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.

One of the objectives of the Nile Basin Development Challenge – registered as one of the outcomes that the program hopes to achieves – is to develop the capacities of various actors, including of future generations of decision-makers, planners and implementers of land and water management policies and interventions.

Over the past, the Nile BDC has hosted the work of various students to develop their theses. Here is a tour of some of these:

Most recently,

Other theses comprise:

For the final year of the Nile BDC, a few more theses and pieces of work can be expected.

Best practices for rainwater management in the Ethiopian Blue Nile are well known. They include many practices related to crop livestock and trees that increase water availability or productivity within the watersheds, such as soil and water conservation, small scale irrigation, fertility management, or livestock management. Nonetheless, adoption of many of these practices is still low, mainly because they have been promoted in locations where they are not suitable, or have not been combined with symbiotic practices that would result into real benefits for farmers.

Rainwater management practices therefore need to be combined at landscape scale to form rainwater management strategies. These strategies fit a specific context that is defined by the bio-physical, socio-economic and institutional constraints. In other terms, best bet rainwater management strategies are location-specific and best practices should be combined differently in different locations.

Suitability analysis

In geographic information systems (GIS), suitability analysis is a procedure that allows to select locations where a given practice is suitable. It is a four-step procedure :

  1. Selecting bio-physical suitability criteria
  2. Selecting the geographical layers that represent the bio-physical suitability criteria
  3. For each criteria, selecting location from the geographical layer where the criteria is met (in other words, creating criterion maps)
  4. Selecting all locations where all criteria are met (overlaying criterion maps) and creating practice suitability maps

For the Nile basin, adoption maps were created, based on economic models. These show the percentage of farmers that are predicted to adopt a practice, given the socio-economic and institutional constraints. When the suitability maps are overlaid with adoption maps, a feasibility map is created that shows how many farmers will likely adopt the technology on a suitable location allowing to prioritize locations with suitable socio-economic conditions.

The Nile Goblet tool

The Nile Goblet tool (also presented here) is an open source GIS tool that allows easily to make suitability and feasibility maps without prior GIS knowledge. It is a very flexible tool that in principle allows to map any practice for any location of the world, and helps consider combinations of practices. A database has been developed which includes all the (freely) available layers for the Nile basin, as well as the suitability thresholds suggested by the “integrated participatory watershed management guidelines” from the Ministry of Water and Energy.

Using the results of the tool on the ground

The maps resulting from the tool can be very inaccurate, due to the scale and inaccuracy of the input data. As such the maps present windows of opportunities based on expert knowledge of what communities could do. Action on the ground should help unlock local knowledge and complete this picture. Implementation should therefore be done in a participatory manner for instance with approaches such as the ‘happy strategies’ game. It can enable a dialogue between communities, non-governmental organizations and local government agencies around rainwater management practices, so as to validate the maps and come up with a feasible plan on the ground.

Conclusion

Offering a tool that allows policy-makers and practitioners to introduce their own or expert knowledge about suitability criteria into a transparent procedure will help them understand and trust the resulting maps, better understand why promotion of rainwater management should be location-specific and move away from today’s blanket approaches. Indeed, the resulting maps can support the elaboration of context-specific policies. In combination with the happy strategies game, the maps also enable expert knowledge to blend into a participatory approach and improve the planning on the ground with communities.

Catherine Pfeifer (credit: ILRI / C. Pfeifer)

Catherine Pfeifer, Post-doc at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), is going back to Switzerland in late December. For the past three years, she was involved in the Nile Basin Development Challenge project (‘N3’) on ‘Targeting and scaling out of rainwater management systems‘.

In this interview she shares some views on her involvement in the NBDC  and particularly her work around gaming solutions for targeting relevant land and water management options.

What range of NBDC activities have you been involved in?

My main activity has been the Nile-goblet tool, including finding the data, setting up the database (linked to our suitability data), developing the concept of the tool. In a way, the Nile-goblet brings everything from the N3 project together: concepts, suitability data and adoption maps. This work aims to explain how to introduce socio-economic constraints in biophysical targeting.

