes of the meeting.

Discover pictures from the event.

Digital storytelling refers to short films composed of digitized still and moving images, sound and text. This is a highly effective way of presenting compelling stories in an engaging format. Digital stories can be created by people everywhere, on any subject and shared electronically.

In November 2012 ILRI research staff attended a digital story workshop run by UK-based trainers Tracy Pallant and Katrina Kirkwood. The training was organized by Beth Cullen, Kindu Mekonnen and Alan Duncan as part of a joint project between UNEP, ILRI and Wollo University titled “Enhancing communities’ adaptive capacity to climate-change induced water scarcity in drought-prone hotspots of the Blue Nile basin, Ethiopia” working in the Kabe watershed, south Wollo.

The training was attended by UNEP project members Kindu Mekonnen and Derbew Kefyalew. They were joined by Aberra Adie, Zelalem Lemma and Gerba Leta, involved in the Nile Basin Development Challenge (NBDC) project, and Zerihun Sewunet, a member of the ILRI Knowledge Management and Information Services (KMIS) team.

The training focused on identifying suitable stories, interview techniques, audio recording, basic photography skills, audio and visual editing and web-based publication. Participants used digital material collected from the Kabe watershed to document lessons and experiences from the project and spent a day in Jeldu collecting stories from farmers involved with the NBDC innovation platform work.

ILRI staff who received the training will now be able to use digital storytelling techniques to document and communicate research processes as well as outcomes. It is hoped that the use of digital stories will enable ILRI to communicate research work to a range of audiences in an accessible and creative format.

ILRI researchers are also experimenting with the use of digital stories for participatory monitoring and evaluation. Led by Beth Cullen, a post-doctoral scientist specializing in participatory research methods, cameras have been handed out to community members and development agents in three NBDC sites: Diga, Jeldu and Fogera. The aim is to use participatory photography to monitor the progress of pilot interventions planned by local level innovation platforms. ILRI research staff will work with innovation platform members to create digital stories using their photographs and interviews to capture experiences and lessons learned. These stories will be used to share knowledge between the three sites, between local and national actors and between farmers and researchers.

Some example stories produced during the training can be seen here:

Farmers use Desho grass to feed livestock in the Ethiopian dry season:

Growing Desho grass to feed livestock in the Ethiopian Highlands:

See more of these films from ILRI

The Nile Basin Development Challenge (NBDC) has identified several challenges to effective planning and implementation of rainwater management (RWM) interventions in its three sites, (Jeldu, Diga and Fogera) located in the Blue Nile Basin of Ethiopia. Challenges include poor coordination and communication between actors, lack of bottom-up planning and insufficient community participation.

Local level innovation platforms have been established in each site an attempt to work with a range of stakeholders to address these issues. So far, innovation platform members have identified common RWM issues and have designed pilot interventions at a micro catchment scale. However, we need to draw on the lessons learned to design more effective strategies at a larger scale.

Zelalem Lemma (ILRI) introduces the WAT-A-GAME workshop

In December 2012, researchers from AfroMaison and the Nile Basin Development Challenge co-organized a workshop in Fogera to develop landscape scale strategies for improved rainwater management. The workshop was organized by Mulugeta Lemenih, Beth Cullen, Zelalem Lema and Aberra Adie with assistance from Geraldine Abrami and Emeline Hassenforder.

The aim of the workshop was to use WAT-A-GAME (WAG), a participatory planning tool, as the starting point for looking at RWM issues at a landscape scale.

WAT-A-GAME is an open toolkit developed by IRSTEA and CIRAD which enables participants to design and run simulations for water management, policy design and education. It aims to show how water moves within a landscape, how it is used, polluted, transformed and shared by actors. Using WAG, participants can simulate various actions or strategies and the resulting impact on their household economy, their wellbeing, labor, and the surrounding ecosystem. New policies can also be invented and tested. It can be adapted to individual cases, various land and water management issues and different scales. WAG has been designed to be used by a range of stakeholders, including farmers, scientists, experts, administrators and policy makers. In this workshop WAG was used to model the Fogera catchment and simulate key RWM issues including water availability, run-off, soil erosion and the impact of different land-use practices.

Aberra Adie (ILRI) introduces the WAT-A-GAME to farmers

Research conducted by NBDC scientists has highlighted a disconnect between farmers and decision makers in terms of perceptions about NRM problems and ideas for solutions.

This is exacerbated by a lack of communication and understanding between the different actors. In order to highlight these differences participants were separated into two groups of 28 community representatives and 22 decision makers and experts.

For the first two days these groups worked separately to identify and prioritize key issues, identify technical, institutional and policy interventions to address these issues and to incorporate these actions into an integrated strategy.

Actions required to address rain water management issues are prioritized by farmers

On the third day, the two groups presented their strategies to one another. This led to knowledge sharing and constructive dialogue about similarities and differences between the strategies, the reasons for this and how they can be merged. The role-playing exercises and subsequent discussions raised awareness about upstream and downstream linkages and landscape interconnectedness. Regional and district staff learned about farmers’ knowledge and priorities, and vice versa.

This was the first in a series of workshops, the next step will be to test strategies developed during the first workshop and work with stakeholders to create an integrated and feasible strategy for the Fogera area that can potentially be implemented. It is hoped that this process will be replicated in the two other NBDC sites over the coming year. The process will be used to share experiences and knowledge between the three sites, as well as between local and national platforms in an attempt to inform policy.

