Search Results for 'communication'

The Nile Basin Development Challenge (NBDC) has identified several challenges to effective planning and implementation of rainwater management (RWM) interventions in its three sites, (Jeldu, Diga and Fogera) located in the Blue Nile Basin of Ethiopia. Challenges include poor coordination and communication between actors, lack of bottom-up planning and insufficient community participation.

Local level innovation platforms have been established in each site an attempt to work with a range of stakeholders to address these issues. So far, innovation platform members have identified common RWM issues and have designed pilot interventions at a micro catchment scale. However, we need to draw on the lessons learned to design more effective strategies at a larger scale.

Zelalem Lemma (ILRI) introduces the WAT-A-GAME workshop

In December 2012, researchers from AfroMaison and the Nile Basin Development Challenge co-organized a workshop in Fogera to develop landscape scale strategies for improved rainwater management. The workshop was organized by Mulugeta Lemenih, Beth Cullen, Zelalem Lema and Aberra Adie with assistance from Geraldine Abrami and Emeline Hassenforder.

The aim of the workshop was to use WAT-A-GAME (WAG), a participatory planning tool, as the starting point for looking at RWM issues at a landscape scale.

WAT-A-GAME is an open toolkit developed by IRSTEA and CIRAD which enables participants to design and run simulations for water management, policy design and education. It aims to show how water moves within a landscape, how it is used, polluted, transformed and shared by actors. Using WAG, participants can simulate various actions or strategies and the resulting impact on their household economy, their wellbeing, labor, and the surrounding ecosystem. New policies can also be invented and tested. It can be adapted to individual cases, various land and water management issues and different scales. WAG has been designed to be used by a range of stakeholders, including farmers, scientists, experts, administrators and policy makers. In this workshop WAG was used to model the Fogera catchment and simulate key RWM issues including water availability, run-off, soil erosion and the impact of different land-use practices.

Aberra Adie (ILRI) introduces the WAT-A-GAME to farmers

Research conducted by NBDC scientists has highlighted a disconnect between farmers and decision makers in terms of perceptions about NRM problems and ideas for solutions.

This is exacerbated by a lack of communication and understanding between the different actors. In order to highlight these differences participants were separated into two groups of 28 community representatives and 22 decision makers and experts.

For the first two days these groups worked separately to identify and prioritize key issues, identify technical, institutional and policy interventions to address these issues and to incorporate these actions into an integrated strategy.

Actions required to address rain water management issues are prioritized by farmers

On the third day, the two groups presented their strategies to one another. This led to knowledge sharing and constructive dialogue about similarities and differences between the strategies, the reasons for this and how they can be merged. The role-playing exercises and subsequent discussions raised awareness about upstream and downstream linkages and landscape interconnectedness. Regional and district staff learned about farmers’ knowledge and priorities, and vice versa.

This was the first in a series of workshops, the next step will be to test strategies developed during the first workshop and work with stakeholders to create an integrated and feasible strategy for the Fogera area that can potentially be implemented. It is hoped that this process will be replicated in the two other NBDC sites over the coming year. The process will be used to share experiences and knowledge between the three sites, as well as between local and national platforms in an attempt to inform policy.

See more photos


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.

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.

ILAC brief 14 'Engaging scientists through institutional histories', inspiring this work

The Nile Basin Development Challenge (NBDC) is in its final phase and its various teams are poised to document the interesting aspects of the work completed in the past years.  These crucial documentation efforts include a keen look on the institutional environment in which the NBDC has tried to bring about technological and indeed institutional innovation.

After experimenting with ‘most significant change‘ stories in 2011 and 2012, in late 2013, the NBDC project dedicated to Catalyzing platforms for learning, communication and coordination will undertake the development of institutional histories, under the supervision of Pamela Pali, poverty gender and impact specialist. All NBDC project teams should contribute to these efforts that will aim at unraveling the institutional conditions that have affected the work of NBDC as a whole. Institutional histories are an element of monitoring and learning work in the program.

What do we mean by institutional histories?

Institutions are the rules, norms, conventions, incentives and sanctions that govern activities which assume particular importance when organizations with different histories, cultures and mandates work together as is the case with the partners whom the Nile basin project collaborates with.

Institutional histories are a narrative of the ways of working that stem from rules, conventions, and routines governing behaviour (see ILAC brief 14). New working practices of different organizations must be documented because strong technological narratives tend to ignore the role of institutional change in achieving progress.

Institutional innovations are crucial for research organisations to cope with changing development agendas which demand partnerships with non-research organisations in the innovation system. Institutional histories draw institutional lessons from what works or does not work and promote new working practices.

