The first learning event of the thematic working group on technological innovation (1) of the national platform on land and water management took place on 6 December 2012. The event brought together representatives from the Amhara Regional Agricultural Research Institute (ARARI), the Water and Land Resource Center, Nile river basin authorities, the Ethiopian water harvesting association (ERHA), and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation. All participants were invited to discover and test the new open source geographic information system (GIS) tool for suitability mapping “Nile-Goblet” and to ponder how to bring technical innovation on the ground.

The participants liked the tool very much, for its ease to make suitability maps without prior GIS knowledge. They also appreciated the fact that the tool allows anyone to introduce their technical expertise or local knowledge about suitability criteria following a very a transparent procedure. Subsequently, policy-makers and practitioners can identify with, understand and trust the resulting maps.

The tool is expected to emphasize the necessity to promote location-specific rainwater management and to help move away from today’s one-size-fits-all blanket approaches. Indeed, the maps generated by users can support the elaboration of context-specific policies. In combination with participatory approaches such as the Happy Strategies game, the maps also allow bringing in expert knowledge into a participatory approach and improving planning on the ground, together with communities.

The Nile Goblet tool: screenshot (Credit: ILRI / C. Pfeifer)

The Nile Goblet tool: screenshot (Credit: ILRI / C. Pfeifer)

Participants of the learning event found it very useful to come together to learn and discuss. It is likely that this group will meet again and possibly combine learning events with other events that are already planned and funded. Additionally, the Water and Land Resource Center – in collaboration with the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation – will look into opportunities to use and promote the Nile-Goblet tool for their own work.

On the second day of the workshop, an informal training course took place, aiming at adapting the tool for participants’ own needs.

The learning event brought together a budding community of practice which seems truly interested in location-specific rainwater management and has the capacity to carry out the work of the Nile Basin Development Challenge in this field further along.

On 18 December 2012, the learning event was followed by another introduction to the Nile-Goblet tool, this time for CGIAR staff in Ethiopia.

Read the notes of the Learning Event here.

Read more about the Nile-Goblet tool here.

View the presentation

Download a report of the workshop

(Article by Catherine Pfeifer)


(1) The national platform on land and water management launched four thematic working groups in the course of 2012. Technological innovation is one of these working groups.


Planning NBDC activities for researchers (Photo credit: ILRI/Le Borgne)The Nile Basin Development Challenge (NBDC) is entering its final year. By December 2013, all activities funded through the Challenge Program for Water and Food (CPWF) need to be complete.

A planning exercise on 15 and 16 November brought the core partners together to re-arrange priorities around specific outcomes and target groups that NBDC intends to influence.

About 25 participants representing the remaining four NBDC projects (the stock-taking project ‘Learning about rainwater management systems‘ ended earlier on) took part to the meeting.

Over the two days, participants:

  • reviewed the outcome logic model (the planning/monitoring framework) informing their activities to assess its validity in the current context,
  • took stock of important assets that the NBDC should capitalize on, in terms of outputs produced, networks strengthened and capacities developed,
  • discussed the integration of these assets and activities to support five key stakeholder groups: farmers and farming associations, researchers, planners, policy-makers and the internal NBDC team,
  • developed action plans to align these activities,
  • identified activities for cross-cutting issues such as gender, monitoring and evaluation, the sunrise strategy that is expected to ease the dawn of the program and a final session to plan the external stakeholder meeting in February 2013,
  • filled out a timeline of the project that tracked back important events, outputs, changes in the network or in the attitudes and skills of stakeholders. Participants were energized by the large numbers of outputs already produced as well as the extent of the capacity and network building efforts.

The workshop was a strong exercise in integrating across all the teams; it brought all the ‘N-project’ teams together around cross-cutting outcomes by stakeholder groups.

The next step in this planning is a full stakeholder meeting in February 203. Thereafter, the countdown for the NBDC will really tick with a renewed sense of urgency.

Read notes from the meeting here.

See some pictures from the meeting here.

GIS goblet tool training participants (photo credit: C. Pfeifer)

GIS goblet tool training participants (photo credit: C. Pfeifer)

The Nile 3 project  ‘Targeting and scaling out of rainwater management systems‘ recently organized two training courses on geographic information systems (GIS) for its partners – in Addis Ababa and in Gondar. The objective was to teach and test the beta version of the new Nile Goblet tool. This open source GIS solution helps users carry out suitability mapping without prior GIS knowledge.

