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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 first key message from the Nile Basin Development Challenge is to ’empower local communities and develop their leadership capacities to achieve long-term benefits and sustainable outcomes.’ Participatory design and planning on rainwater management interventions ensures key issues are addressed, the right pilot interventions are taking place and provides long term solutions with the commitment of everyone.

See the overall digital story ‘An integrated watershed rainwater management paradigm for Ethiopia: Key messages from the NBDC‘.

Download the brief covering the full set of key messages.

Read the full technical report “A new integrated watershed rainwater management paradigm for Ethiopia: Key messages from the Nile Basin Development Challenge, 2009–2013


This digital story was produced to communicate the key messages resulting from the Nile Basin Development Challenge (NBDC). The Nile BDC aimed to improve the livelihoods of farmers in the Ethiopian highlands through land and water management and was funded by the Challenge Program for Water and Food. The eight key messages constitute a ‘new integrated watershed rainwater management paradigm’ and are based on the outputs and outcomes of trans-disciplinary scientific research for development.

This study was conducted in Mizewa watershed which is located in Blue Nile Basin (BNB) to estimate on-site financial cost of erosion in terms of yield reduction taking maize as representative crop. For this purpose, discharge measurement and runoff sampling was made during the rainy season of 2011 at the outlet of three sub watersheds within Mizewa catchment; lower Mizewa (MZ0), Upper Mizewa (MZ1) and Gindenewur (GN0).

The samples were filtered to separate the sediment which was subsampled for determination of suspended sediment concentration (SSC), sediment fixed NO3 -, NH4 + and available phosphorous (P) contents. The filtered water was used to assess dissolved nitrate and dissolved phosphate. The on-site financial cost of erosion was estimated based on productivity change approach (PCA) focusing on available NP losses.

The result revealed that the SSC and its NP content varied in space and time, in which higher and lower SSC occurred towards the beginning and end of the rainy season, respectively. The mean seasonal discharge was found to be 2.12±0.75, 1.49±0.52 and 0.57±0.20 m3/ sec at MZ0, MZ1 and GN0 stations in that order while the corresponding sediment concentration was 510±370 mg/l, 230±190 mg/l and 370±220 mg/l. This led to the total suspended sediment loss (SSL) of 4 ton/ha/year, 2 ton/ha/year and 3 ton/ha/year from the respective subwatersheds. The on-site financial cost due to N and P lost associated with SSL was estimated to be USD 200/ha, USD 186/ha and USD 227/ha from MZ0, MZ1 and GN0 watersheds, respectively.

The study revealed that the economic impacts of soil erosion which is variable based on the characteristics of land resources and management practices are immense and deserve due attention. The result may help in sensitizing both farmers and decision-makers about the risk of soil erosion and in targeting management practices to overcome the challenges.

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.

A sourcebook from the CGIAR Challenge Program on Water and Food, entitled ‘Addressing Water, Food and Poverty Problems Together—Methods, Tools and Lessons’ presents more than 50 articles on how to improve ecological and social resilience. One of the articles looks at ‘strategies for increasing Livestock Water Productivity in the Blue Nile Basin‘.

The livestock sector is socially and politically very significant in developing countries because it provides food and income for one billion of the world’s poor, especially in dry areas, where livestock keeping is often the only source of livelihoods. Livestock keeping is a major component of agricultural gross domestic product (GDP), providing meat, milk, income, farm power, manure (for fuel, soil fertility replenishment and house construction), insurance, and wealth savings to hundreds of millions of people worldwide.

However, livestock raising is a major consumer of water. In regions such as the Nile where water is a scarce commodity, and the Nile Basin challenge project worked on strategies to improve livestock water productivity (LWP). LWP is a ratio of the total net beneficial livestock-related products and services to the water depleted in producing them. A water accounting approach was used to develop a livestock water productivity (LWP) assessment framework. This framework was then used to identify strategies for increasing LWP, assessing LWP in the Blue Nile Basin, and suggesting opportunities to improve LWP more broadly.

The article explains the four basic strategies of LWP:

  1. Feed sourcing: One key strategy for increasing LWP lies in selecting the most water-productive feed sources that produce enough feed to meet the animals’ needs.
  2. Enhancing animal productivity: Increasing the ratio of feed energy for production to maintenance has high potential for increasing LWP. In Africa, feed scarcity limits intake, implying that most consumed feed is used to support maintenance, leaving little for production.
  3. Conserving water resources: The primary challenge to conserving agricultural water is maintaining high levels of vegetative ground cover to promote increased transpiration,infiltration and soil water holding capacity and decreased evaporation and discharge.
  4. Providing drinking water: Drinking water must be of high quality and available in small but adequate quantities.