Different types of organisations must work together for an institutional innovation to emanate because the rules and norms of working together must change for an institutional innovation to occur.

In the Nile Basin Development Challenge (NBDC), the development of institutional histories shall start at a later date in 2013.

More information on our wiki

By Pamela Pali.

Farmers from Fogera learn to use participatory videoEthiopia receives abundant rainfall but often too much comes at once leading to long periods of water scarcity and problems with soil erosion –interventions tend to be driven by decision makers and there is a need to find ways of giving local communities more ownership of the process.

The CGIAR Challenge Program for Water and Food (CPWF) awarded a grant through its Innovation Fund to the Nile Basin Development Challenge (NBDC) to investigate and document the effectiveness of participatory video (PV) as a tool to bring local issues to the attention of planners and implementers of rainwater management interventions in Ethiopia.

This month Beth Cullen (ILRI), Gareth Benest (InsightShare) and Aberra Adie (ILRI) trained a group of twelve farmers in Fogera woreda in Amhara region of Ethiopia for ten days in the use of video. Farmers were selected from three kebeles and consisted of six men and six women of varying socio-economic backgrounds. None of them had ever used cameras before.

The aim of the exercise was to use participatory video to strengthen their voice in local innovation platforms. The formation of innovation platforms is part of the NBDC project. Rainwater management interventions in Ethiopia have historically been implemented in top-down fashion without due regard to the needs, aspirations, constraints and livelihood realities of local farming communities. Despite improvements to current Natural Resource Management policy there are several challenges to effective implementation, much of which revolves around issues of participation. Despite the rhetoric, community members are not often called upon to voice their opinions or take part in discussions about the policies that affect them. Instead there is a performance of ‘participation’ and as a result local realities of resource use rarely enter the decision-making process.

It is widely acknowledged that for development interventions to integrate successfully with the lived realities of local peoples it is essential that they effectively address local understanding, needs and aspirations. The establishment of local innovation platforms comes from the recognition that improvements to farmer livelihoods and environmental integrity depend on wider institutions, markets and policies, rather than a narrow focus on changing farmer behavior. However, there is still an issue of how to engage with local communities and bring them into this process. Participatory video may be one way of doing this.

In addition, Fogera suffers from ‘research fatigue’, like many places in Ethiopia. Farmers complain about researchers and development organizations asking questions but neither feeding back their results nor bringing any perceptible change. Perhaps surprisingly for an area where farmers are increasingly apathetic and indifferent towards research efforts there was full attendance throughout the PV training. Participants arrived early in the morning and waited for the training to start, maybe because it provided a welcome break from their usual activities.

Participants create storyboards for their filmsThe training was based on the InsightShare approach to Participatory Video. Farmers learned basic video skills through games and exercises. The focus is on experiential learning, repetition and discussion. A key motto is ‘mistakes are great’. A range of PRA exercises were used to help the participants identify their main land and water challenges after which they highlighted specific issues and prioritized the subjects they wanted to document. In the process of learning to use the video cameras, they practiced recording one another as well as planning videos using storyboards. They then created final storyboards for their collaborative filming before heading out to film in their farms and villages. The resulting film is divided into three parts: the first on the issue of unrestricted grazing, the second on water stress, and the third on soil conservation efforts.

During the training, participants were observed by government staff and development agents who often see rural farmers as ‘lacking awareness’, they expressed surprise that the participants were able to handle technical equipment. In this context PV can be used to challenge development agents’ attitudes towards farmers and can in turn help to empower farmers to recognize their own abilities and knowledge. The InsightShare approach is based on the premise that ‘farmers are the experts’ about their livelihoods and landscapes. The results of this approach can be seen in the marked increase in confidence of participants. Thus, the process is as important, if not more so, than the end result.

Once the film was edited it was screened back to the participants for their comments. This gave them an opportunity to make any changes to the film before it was shown to members of the wider community in their three kebeles. The community screening was carried out partly to validate the messages in the film and to seek other points of view. The film received an overwhelmingly positive response from community members, who were also offered the chance to record and include their views.

The next step is for the PV participants to present their film to members of the innovation platform who consist of local government administration, bureau of agriculture, national research institutes, a local NGO and community representatives. In the two meetings held by the platform so far, unrestricted grazing has been identified as a priority issue for action. This decision has been taken without significant input from community members who see the issue from a different perspective. PV has enabled participants to clearly articulate their views and it is hoped that this can provide a starting point for discussion and as such influence any future action taken by the platform, but this process will need to be monitored.