Based on the concept of rainwater management developed in the Nile Basin Development Challenge, the tool allows users to define their own suitability ranges for a whole range of bio-physical criteria to map suitability of various rainwater management practices. In addition, it makes use of so called “willingness of adoption” maps to introduce the socio-economic constraints into classic suitability analysis. Finally, to improve water availability and productivity, rainwater management practices should be combined at landscape scale. Therefore the tool includes a module that helps study suitability of a combination of rainwater management practices at landscape scale.

The tool is flexible and can be programmed for any practice/technology and any location in the world, as long as geographical layers for the different suitability criteria are available. Part of the training consisted in preparing new layers both in ArcGIS and in GRASS GIS (an open source GIS software) and introduce them to the Nile Goblet tool.

Developing GIS maps at the goblet tool training course (photo credit: C. Pfeifer)

Developing GIS maps at the goblet tool training course (photo credit: C. Pfeifer)

Both training courses were a success. Participants could learn about suitability mapping as well as the challenges one might face when preparing new geographical layers for the tool. The training courses served as a way to test the tool. Minor technical itches could be identified and a great number of suggestions for improvement were collected.

The team is now working on an improved version, hoping to launch the tool at an upcoming learning event from the innovation and technology thematic working group of the national platform and give an additional training for CGIAR scientists based on the ILRI Ethiopia campus.

Read more information about the Nile Goblet tool.

(Post by Catherine Pfeifer)

On 12 November 2012, 26 participants attended a  ‘symposium on modeling in the Blue Nile / Abay Basin‘. It was organized by one of the projects of the Nile Basin Development Challenge (NBDC) – the so-called N4 project on ‘Assessing and anticipating the consequences of innovation in rainwater management systems‘.

Adanech Yared (Ethiopian Institute of Water Resources) introducing her work (Credit: ILRI / Le Borgne)

Adanech Yared (Ethiopian Institute of Water Resources) introducing her work (Credit: ILRI/Le Borgne)

Building upon recent results of this project, the team invited representatives from Nile Basin Authorities, the Ministry of Water and Energy and the Nile Basin Initiative Decision Support System Office to map out existing modeling work and to identify priorities for water resource and agricultural water management modeling in the Blue Nile Basin.

Past and current experiences

The presentations from the Nile Basin (Tana and Beles sub-basin) Authorities, from the Ministry of Water and Energy, from Bahir Dar University and from the Ethiopian Institute of Water Resources highlighted a wide spectrum of experiences. These presentations were later completed by additional presentations from NBDC scientists to form a collection of experiences spanning climate modeling, hydrological modeling, crop productivity modeling, economic modeling tools. The final presentation emphasized the need to integrate biophysical and socioeconomic model outputs and kick-started the discussion among participants.

The different presentations emphasized a number of crucial common challenges preventing modeling from being more fully exploited or useful in agricultural water management and water resource modeling initiatives: the diversity of modeling tools and their inconsistent use, the lack of good quality data, the insufficient capacity to use existing modeling tools, the lack of integration of modeling outcomes in planning and implementation strategies.

Ways forward

Later in the afternoon, participants discussed the key priorities for agriculture-water and water resource modeling in the Basin, related to either:

  • Scaling issues (integrating small scale practices and large scale impacts in planning and management)
  • Data needs
  • Uptake and acceptance of model outputs
Randall Ritzema (IWMI) Introduces the project of integrating modeling approaches (Credit: ILRI/Le Borgne)

Randall Ritzema (IWMI) Introduces the project of integrating modeling approaches (Credit: ILRI/Le Borgne)

In terms of scaling, the selection of scales depends on different variables (hydrology / erosion, population, greenhouse gas emissions, economic process, spatial variability). In turn, what is to scale varies with the scale: spatial variability, system dynamics variation within t, factors such as runoff capacity. Small scale modeling works better for better characterization of an area and at any rate there is always uncertainty in modeling for planning and management.

As regards data needs, all agreed that the main challenge was how to access data. All of the group were familiar with the bottleneck in getting met data, and the generally low resolution of soil and landcover data. The group also agreed on the need to update a range of data sets including hydro data and land cover-land use. The group also discussed the problem of numerous ungauged basins in terms of met and flow data. Some potential opportunities to use remote sensed data to fill these gaps were discussed and the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) team distributed a MET data set for Ethiopia derived from the US-NCEP CFSR (Climate Forecast System of Reanaysis) global weather data set, prepared by IWMI staff and Cornell researchers to make it useable in Ethiopia.