The authors of the article conclude: “Where livestock are important components of farming systems, there is a need to integrate livestock management, crop management, land and water use practices and resource degradation into one integrated framework. The LWP framework is a starting point. When tested in diverse production systems, the generic framework was robust in handling conditions ranging from extensive grazing systems to intensive mixed crop-
livestock systems at local, watershed and basin scales.”

Read the sourcebook article ‘Identifying Strategies for Increasing Livestock Water Productivity in the Blue Nile Basin

Read the full sourcebook at: http://waterandfood.org/sourcebook/

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

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

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

Read the paper

See the full proceedings of the NBDC Science meeting


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

Over the past five decades, gullying has been widespread and has become more severe in the Ethiopian highlands. Only in very few cases, rehabilitation of gullies has been successful in Ethiopia due to the high costs.

The objective of this paper is to introduce cost effective measures to arrest gully formation. The research was conducted in the Debre-Mewi watershed located at 30 km south of Bahir Dar, Ethiopia.

Gullying started in the 1980s following the clearance of indigenous vegetation and intensive agricultural cultivation, leading to an increase of surface and subsurface runoff from the hillside to the valley bottoms. Gully erosion rates were 10–20 times the measured upland soil losses. Water levels, measured with piezometers, showed that in the actively eroding sections, the water table was in general above the gully bottom and below it in the stabilized sections.

In order to develop effective gully stabilizing measures, we tested and then applied the BSTEM and CONCEPT models for their applicability for Ethiopian conditions where active gully formation has been occurring. We found that the model predicted the location of slips and slumps well with the observed groundwater depth and vegetation characteristics.

The validated models indicated that any gully rehabilitation project should first stabilize the head cuts. This can be achieved by regrading these head cuts to slope of 40 degrees and armoring it with rock. Head cuts will otherwise move uphill in time and destroy any improvements. To stabilize side walls in areas with seeps, grass will be effective in shallow gullies, while deeper gullies require reshaping of the gullies walls, then planting the gully with grasses, eucalyptus or fruit trees that can be used for income generation. Only then there is an incentive for local farmers to maintain the structures.

Read the paper

See the full proceedings of the NBDC Science meeting


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

The Nile Basin

The Nile Basin

As the Nile Basin Development Challenge (NBDC) comes to an end this short document from the CGIAR Challenge Program on Water and Food offers a summary of research conducted in the past four years.

It covers:

  • What the NBDC was about
  • The main challenges addressed
  • The eight key messages identified in 2013
  • Some outcomes and lessons

As much NBDC work is slowly integrated into CGIAR research programs on Water, Land and Ecosystems and on Integrated Systems for the Humid Tropics, this summary is a neat and short introduction to some essential issues that NBDC has left as a legacy to improve land and water management in Ethiopia and the wider Nile Basin.

Read the full Nile Basin Summary

The Nile Basin Development Challenge (NBDC) Program of the Challenge Program on Water and Food (CPWF) has been working in three woredas (districts) in Ethiopia – Jeldu, Diga and Fogera.

Each of the project established an innovation platform (IP) in which lessons and knowledge are shared and joint approaches towards problem identification and solutions are sought.

The Jeldu IP was established in September 2011 with 25 members representing farmers, district level institutions including the Office of Agriculture, Livestock Agency, Women’s Affairs, Office of Environmental Protection and Land Administration, Cooperatives Promotion and the Office of Water, Mining and Energy, and research and development partners such as Ambo University, Holetta Research Center, RiPPLE (Research-inspired Policy and Practice Learning in Ethiopia), the German development cooperation program on sustainable land management (GIZ-SLM), the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and the International Water Management Institute (IWMI).

Innovation platform meeting at Jeldu district administration office (Photo credit: ILRI/Adie)

Innovation platform meeting at Jeldu district administration office (Photo credit: ILRI/Aberra Adie)

More institutions joined the platform in the course of its operation including a local NGO called HUNDEE which later took on the responsibility of facilitating the IP.

The IP conducted a total of seven meetings from September 2011 up to December 2013. Earlier meetings focused on identifying challenges and opportunities of rainwater management interventions along with the key priority issues of land and water management in the district. Later meetings were used for sharing of lessons and experiences around the action research and beyond.

Community engagement exercises

Despite some representation of farmers in the IP at the district level, the NBDC team early on felt that a more representative community members were required to decide on priority issues while ensuring effective participation of the community. Subsequently community members from Kolugelan, Sirity and Chilanko kebeles representing different gender, age, wealth, and education levels were invited to participate in platform discussions. After thorough discussion among IP members and the community, it was agreed that soil erosion was the most serious problem in the area.