Despite the benefits, PV is not a ‘silver bullet’ and is not necessarily appropriate for all situations and contexts. There is always a danger that the process can be misunderstood so it is essential that the aims are clear to all involved. If the aim is to convey community perspectives then there needs to be an understanding that this may include views that those at higher levels may not want to hear. It is also easy for the process to be hijacked. Video is an attractive medium and cameras have power but this power can be misused or misdirected, for example, to convey political messages or top-down objectives to farming communities thus reinforcing existing paradigms.

The aim of PV is to give voice to the voiceless. PV offers a way of feeding views from farmers to researchers and decision makers, after which the intended audience can formulate a response thereby establishing a two-way communication channel. But this process alone is not enough. Opportunities and spaces need to be created whereby farmers can identify and determine solutions to their own problems as well as seek external assistance and access outsider knowledge. It has been shown that research and development approaches which actively involve farmers have a much greater chance of success. A constant refrain throughout the film is the importance of community decision-making. The film is titled ‘A Rope to Tie a Lion’ which comes from the Amharic proverb: ‘when individual threads unite, they can form a rope to tie a lion’.

Community members watch the films and comment

Video to come soon!

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.

Playing the ‘happy strategies’ game

In late 2011, all projects in the Nile Basin Development Challenge prepared ‘most significant change’ stories from the first phase of operations. One of the stories looked at our communication experiences to document some of the changes we introduced and how we progressed.

NBDC Brief 8 is a summary  of the story.

As in the other basins, the Nile Basin Development Challenge comprises several linked projects – each with different leads, participants, partners and outcome logics.  Getting good communication among the various actors and partners is essential for the whole program to operate, and to have impact.

To serve these needs, we started our communication activities ‘inside’ the Challenge. In the past year, we have started to change the ways that our research knowledge is captured, shared and communicated. We are also changing the knowledge sharing behavior of project staff – by encouraging and supporting them to adopt a wider, richer – and ultimately more effective and ‘impactful’ – set of tools and approaches to project interaction, documentation, reflection, and learning.

The first priority – and our most significant progress – has been ‘inside’ the Challenge.  We are also using knowledge products, face to face meetings and extended communication approaches to communicate ongoing activities to wider audiences, nationally and beyond. The idea is to create the audience and demand for the science that we will ultimately produce. An important spillover to the ‘outside’ is in the area of communication where several changes in approach (or decisions) are directly linked to our activities.

In the story we identify five ‘promising’ changes:

  1. Project and event planning and reporting
  2. Documenting discussions and events
  3. Using different meeting formats
  4. Publishing open products
  5. Spillovers to other organizations

How significant the changes?

So far, this is difficult to judge and assess. Several individuals have become keen adopters. We are able to generate more ‘raw material’ on the various project activities that we can use to build communication products and stories. Photos, presentations and reports have all become accessible to project staff without barriers; smaller activities that would normally remain invisible are reported and shared. Project coordination and event preparation is more transparent and participatory, with minimum email traffic, and outputs shared in accessible ways.

The main challenge is to make ‘open sharing’ the default ‘setting’ for all project staff – many people are not used to documenting and sharing what they do and learn on a regular basis on open spaces.

Download the Brief

See the communication  ‘toolkit’ we use

Read a related news item on communicating agri-water research

Various national and regional organizations in Ethiopia are engaged in natural resource management, particularly in land and water, but for the last 30 years there has been limited opportunity for them to share experiences, identify gaps and feed key insights to one another and crucially to policy-makers.

Earlier this year, the Nile Basin Development Challenge (Nile BDC) initiated a National Platform on Land and Water Management along with key national players. There was a widespread agreement that a well negotiated national platform can be a relevant mechanism to minimize duplication of efforts and enhance communication between actors and across sectors for improved land and water management in Ethiopia.

On 19 December 2011, the second national Platform meeting on Land and Water Management was held at the  Addis Ababa campus of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI). About 30 participants representing governmental organizations and ministries, non-governmental organizations and development associations, universities and research organizations came together to talk about the objectives, functions and structure of the national platform, and to identify priority areas and approaches to address them. Download the report of the meeting.

While National Platform meetings are expected to take place twice a year, the idea is to have thematic working groups develop an action plan around priority areas with several activities throughout the year that will feed back to the national platform meetings. These meetings are also meant to invite other organizations and networks to introduce various initiatives of relevance to each group. After an introductory presentation on the platform itself, the MERET program and RiPPLE presented their experiences linking local practices with national planning.

The Management of Environmental Resources to Enable Transition to better livelihoods (MERET) program has a long history in Ethiopia and has evolved from the Food for Work (FFW) program in the 1980s to a Community-Based Participatory Watershed Management Approach (CBPWSM) in the 1990s, eventually morphing into MERET in 2003.