Finally, in terms of ensuring acceptance and uptake of modeling, a number of factors play out. The first and foremost is to think about the relevance of modeling data for the target audience, but issues of data quality, modeling complexity (and its potential to be communicated clearly) also affect the acceptance. Models should not be trusted – rather their outputs should be verified before their outputs are communicated to intended end users. In order to improve uptake of modeling outputs, the participants highlighted various strategies: tailor modeling output messages to different target audiences, develop capacities (both of modelers to communicate their outputs and of end users to use them), use various communication outputs (policy briefs, face-to-face sensitization etc.) and to engage with intended audiences throughout the process.

This symposium was the first of its kind and perhaps layed the first stone on the way to a water-agriculture modeling community of practice.

Read notes from the event.

See presentations from the event.

See some pictures of the event.

The national platform on land and water management held its third meeting on 23-24 July 2012 at the campus of the International Livestock Research Institute in Addis Ababa. About 70 participants attended this event and represented Governmental agencies and regional bureaus, research institutes and universities, non-governmental organizations and donor agencies.

After having been established with a specific vision and mandate in the first national platform meeting, the National Platform was further developed in the second national platform meeting, where participants teased out priority work areas for which four thematic working groups are developing an agenda.

This third event offered an opportunity to:

  • Inform a wider audience about the national platform: what it is about, what it aims to do and how it relates to other projects, in particular Africa RISING;
  • Introduce the four thematic working groups and their agenda for the coming months and gather feedback on their rationale and activities.

This meeting was a first for the platform as it was hosted with the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) – more specifically, one of the Africa RISING ‘early win’ projects on ‘Sustainable tree-crop-livestock intensification as a pillar for the Ethiopian climate resilient green economy initiative‘. As a result, the main part of the event was dedicated to this particular project which ties in naturally with the agenda of the land and water management national platform.

The agroforestry part of the event culminated with a panel discussion which discussed some challenges faced in Ethiopia: Weak coordination and integration, climate change, and (insufficiently?) participatory approaches to policy-making. One of the panelists and some  platform members advocated a holistic approach that integrates crops, livestock and agroforestry.

Following these sessions, the four thematic working groups of the national platform introduced themselves, their agendas for the next 12 to 18 months and collected additional ideas of relevant initiatives, actors and documents that could inform their work on institutional innovation, technological innovation, ecosystem resilience and policy support.

The third national platform meeting ended by raising some challenging considerations for the platform itself: How wide or focused should it be? How to avoid duplication and competition with the Sustainable Land Management project funded by the German Development Cooperation Agency (GIZ), how (and perhaps whether) to sustain this platform beyond the Nile Basin Development Challenge…

Expanding a platform to invite other actors and initiatives can be crucial for its healthy development, although it begs the question of the added value and unique selling point of the platform.

Read the workshop report

See some pictures from the workshop

Read the notes from the sessions

On Monday 23 and Tuesday 24 July, the national platform for water and land management holds its third meeting.

This third meeting is organized with the project ‘Sustainable tree-crop-livestock intensification as a pillar for the Ethiopian climate resilient green economy initiative‘. The project is one of the ‘early win’ initiatives of the Africa RISING program which aims to transform agricultural systems through sustainable intensification projects in three regions of Africa, including the Ethiopian Highlands. Sustainable intensification of trees, crops and livestock is naturally linked to water and land management and as such it seemed natural to present the project to the national platform meeting.

Next to this part of the workshop, the four thematic working groups identified during the second national platform meeting will present their agenda and planned activities.

In the first national platform meeting, participants defined the rationale, vision and structure of the platform. In the second national platform meeting, the participants grouped according to areas of interest and relevance for the platform, to flesh out an agenda of action. This third meeting should therefore introduce the activities planned, gather feedback, identify additional sources of financial or technical support and finally reinforce linkages between different projects and initiatives that contribute to improving water and land management in the Nile Basin.