Community engagement exercise with men and women groups at Jeldu (Photo credit: ILRI/Adie)

Community engagement exercise with men and women groups at Jeldu (Photo credit: ILRI/Aberra Adie)

Action research

The CPWF innovation fund granted USD 6,000 to conduct action research around the identified problem by the IP and the community. Platform members were requested to write a research proposal. A series of discussions were made in IP meetings and community dialogues to point out possible solution options to alleviate soil erosion problems. Primary and secondary factors contributing to soil erosion and its effects at different levels were discussed with deforestation and overgrazing of land by livestock and feed shortage identified as major contributing factors to soil erosion.The IP group identified fodder development as a feasible intervention that could also support the physical soil and water conservation campaign of the government. Following this,  technical group (TG) members of the platform (with experts and researchers from Holetta research center, Ambo University, HUNDEE, Livestock Agency and Office of Agriculture) carried out action research on fodder development.

Fodder Development Intervention – 2012

Kologelan Kebele was chosen as a first pilot intervention for its strategic representation of other kebeles in the woreda. Initially about 32 farmers registered to take part in the fodder intervention. But eventually more and more farmers showed interest when they saw their friends planting forages in their plots. Participating farmers became 96, even though project follow up only focused on the initially registered 32 farmers. The emphasis was on forage options that are already in the system, instead of introducing a brand new material to the farming system.

Desho and Wodajo

Desho grass (Pennisetum pedicellatum ), was initially introduced by Wodajo, a farmer in Chilanko kebele. Wodajo brought some splits of the grass when he went to Southern Ethiopia for an experience sharing visit sponsored by the government. He planted the grass at his backyard and the grass performed so well that it attracted the attention of his fellow farmers and the government’s extension workers. Wodajo then started making money from the sales of the splits. In one year, he sold the grass for over Birr 40,000. Wodajo and Desho became very popular in the woreda. In fact Wodajo currently owns a wood workshop in Gojo town as a result of the capital he made from consecutive sales of the Desho grass. This has played a huge motivational role in the community for the adoption of Desho grass.

The farmers at Kolugelan were also interested to plant this grass at their backyards and on soil bands for livestock feed and soil water conservation (SWC). All 96 farmers planted Desho grass (some in backyards, some on soil bands, some both ways). Farmers were also provided with Tree Lucerne (Chamaecytisus Palmensis), and Napier grass (Pennisetum purpureum).

Fodder Development Intervention in 2013

In 2013, the IP expanding the intervention to a larger number of farmers in Kolugelan kebele using an additional USD 10,000. Sixty-five new farmers were registered for fodder intervention though, once again, more farmers joined and a total of 141 additional farmers were issued Desho planting materials. More ‘Wodajos’ appeared among the farmers who planted Desho in 2012. They became sources of planting material for the intervention in 2013. Some of them sold Desho planting material for up to Birr 10,000 to their fellow farmers. Establishing Desho in backyards and on soil bands thus became much clearer in the second year of intervention. During the field day organized by the IP, farmers from neighboring kebeles appreciated the performance of Desho on soil bands and backyards during the dry season.

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

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

Capacity development

ILRI staff trained IP technical group members on platform facilitation and participatory research methods, which helped them while undertaking the action research. After the training, HUNDEE, the local NGO assumed the total responsibility of facilitating the IP and overseeing the action research process, including handling of financial matters. This helped NBDC staff to take a backstopping role from some distance. IP members who took part in training events and workshops witnessed their exposure to wider networks adding value to their personal careers and they enjoyed tremendous lessons from one another.

Practical training to farmers about forage management at Kolugelan, Jeldu (Photo credit: ILRI/Adie)

Practical training to farmers about forage management at Kolugelan, Jeldu (Photo credit: ILRI/Aberra Adie)

In both 2012 and 2013, farmers were trained in establishment/management and utilization of feeds to their livestock. The training in the second year included management and utilization of existing/ traditional feed resources along with improved forages.

Achievements and challenges

Farmers during the last field day and stakeholders in the IP closing event which took place on December 31, 2013 evaluated and strongly commended the project’s achievements. They testified that the project has been able to bring them together around a common agenda and that they learned much from the process  itself as well as from one another in the IP and action research process.

They also appreciated the efficient use of resources:

With limited amount of money it has been possible to achieve much – community member

It is the day of celebration of our achievements and looking forward to continued efforts, not closing day – Ato Zegeye, HUNDEE general manager.

The technical group members of the IP witnessed that their skills in conducting participatory research as a team have increased with their involvement in the action research.  Nevertheless, some of the challenges faced by the IP, especially the technical group members include: less acknowledgement and appreciation of their work with the IP by their respective supervisors; occasional conflicts; time management issues as they have their own assignments from their offices, etc.

What next?

