Nile 3


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

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

Small-scale farmers face numerous challenges to invest in natural resource management practices.

The problems are interlinked, with such perverse economic problems as high transaction costs and risk rooted in the lack of comprehensive institutional and organizational services to farmers for risk reduction and incentive creation. Failure to address such a missing link undermines success in natural resource management.

This paper ponders the importance of such a missing link and proposes an analytic framework that explicitly integrates the economics of natural resource management into institutional and organizational analysis. The framework features the instrumentality of integrated institutional and organizational innovation to create opportunities and incentives to small-scale farmers to encourage investment in natural resource management practices.

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In late 2013, the Nile Basin Development Challenge developed eight key messages. Taken together, these messages form a new paradigm that can help further transform policies and programs and better enable poor smallholder farmers to improve their food security, livelihoods and incomes while conserving the natural resource base.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the paper

See the full proceedings of the NBDC Science meeting


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

Most farmers in the Blue Nile Basin depend on unreliable rainfed agriculture and are vulnerable to climate variability. Lack of appropriate rain water management in these areas prevents smallholders from addressing the consequences of flooding during the rainy season and droughts during the dry season. This is in turn a major contributory factor to food insecurity and poverty.

Addressing these issues entails designing, targeting and prioritizing rain water management strategies. In support of this, we developed a generic methodology for out-scaling and prioritizing interventions in agricultural systems. The methodology entails a multi-stage and iterative process of:

  1. diagnosis and selection of options,
  2. characterization of the options,
  3. identification of the recommendation domains and out-scaling potential of these options,
  4. assessing the impacts along different dimensions and on different groups of people.

This paper describes how we applied this methodology in the Blue Nile Basin. We consulted several national stakeholders and identified the ‘best-bet’ options as they are currently being promoted by the SLM program. A next step entailed the description and characterization of the options. Previous knowledge about bio-physical and socio-economic conditions influencing suitability was collated, while field studies were undertaken to increase our understanding of adoption of these options. Matching this characterization data with a spatial database allowed us to map the suitability and feasibility of rainwater management options and strategies. For the last stage, the impact assessment, we identified the most-likely-to-be-adopted strategy for each of the watersheds based on the feasibility maps. We translated this into maps compatible with the SWAT model.

Results from the impact assessment should eventually feed back into the assessment of alternative options. The framework is applicable in many different forms and settings. The steps can be gone through qualitatively in a multi-stakeholder setting while the process can also be done quantitatively. It has a wide applicability beyond the Blue Nile Basin.

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.

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

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

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

See the presentation:

Read the paper

See the full proceedings of the NBDC Science meeting


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

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.

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