The other main activity has been the Happy Strategies game which helps people assess most suitable land and water management interventions in a given area.

In addition to this, she did a lot of capacity building: A one-week training on geographic information systems (GIS) in 2011 and two training courses more recently this year. Finally there was the learning event last week which introduced the Nile-Goblet tool to members of the NBDC national platform thematic working group on technological innovation.

What has been most successful / what are you most proud of?

The tools: the Nile-goblet and the Happy Strategies game. They are taken up by partners (the Water and Land Resource Centre will further promote and work with those tools. They are considering developing them further in future learning events of the thematic working group on technological innovation. The reason I am proud: our initial objective was to get other people involved in developing these tools and we seem to have achieved this objectives.

Working with partners has generally been successful, despite challenges (see below).

The Spatial Analysis and Modeling topic working group has also been great to work with and quite a success.

What has also been successful is the work in our team: as the GIS specialist, I could take care of the adoption maps and developed a participatory tool. The team was very flexible throughout the process. I had enough freedom to do the things the way I thought they should work out.

What has been most challenging? Why?

Working with partners has been challenging at times, but we overcame challenges.

The other challenge was the integration with other NBDC projects. The program aimed to work in an interdisciplinary manner but it hasn’t always worked, perhaps because of the the way the project was set up. I wonder if we really had the space to develop such interdisciplinary work. At any rate we haven’t really worked together across teams as much as we could have. Every team worked in its interdisciplinary approach but this didn’t extend across projects. We missed opportunities to think together about how outputs could have been developed.

What lessons learned will you use or build upon (from your NBDC work) in your next job?

I want to keep working on integrating socio-economic constraints in spatial models. There is scope to understand how this integration works much better. I learned a lot about it in the past two years but there’s a lot of space for improvement still.

What I also really learned was how important it is to involve farmers and mix expert and local knowledge. For example we can do this geographic targeting but it will never be perfect. We need a space to interact, validate and learn and adjust, which is what we tried to offer with the Happy Strategies game. That integration is something where the CGIAR is very strong.

I also learned to not be scared, to trust that things will work out in the end somehow…  Three years ago, I would have been scared to talk to farmers and now I’m ready for it any time.

Any advices to the NBDC for the final year?

  • Get the right people involved at the right moment. E.g. the learning event was small but it brought together interested people and they will take it up.
  • Move away from trying at all costs to bring the diversity of the NBDC together. Think also about bringing similar people together to take over the work. Perhaps in our innovation platforms we would do well to reduce the diversity and invest in people that will take things up.
  • Mind the fatigue of our partners. Only invite partners that can really benefit from the events we organize. Otherwise there is a risk of a lot of talking and nothing much happening. And some partners are investing precious time and money in the events we organize, we need to remember that when planning our meetings.
  • Don’t get lost in interdisciplinarity: Try to link the NBDC teams and people but don’t try to force them to work together. There is a lot of good work that could be used at different scales and for different people. Not everything needs to be integrated.
  • If you really want to integrate the NBDC work, develop a Google layer and look seriously into collecting geo-coordinates for each NBDC output, so it can be shown on Google Earth and linked to actual NBDC documents. This could be the easiest way for NBDC to integrate our work. If I were to stay another year I would work on that and try to develop a public layer on Google Earth or a KML file (for Google Earth) which people can download, click on and display the NBDC outputs.

How do you look back at the whole experience?

I had a great time. I loved my job. I loved the fact that my job was free, despite the occasional tensions. I’m happy to see it finish nicely.

Catherine Pfeifer regularly blogged about her NBDC work on her own blog: http://catherinepfeifer.blogspot.com/

Discover the Nile-Goblet tool: http://nilebdc.wikispaces.com/Nile+Goblet+tool+and+training

Discover and use the Happy Strategies game: http://happystrategies.wikispaces.com/

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