This has been a recurring question of both farmers and IP members. Options put on the table include:

  • Farmers request improved cattle breeds for dairy. They want to produce more milk for family and market.
  • They also envision small scale milk processors for production of butter and cheese.
  • Some consider fattening of beef and sheep.
  • Holetta research center heralded the new initiative around Jeldu to apply hormonal synchronization to introduce artificial insemination services.
  • Both farmers and IP members are optimistic about the Ginchi – Gindeberet road which crosses Jeldu (Gojo town) to be asphalted in the near future to facilitate product marketing for a better price.
  • Adding more fodder options, especially legumes, has been raised during the discussions with IP members.
  • Government partners are planning to take Desho Grass to wider distribution in the woreda as part of the watershed development strategy.
  • ILRI/IWMI envisions more activities in the site with CGIAR Research Programs such as Water Land and Ecosystems and Humidtropics.

For all, the message is – ‘strike the iron when it is hot!’

Article contributed by Aberra Adie

Termites are a major pest in the semi-arid and sub-humid tropics. They pose a serious threat to agricultural crops, forestry seedlings, rangelands and wooden structures. In Ethiopia the problem is particularly serious in the western part of the country, specifically in Wollega Zones of Oromia Region. In the past, several attempts were made to reduce damage caused by termites, including extensive termite mound poisoning campaigns. These interventions not only had a negative effect on the environment, but were also largely ineffective.

Based on previous work in Uganda showing that adding organic matter to the soil diverts termites from the plant and functions as alternative feed source, a project was commenced by the Challenge Program for Water and Food (CPWF). In partnership with IWMI and Makerere University, ILRI and Wollega University took the lead in working with local stakeholders to identify sustainable solutions to address the termite problem in Diga, Ethiopia. The research consisted of two major activities; 1) a baseline study to better understand the relation between land use, water, termites and local institutions; and 2) the design and testing of identified interventions.

The baseline findings indicated that termite damage depends on various biophysical and socio-institutional factors, which requires an integrated, but also targeted, termite management approach; two termite species are locally recognized, but level of knowledge highly varies among farmers within and between kebeles. Various trials were designed for on-farm experimentation using cattle manure and crop residues as alternative feed source for termites in combination with other cultivation techniques.

The result obtained indicated that application of cattle manure and crop residues increases the organic matter content of the soil by 24.5 and 13.9%—grain yield of maize by 38.8 and 16.7% and reduces termite count per plant by 29.6 and 21.6% as compared to the control treatment, respectively. The results are in line with farmers’ own evaluation of the trials. Results and implications are discussed.

See the presentation:

Read the paper

See the full proceedings of the NBDC Science meeting

Read the technical report No. 9 “Integrated termite management for improved  rainwater management: A synthesis of African experiences


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.

Understanding soil hydraulic properties is crucial for planning effective soil and water management practices.

A study was conducted to evaluate the effects of different biochar and charcoal treatments on soil-hydraulic properties of agricultural soils. Biochar and charcoal treatments were applied on 54, undisturbed soil-columns, extracted from three-elevation ranges, with replications along three transects. Daily weight losses of freely draining soil-columns and soil moisture contents, at five tensions, were measured. In addition, field infiltration tests and soil analyses for particle size distribution, bulk-density and organic carbon content were conducted. Moreover, five year event precipitation data, from the watershed, was analysed and exceedance probability of rainfall intensity was computed.

Results show treatments reduced soil moisture contents, for most of the cases. However, treatment effects were significant only at lower tensions (10 and 30 kPa) and within two days after saturation (p<0.05). On the other hand, relative hydraulic conductivity (Kr) coefficients, near saturation, of amended soils were higher than the control. Acidic to moderately acidic soils with high average clay (42%) and low organic carbon contents (1.1%) were dominant. Infiltration rate ranged between 1.9 and 36 mm/h, with high variability (CV = 70%). At the same time, storms with short duration (< 15 min) and high average intensity (6.3 mm/h) contributed for 68% of annual precipitation (1616mm/year).

Dominant soil properties and rainfall characteristics suggest that infiltration could be a major problem on considerable number of fields, in the watershed. This implies, on such fields, constructing physical soil and water conservation structures alone will not reduce runoff and erosion effectively, unless soil infiltration and permeability rates are enhanced through integrated soil management approaches.

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.

This study uses Tobit and Logit models to examine the impacts of selected small-scale irrigation schemes in the Lake Tana basin of Ethiopia on household income and the likelihood of poverty, respectively.

Data for these analyses were collected from a sample of 180 households. Households using any of the four irrigation systems had statistically significantly higher mean total gross household income than households not using irrigation. The marginal impact of small-scale irrigation on gross household income indicated that each small scale-irrigation user increased mean annual household income by ETB 3353 per year, a 27% increase over income for non-irrigating households.

A Logit regression model indicated that access to irrigation significantly reduced the odds that a household would be in the lowest quartile of household income, the poverty threshold used in this study. Households using concrete canal river diversion had higher mean cropping income per household than those using other irrigation types.

Key challenges to further enhancing the benefits of irrigation in the region include water seepage, equity of water distribution, availability of irrigation equipment, marketing of irrigated crops and crop diseases facilitated by irrigation practices.

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.

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