See more photos

Community members from Gebugesa village using grazing land for social gathering

As part of the Nile Basin Development Challenge, local Innovation Platforms (IP) have been formed in three sites in the Blue Nile Basin of Ethiopia to improve approaches to rain water management. It is hoped that local level platforms will enable actors to exchange knowledge, promote innovation capacity and participate in joint action. To date, platform members have worked together, facilitated by ILRI/IWMI researchers, to identify common rainwater management (RWM) issues and to design pilot interventions to address these issues. Care has been taken to ensure that the selected issues represent community concerns as well as the challenges prioritized by decision makers.

Emerging from the discussions, soil erosion was identified as a major problem in Jeldu and Diga, while unrestricted livestock grazing was ranked as a priority in Fogera. A combination of backyard forage development and improved management of communal grazing lands were identified as strategies to address problems of feed shortage and soil degradation in all three sites. Action research sites were then established to pilot these interventions and generate greater understanding of the challenges faced by both farmers and decision makers during the planning and implementation of such interventions.

In August 2012, members of the Fogera Innovation Platform began working with community members in Gebugesa village within the Mizwa river catchment area. Gebugesa village has 21 households which depend on a nearby communal grazing area to meet their fodder needs. IP members decided to target this area with interventions to improve pasture quality and quantity in an attempt to encourage community members to decrease the practice of unrestricted grazing.

A 3.5 hectare area was designated for enclosure and improved fodder plants were introduced. IP members designated a technical group to be responsible for site selection, community engagement and awareness creation and the acquisition of fodder plants.

Shortly after activities began it was reported that farmers had uprooted the fodder plants they themselves had planted. Members of the technical group reported the problem to researchers from ILRI/IWMI who then visited the site in order to facilitate a consultation process with farmers and IP members. The subsequent discussions generated valuable lessons.

Community members from Gebugesa village acknowledged problems with severe feed shortages. Although there are diverse animal feed sources available in the area, namely crop residues, grazing land and woodland, amounts are not sufficient to meet local demand. Although this is a recognized problem, community members were resistant to enclosing communal grazing land for a variety of reasons, none of which were considered by the platform members when designing the interventions. The designated grazing area is an open space accessible by the households living around it. This space is used for a variety of community gatherings, including weddings and funerals, and as such plays an important role in bringing people together and in the maintenance of key social networks.

The grazing area is also used in a variety of ways by different community members. Communal grazing areas are particularly important for households without livestock who rely on these areas for dung collection. Due to the lack of alternative fuel sources, dung makes a vital contribution to local livelihoods. Enclosing grazing areas and keeping livestock at home denies vulnerable members of the community access to this resource. Women also expressed concerns about the impact that these changes could have on their children’s safety. In rural areas of Ethiopia it is often the responsibility of children to look after livestock. Women felt that their children would be safer managing livestock on nearby grazing lands as it is easy for them to follow their movements whilst they are engaged in other farm activities. Many women from the community were therefore reluctant to engage with the proposed interventions.

Community members from Limbichoch village discuss enclosure of grazing land with ILRI researcher

Lack of understanding about the multiple functions that these communal areas serve ultimately undermined the efforts made by the platform members. This serves to highlight a fundamental disconnect between the perspectives of community members and decision makers who are often removed from the day-to-day realities of rural life, and emphasizes the need for greater community participation in the design and implementation of such interventions.

It should also be highlighted that the grazing enclosure and associated fodder development interventions initiated by the innovation platform had never been attempted in this particular area. Due to the precarious nature of many subsistence farmer livelihoods and the subsequent focus on food security, farmers are often suspicious about new technologies or innovations unless they see concrete evidence of their impact. This is understandable as any change to tried-and-tested traditional practices and land management strategies entails a degree of risk for farmers.

With this in mind, platform members planned to engage farmers in experience sharing visits to areas where alternative management of grazing areas have successfully been introduced. However, due to a number of constraints this was not achieved and as a result farmers lost confidence in the initiative. A number of farmers also expressed a fear that the platform interventions were part of a hidden agenda to take land for a government afforestation program.

Although the pilot interventions initiated in Gebugesa village were largely unsuccessful the lessons generated have been invaluable for those involved. NBDC researchers working with the platform members were aware of the differences in perspectives between farmers and local experts and administrators. Apprehension about the lack of community voice in the Fogera platform led to a period of community engagement involving the use of participatory video. Videos made by community members expressing some of the issues highlighted above were screened to members of the innovation platform but did not seem to inform the design of the pilot interventions. This is in many ways unsurprising since certain attitudes and ways of interacting are so firmly entrenched that alternatives cannot simply be told but must be experienced by the actors concerned in order for meaningful change to take place.

Backyard fodder development with farmers in Limbichoch village

Following the problems with the Gebugesa intervention site, NBDC researchers have worked with members of the innovation platform to review their efforts and synthesize the lessons learned. After discussions with Gebugesa community members the decision was taken to establish a second site in a neighbouring area.

Although this was in many ways disappointing it was essential that the wishes of community members were respected. Work began in July to establish a second site in Limbichoch village. This time there was a more concerted effort to involve the community in selecting the intervention area. Since then a 3.75 hectare area has been enclosed and selected community members have begun backyard fodder development, initial reactions have been positive.

NBDC researchers and IP members are working hard to ensure that bylaws are drafted with community members in the second site to encourage a sense of ownership and to ensure that the interventions take into account community concerns and meet the needs of different social groups.

Farmers and IP members planting improved forage on grazing land in Limbichoch village

Work is also being done to share lessons between farmers in the two sites. This will be important for the success of these interventions at a larger scale.

Participating farmers are also being given training on how to maintain the enclosed area, how to integrate improved forage plants, and techniques for collectively managing and utilizing the fodder produced.

It is hoped that this training will be incorporated with farmers’ traditional knowledge and practices, leading to strengthened capacity, improved livestock productivity and in the long term better land and water management.

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