The NBDC-supported national platform on land and water management has convened two meetings (in April and in December 2011). During the second meeting, it was agreed that the national platform should see to the establishment of thematic working groups that would flesh out a series of activities to fulfill the platform’s mission to ‘Ensure a healthy, sustainable, and equitable use and management of natural resources for improved productivity, livelihoods and ecosystem services in Ethiopia’. These thematic working groups are now formed and developing their agenda and activities.

Five thematic working groups emerged from the second national platform meeting. They eventually became four groups as one of them was too broadly focusing on ‘land and water management’, which is the general object of the national platform, thence it is addressed by all the thematic working groups. The four groups identified by participants are:

  • Institutional innovation;
  • Technological innovation;
  • Policy support;
  • Resilient ecosystems and climate change.

The second national platform meeting report introduced the original rationale and suggested some activities, members etc. for these working groups.

In late June and mid-July, the four thematic working groups have gathered for the first time, under the auspices of a reputable chair. Each of the working groups has worked on a similar program for their first meeting: What is the rationale of this group, and desired outcomes? What specific issues will it focus on, how will it organize its activities to address this agenda? How will the group communicate, coordinate and document its work, how will it share it with other thematic working groups? What funding mechanisms could it tap into in order to develop additional activities?

And finally, the working groups have defined what they want to bring back to the upcoming third national platform meeting, on 23-24 July. After that meeting, the thematic working groups will have their baptism by fire as they will have to follow words with actions and actually implement their plans. Given the constraints on financial resources for the remaining 18 months of the Nile Basin Development Challenge, the onus is on the thematic working groups to perhaps unveil a new path and set of activities for the national platform further down the line…

Notes of the thematic working groups are currently available on the innovation platforms page of the NBDC wiki (under ‘National platform and ThWG meetings’).

NBDC Reflection and Roadmap workshop, 21-22 May 2012, ILRI Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (photo credit: ILRI/Zerihun Sewunet).

NBDC Reflection and Roadmap workshop, 21-22 May 2012, ILRI Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (photo credit: ILRI/Zerihun Sewunet).

On 21 and 22 May 2012, the Nile Basin Development Challenge (NBDC) team held a reflection and road map meeting with 24 participants from the four projects that make up the NBDC as well as from the Management Team of the Challenge Program for Water and Food (CPWF).

Participants reported on progress (see a report from the ‘Nile 4’ project), assessed whether NBDC is on the right track, identified the NBDC’s comparative advantages, crucial gaps and potential adjustments and, finally, developed an action plan that integrates monitoring and impact assessment and folds into a ‘sunrise strategy’ as the NBDC (and its parent CPWF) is scheduled to end in 2013.

The keywords for this important meeting have been: alignment, integration and indeed sunrise.


The pressure to deliver science and show results is mounting in the CPWF generally. For the NBDC this means the component projects should emphasize and deepen collaboration and synergies with one another.


Beyond internal alignment of the different projects, a major challenge is to ensure the NBDC is integrated with other research and development initiatives – as both outlets to disseminate its research results and to engage audiences around the research insights gathered so far and the tools and approaches developed by the various NBDC teams.

The Africa RISING program and initiatives by e.g. the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations or the United Nations’ Environment Program were some of the initiatives mentioned that could help pave the way for the sunrise strategy.


Although the program comes to an end in late 2013, the team wants to see this not so much as a sunset but rather as a sunrise, the start of a new and exciting period. During the meeting, the team started brainstorming a vision for 2014 and beyond, which builds upon the different innovation platforms – which should also be further integrated.

The way to the sun?

The comparative advantage of the NBDC was seen to lie in the combination of research outputs and development outcomes, the integrated approach at multiple scales and the program’s reputation for its knowledge brokerage function. Mobilizing these assets through a ‘sunrise strategy’ will stimulate integration and alignment in the best possible way.

The meeting was documented through notes on the wiki and some photos  from the meeting.

Catherine Pfeiffer facilitating the N3 partner meeting, April 2012 (Credits: ILRI/Catherine Pfeiffer)The Nile BDC project on targeting and scaling out rainwater management innovations (N3) recently held a partner meeting in Ambo.

Partners, including the Amhara Regional Agricultural Research Institute (ARARI), the Oromia Agricultural Research Institute (OARI) and the Ethiopia Rainwater Harvesting Association (ERHA) joined.

They discussed preliminary feasibility maps showing where each rainwater management practice is likely to be feasible and planned data collection, namely a farm household survey and focus group discussions to validate the maps.