Key to its success were effective technologies/structures, community empowerment for decision-making, appropriate technologies, demonstration of new technologies (“seeing is believing“), regular technical backstopping and close supervision, strict adoption of integrated watershed management approach and linkages, synergy-focused partnerships among stakeholders. View the MERET presentation:

The program also faces various challenges such as resource limitations for scaling up and out, lack of cash for promoting income-generating activities, absence of impact studies and documentation of best practices, limited exposure to innovative technologies from elsewhere, institutional instability and frequent staff turnover.

RiPPLE presented its experiences and lessons working through multi-stakeholder processes in the field of water and sanitation, integrated water resource management and climate change. RiPPLE works through so called ‘learning and practice alliances’ (LPAs), which are interconnected platforms of stakeholders working together to learn, innovate and scale up. LPAs are organized as linked platforms operating from woreda level all the way to national and international level. The main focus is on action research, information and documentation, capacity building and training, and linking policy and practice. View the RIPPLE presentation:

The factors influencing the sustainability and success of RiPPLE include: working closely with interested partners who directly benefit from the alliance, institutionalization of activities and approach in governmental organizations, working on key challenges by building on existing initiatives and using experienced process facilitators, ensuring linkages to implementation projects, organizing regular training courses for Training and Vocational Education Centers and other parties. The whole RiPPLE approach has been followed with an eye for ensuring institutional and individual commitment through shared ownership.

Inspired by the presentations and suggestions made by the steering group of the national platform, five thematic working groups were formed to develop further action:

  1. Community empowerment, institutions and sustainability
  2. Technological innovation
  3. Land and water management
  4. Linking research, policy and practice
  5. Resilient ecosystems
National platform group work (photo credit: ILRI/Ewen Le Borgne)

National platform group work in action (photo credit: ILRI/Ewen Le Borgne)

The participants developed action plans for each of these groups and identified champions to lead small working groups around each theme from January 2012 onwards.

The working groups are expected to identity key issues and challenges, document ongoing experiences and disseminate information that is already available, identify research gaps etc.

In addition to a common agenda across the groups, each group may have it own priorities and activities. The Nile BDC will initially support the platform through providing facilities and infrastructure, but over time additional sources will have to be mobilized, hence the importance of building upon existing initiatives.

Since the platform intends to become the nationwide forum for information exchange, learning and innovation on land and water management, by linking local experiences to national planning, it is of great importance that organizations and institutes working on land and water management in Ethiopia actively participate and contribute to the working groups and the national platform.

To play an active role in role in one of the working groups or to keep informed about the national platform, please contact Tsedey Ayalew (t.ayalew AT or Kees Swaans (k.swaans AT

Read the report of this second national platform meeting.

By Kees Swaans and Tilahun Amede

One of the ‘learning to innovate’ sessions in the 2011 Third International Forum on Water and Food looked at experiences within the CPWF with multi-stakeholder Platforms (MSP) and Innovation Platforms (IP).

The session started with a brief introduction, and then three presentations from Alan Duncan (ILRI/Nile – his presentation; a poster on innovation platforms), Andre van Rooyen (ICRISAT/Limpopo – his presentation) and Kim Geheb (Mekong – his presentation), each focusing on different ideas and experiences.

A ‘bus stop’ exercise followed, with a different but short presentation at each stop (see this video interview – in French – with Hubert Some from SNV).

Participants then formed into four groups to further discuss specific questions.

  1. How do we scale out such platform processes? Key notions include: replication; snowballing; relationships among the various stakeholders; step back to allow the process to move forward;  financial resources; the specific contexts; and skilled process facilitators …
  2. What are the most significant lessons and messages in this area for ‘research for development’? each process needs a vision, a dream; these processes  are complex and time-consuming to operationalize; we should not underestimate the role of networks; should informality receive institutional support?; multi-way communication is essential …
  3. What is new and innovative in the experiences shared? It explicitly concerned about benefits of specific groups of stakeholders; it is used to facilitate research through continuous dialogue; researchers are taking on broker roles; change results from processes that motivate multiple actors and networks;  innovations result from consolidating diverse actors …
  4. What are the research questions on platforms that could be addressed across CPWF Basins? How to monitor and track behavioural and institutional change; how can knowledge data and information be incorporated into how platforms do things, building up institutional learning over time; The need to compare different platform approaches and the outcomes they produce; How do local ownership processes develop in different contexts; Are there factors that constrain or prevent the success of such platforms, and how do we share these …

Watch the discussion group video reports:

Kim Meheb from the Mekong Basin rounded off the session by synthesizing the main ideas and lessons emerging. These include: There’s no ‘blueprint’ for doing multi-stakeholder platforms; one of the strengths of these approaches is they way they allow for things to change along a MSP process; we need to design processes to allow people to join along the way – a ‘snowballing’ effect; two-way dialogues between what research uncovers and what policymakers or local communities demand are important parts of what we want to achieve; the importance of the ‘capacity to listen’ is something that we need to pay much more attention to; we increase the potential for change ‘exponentially’ once trust enters the equation; and that ‘muddling through’ and opportunism are important aspects of ‘adaptive management’ … however, our organizations are often not good at grasping these opportunities – our structures and compliance mechanisms often inhibit this.

