The CGIAR Challenge Program on Water and Food just published a new report from the Nile Basin setting out ways to enhance rainwater management (RWM) development processes.

In Ethiopia, considerable potential exists to enhance food production and rural livelihoods through better rainwater management – interventions which enable smallholder farmers to increase agricultural production – focusing on livestock, trees, fish as well as crops – by making better use of available rainwater while sustaining the natural resource base (water and soils) in rainfed farming systems.

Ethiopia has invested extensively in RWM interventions, in particular soil and water conservation and afforestation, over the last 40 years, but often with disappointing impact, for multiple reasons. Given this limited success in natural resource conservation, a new approach is clearly needed, but what should it be?

This report highlighted various livelihood issues that need to be considered if RWM activities are to be successful; it concludes with six recommendations:

  1. Shift the focus of targets from outputs to outcomes;
  2. Enhance monitoring and evidence collection on RWM with a focus on impact and sustainability;
  3. Revitalize and capitalize on the development agent system;
  4. Strengthen local institutions’ roles in natural resource management;
  5. Move towards more meaningful participation;
  6. Open lines of communication to foster innovation capacity.

Download the report

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.