Nile 3

Terraces in Debre Libanos

Terraces - a possible application for spatial analysis and modeling (Photo credit: ILRI/Ewen Le Borgne)

What does hydrological modeling offer when analyzed together with human land and landscape interventions? Where does it lead and how practical can it be? This was the focus of a podcast on spatial analysis and modeling work undertaken mainly in the Nile Basin Development Challenge.

As part of the Challenge Programme for Water and Food, Peter Casier interviewed Catherine Pfeifer, a post-doctoral scientist working for the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

In this podcast (3’42’’), Catherine explains that, as compared with Geographic Information Systems (GIS), spatial analysis and modeling (SAM) work does not limit itself to being a useful tool – it actually focuses on what is planned with the data collected and how to analyze it for what purpose. In addition, it is not just hydrological modeling but it works in combination with emergent understanding of how human systems define and shape their landscape and land interventions. The combination of biophysical and human perspectives adds the richness to the work of the SAM topic working group.

In practice, this work can prove very useful for predicting the impact of a given landscape intervention to it hydrology. Pfeifer mentions the case of terraces where spatial analysis and modeling helps estimate how terraces might impact water flow and the potential benefits to the farmers in the future (improved productivity, reduced erosion etc.).

In other settings too, spatial analysis and modeling should help inform extension services and farmers about the potential benefits and drawbacks of different interventions for water and land management, placing the work of the CPWF SAM group at the centre of the rationale behind the Challenge Programme for Water and Food.

One project of the Nile Basin Development Challenge aims to match land and water ‘practices’ and interventions to the needs of specific landscapes.

In 2011, we experimented with a game – modeled on the ‘happy families’ childrens’ game – to discuss the challenges involved.

In this video, Alan Duncan (ILRI) and other game members explain the results of a game played at the 3rd International Forum on Water and Food in November 2011. While the landscape used was fictional, the story gives ‘real-life’ insights into rainwater management challenges and opportunities in Africa.

The game used a fictional landscape derived from real NBDC sites in Ethiopia – the landscape background and game objectives are described in this presentation.

More on the game and what it can do …

“The score never interested me, only the game.”  Mae West

Playing happy strategies (Photo: Ewen Le Borgne/ILRI)

Playing happy strategies (Photo: Ewen Le Borgne/ILRI)

There is nothing as practical as a good theory. And there is nothing as strategic as a game one might say, judging from the interest that the ‘happy strategies’ game generates among serious researchers. Not surprising perhaps, since the game holds a lot of value to understand the strategic issues behind effective land and water management. And it does so in a playful way.

During the Share Fair organized around the International Forum for Water and Food, the ‘happy strategies’ game was introduced to a group of about 20 participants. In the two-hour session, the participants learned all about the process of the game: First, the group discovers the imaginary site where the action of the game is taking place (through its altitude, slope, rainfall etc.). Second, all participants around the table receive (rainwater management) practice cards indicating the purpose and suitability of that practice for different types of landscapes.

Then the game starts. The basic idea of the game is two-fold:

a)      You can achieve a whole lot more with a group than alone – in practice in the game the participants around the table are working as one team. They have to develop a set of practices and interventions leading to a strategy. A table facilitator ensures that the purpose of the game is understood, that the basic rules are followed and that everyone contributes to the collective solution;

b)      An effective strategy comprises a complex set of interventions that are tailored to each specific location but also interconnected in some way. In the game, there are basically three levels of intervention: The highlands, midlands, lowlands. Perhaps this geophysical set up is informed by the topography of Ethiopia, where the game was created.

Where the power of the game really reveals itself is in the discussions that participants have around the most effective interventions. Looking at the cards they received, the groups discuss the potential of a certain intervention or practice over another, and if they are not happy with the set of cards they have, they can trade some at the central practice bank. They may also come up with innovation cards – on new practices – which they develop as a group during the game. Discussing the pros and cons of each intervention for each level itself sheds light on the benefits of each approach and its potential to be embedded in and reinforce the whole strategy. The arguments and discussions leading to select strategies effectively unveil a picture that is bigger than the sum of the parts.

At the end of the phase, after about an hour and a half, participants introduce their collective strategy to one another. It is possible to spend additional time to cross-review and assess these strategies. This process reveals additional issues and factors that might justify the strategy or shape the understanding of how different practices and interventions make sense together or not.

The game has a lot of potential to generate common understanding around food and water issues, harness collective thinking and devise more effective strategies for water and food interventions. The rich discussions triggered by the game bear the promises of revealing new interventions and practices. Expert inputs can therefore broaden the understanding be put directly into practice in the game (as new intervention cards at the next iteration of the game). We also think it might be something we can take to local communities – for them to identity and discuss different practices and strategies, with each other and with experts.