Read related blog posts:

Water scarcity and land degradation strongly affect the livelihoods of millions of households in the Nile basin. Agriculture is predominantly subsistence, low-yielding and rain-fed. To meet the needs of the growing populations and restore the landscapes, we need to reverse the land degradation and improve productivity.

One promising approach to raising productivity and incomes and landscape resilience is to develop and adopt integrated rainwater management systems that mobilize technologies, policies and institutions. This will help to find solutions in land and water management, crop production and research crop-livestock systems, pastoral systems and agro-forestry that will slow land degradation and downstream impacts.

Past research shows that in rain-fed farming systems, dramatic gains in water productivity and crop production can be achieved with small amounts of water while different livestock feeding strategies can increase livestock water productivity. Nevertheless, in the fragile ecosystems such as the Ethiopian Highlands, the approaches to improving water productivity (and livelihood benefits) need to take into account complex linkages between different components of agricultural systems so that integration of various farming systems components (crops, livestock, trees) is important to achieve the best outcomes.

Other experiences show that impact of such interventions on rural livelihoods has been limited by, among other reasons: blanket approaches of policy makers; technology-oriented interventions not supported by effective policies and institutions; inadequate research-development linkages; and a lack of understanding of the inter-linkages (bio-physical and social) among different landscape components.

Uptake and successful implementation of rainwater management systems requires:

  • Detailed understanding of how landscapes function (bio-physically and socially) and are inter-connected.
  • Integration of bio-physical, technical, institutional and socio-economic aspects.
  • Targeted, context-specific interventions that reflect local values, agro-ecologies, production systems and communication channels.
  • Engagement of local community (particularly women) and institutional participation in all project phases.

The Project …

Part of the Nile Basin Development Challenge, this Project will examine the extent to which new technologies can combine with policy changes and institutional strengthening and reform to spur widespread innovation. It seeks to optimize the roles and contributions of micro-credit, land tenure, collective action in communities, and formal and informal institutions to integrated rainwater management strategies.

Our research approach is based on the premise that successful and sustainable rainwater management systems are underpinned by a set of interlinked mutually supportive landscape components.

It includes the idea that all landscape components perform beneficial natural functions that as far as possible should be protected or enhanced through interventions. It also encompasses the need for a rainwater management system to provide resilient livelihood improvement options, given specific rainfall variability and policy and institutional contexts.

Key aspects of the project design:

Working within the landscapes: We will base our research in specific study landscapes chosen to represent the dominant farming and socio-economic systems in the Ethiopian Highlands. Action research sites have been selected within these study landscapes, providing a nested set of sites for learning and research with various physical and social scales.

Innovative multi-disciplinary research: The project seeks to integrate research from several disciplines, including: 1) hydrometric analyses to provide insight into bio-physical processes, baseline data and water use and WP in different landscape components; 2) Livelihood monitoring and analyses to provide insight into how people benefit or lose from different rainwater management systems, and equity issues; 3) institutional analyses to provide insight into social norms and approaches to rainwater management; and 4) economic analyses to provide insight into the viability of the systems.

Based on inputs from Inception Workshop, consideration of a set of criteria from stakeholders, and seeking to represent the variability in Ethiopian highland landscapes, the following three landscapes/action research sites have been selected:

Study Landscape Woredas Predominant farming systems Mean annual rainfall (mm)
Nekemte Gimbi and Diga In the lowland maize & sorghum based agriculture (mono-cropping) with 3-4 year crop rotation is practiced. In the midland, teff, millet & maize are important. “Mixed crop-livestock system” 1,376–2,037
Jeldu Jeldu Potato is the dominant crop. Barley and teff are also common. “Mixed crop-livestock system” 900–1,350
Fogera Fogera and Farta Rice is the major crop followed by maize, millet & teff and barley. “Mixed crop-livestock system” 974–1,516

Meja River catchment (Jeldu Woreda): The upper catchment – a broad valley

Meja river mid catchment

Meja River catchment (Jeldu Woreda): Mid-catchment – deeply incised valley