In a first stage, participants selected four sites next to the existing three NBDC sites (Diga, Fogera and Jeldu) to help validate the new maps. The four new sites are: Shambu and Ambo district in Oromia region as well as the Gummera (Maksenit) watershed and Zefie (Debre Tabor) watershed in the Amhara region.

In a second stage, participants discussed data collection and used the happy strategies game.

Discovering the 'happy strategies' game at the N3 partners meeting, April 2012 (Credits: ILRI/Catherine Pfeiffer)

The participants decided to adjust the game to the particularities of the communities concerned, simplifying it and only focus on practices the community has knowledge of.

Participants also reviewed and shortened the relatively long farm household questionnaire that had been developed.

The N3 partners will be mainly responsible for data collection. Data analysis will be done in close collaboration between the partners and N3 team in order to allow some capacity building on statistical tools.

The N3 team is  looking forward to getting this important data and learn more from the study sites.

(By Mulugeta Habtemichael and Catherine Pfeifer).

Spatial Analysis and Modelling group, one of the six Nile BDC topic working groups

Spatial Analysis and Modelling group, one of the topic working groups involving NBDC

From 6 to 9 February, the secretariat of the Challenge Program for Water and Food (CPWF) organized a meeting in Montpellier, bringing together the six Basin leaders and six topic working group leaders.

This was the first meeting where these two groups of people were together to discuss progress. As the program is scheduled to end in December 2013, there is much reflection going on about the outputs generated by the program and the outcomes that they are leading to. One of the key issues debated during the Montpellier meeting indeed was: “where is the science?

After two years in its second phase, the program is in full swing and a number of research outputs have already been highlighted on the CPWF website. After the first phase of the program, a whole series of outputs have been generated through intensive repackaging of the research results from the first phase (2002-2007).

The key question highlighted comes at a crucial moment: the World Water Week’s annual theme is on ‘water and food security’, giving impetus for CPWF to show some results; the CGIAR research program (CRP) ‘Water, Land and Ecosystems’, a strongly related program, is just about to be launched and should build upon the CPWF; but more generally the current reform of the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) is urging all CGIAR centers to reconsider how the research they provide can better tackle poverty and contribute to wider development in a more integrated manner.

CPWF is a modest program in this wider agenda, nonetheless it has something to contribute in this sense too and the urgency to show the impact of the science is felt too. The Montpellier meeting meant to address this question in some ways:

  • By urging more interaction between basin leaders, topic working group leaders and CPWF management;
  • By participating more in global events (to show and discuss the results) and stimulating more cross-basin learning and sharing;
  • By developing more research outputs from phase one and from the current phase, including a book and some policy briefs, furthering the repackaging work recently carried out by the global CPWF communication team.

What does this mean for the Nile Basin Development Challenge (NBDC) team? Tilahun Amede (Nile Basin leader) and An Notenbaert (involved in Topic Working Group on spatial analysis and modeling) represented the Nile team in Montpellier. The discussions in which they participated brought some coherence and cohesion in the overall CPWF approach to deal with the above hard question which lies ahead. At the same time, the Nile team will have to deal with specific implications:

  • In terms of cross-basin interactions, Tilahun Amede has been working with other African basin leaders since the third International Forum for Water and Food to develop a sharing network and perhaps develop a book that captures experiences from the Limpopo, Volta and Nile Basin.
  • Topic working groups might be modified to suit changing needs in the program. The exact composition and representation from the NBDC may also be affected by this change but it is unclear yet how this will pan out.
  • Tilahun Amede is leading on one of the chapters planned for the end of program book and he should also provide support to another article directed by Larry Harrington.
  • Communications, engagement and dissemination of scientific results are on the menu, more than ever. A recent NBDC meeting on communication – held on 24 February – partly addressed this need and came up with a series of recommendations to join up the different Nile project teams and to repackage existing research results with a keen eye for the information needs of specific audiences such as policy-makers, communities and other scientists involved in similar initiatives.

With an upcoming team meeting – planned around the end of March – there will be more chances to join up the dots, locate and source the famous and sought after ‘science’ from CPWF.

Less than two years of program remain, a seemingly distant date, but there is much work on the NBDC agenda and the whole team – scientists or not – are hard pressed to find the formula that guarantees strong scientific results without compromising the engagement and embedding process undertaken by the NBDC for the past two years.

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