It was only the second time that the ‘happy strategies’ game was played (it was first played in Bahir Dar in October 2011) and some tweaking is still required: The fictitious site was too closely molded on an Ethiopian landscape and the set of interventions was therefore adapted to that environment. For people unacquainted with Ethiopia, engaging proved challenging and their ideas of strategies and interventions differed substantially.  That said, the simple and entertaining exercise that the game offers – to work on otherwise very complex issues – is worth exploring further and for once the result matters less than the discussion process.

Mae West wouldn’t have put it otherwise.

Photos from the Bahir Dar game

Find all elements of the Happy Strategies game

From 15 to 19 August in Bahir Dar, the Nile BDC project on ‘targeting and scaling out’ joined with partner organization Amhara Regional Agricultural Research Institute (ARARI)  to deliver a Geographical Information System (GIS) training.

Targeted to the needs of agricultural research collaborators in the project, the training covered next to basic GIS knowledge, training on field data collection, use of GPS, data transfer, and creating maps based on hard copy topographic maps (geo-referencing).

The aim of the training was to increase GIS literacy among our partner research centers, so they will be able to use – and contribute to – the GIS tools that the project is developing.

Sixteen participants attended from ARARI, the Oromia Agricultural Research Institute (OARI), and the Ethiopian Water Harvesting Association (EWHA).

The training was based on a ‘learning by doing’ approach in which participants received a short theoretical introduction then explored and learned GIS manipulation using ArcGIS software. They were supported by a team of trainers: Dejene (ARARI), Menenlik  (ARARI), Yeneneneh (IWMI) and Catherine (ILRI/IWMI).

Feedback from the participants was very positive and the organizers are considering how to scale out further such training to meet the growing demand. One element is to develop a pool of trainers – this is likely to be taken up by the Blue Nile Authority.

Story contributed by Catherine Pfeifer

In August 2011, Simon Langan joined the International Water Management Institute as Senior Researcher and Head of Office for the Nile Basin and East Africa. In this role, he quickly took advantage of an opportunity to visit Jeldu, one of the Nile BDC sites.

He reflects on this visit and an earlier one he took to the same location in September 2010:

In September 2010 he took part in the Nile BDC stakeholder launch meeting. He was particularly taken by a number of aspects, one of them being the establishment of ‘Innovation Platforms’.

He also visited the project site at Jeldu – where one of these innovative platforms was being established. The landscape he witnessed was very dry with hill slopes supporting a mixture of  root crops and cereals and the lower slopes dominated by poor looking pastures grazed at medium stocking densities.

Jeldu landscape in the dry season

Two weeks ago in August 2011, he revisited Jeldu to see progress. The weather was different – very wet; and his view was very different –  it was the end of his first week at IWMI!

What a different landscape!

In May the landscape was dry, with some scorched and bare soil and poor pasture on the lower slopes.

By August, the rains had come and a photo of about the same part of the landscape shows a green landscape with a river flowing across the plain.

Jeldu landscape in the wet season

What he essentially picked up from the visit was how it may be possible to use different elements of the landscape to harvest and store water at the landscape scale.

The second part of the visit was to check that the monitoring equipment was working and collecting data.

The data collected will allow us to characterize aspects of the hydrological cycle as rainfall input, sub-surface water levels and river flows.

The aim is to have good baseline information before interventions are devised. Continued spatial and temporal data collection will also allow an assessment of where and how effective the interventions have been.

As part of this monitoring local farmers and members of the community are involved in reading the data an input to helping raise awareness and capacity.

Local farmer helps read a dip well in Jeldu

According to Simon, the combination of  “innovation platforms together with a range of monitoring to characterize both the biophysical and socioeconomic elements of a landscape was excellent progress towards integrated policy development that builds on a robust evidence base.”

Photos credit Simon Langan (IWMI)

The first Partner’s Technical Workshop on the Mapping, Targeting and Scaling out of rainwater interventions in the Ethiopian Highlands project was held March 28-29 2011 on the ILRI Campus in Addis Ababa.

With participants from national partners, the meeting promoted discussion and exchanges on rainwater management related experiences amongst partners. It also provided an opportunity for preliminary identification of agricultural practices relevant for improved targeting of interventions.

During the workshop, discussion was driven by concrete objectives of moving towards a common understanding of rainwater management strategies, in addition to identifying and categorizing currently implemented and potentially effective agricultural practices.

The information gathered throughout the workshop will help define and support a structure to prioritize practices in the Ethiopian Highlands with regards to environmental settings and adoption factors.

Moreover, the discussion contributed to generate a conceptual outline of the spatially explicit decision support tools along with project output products ensuring capacity building beyond the project duration and scope.

Download the meeting report

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