Maksenit (Amhara) community members playing an adapted version of the ‘Happy Strategies’ Game Capturing GIS data in Debre Tabor (Credits: Catherine Pfeifer / ILRI)

Maksenit (Amhara) community members playing an adapted version of the ‘Happy Strategies’ Game (photo credit: ILRI/Catherine Pfeifer)

One of the sub-projects of the Nile Basin Development Challenge (NBDC) – ‘Targeting and scaling out of rainwater management systems’ – aims to map which rainwater management strategies work where, targeting specific strategies and scaling them.

We understand rainwater management strategies, to be a combination of rainwater management practices that increases water infiltration in the up-slope of a landscape, increases soil and water conservation in the mid-slope and increases water productivity in the low slope. Rainwater management practices are very broad and include, beyond rainwater harvesting, a whole range of practices affecting crops, livestock and trees.

The maps generated by the project are based on biophysical suitability criteria and socio-economic constraints identified in literature and through stakeholder consultation. Having generated the maps of likely areas where a strategy might be adopted successfully, the project team is ground-truthing the analysis by assessing adoption rates of rainwater management strategies in different locations.

A multi-scale approach is required to carry out this assessment.

Working closely with national partners, at farm scale, the team interviewed 600 farmers in 7 different watersheds of the Ethiopian Blue Nile – the current NBDC watersheds, namely Diga, Fogera and Jeldu as well as four new sites selected with NBDC partners:

  • In the Oromia region, Gorosole watershed (near Ambo) and Leku watershed (near Shambu);
  • In the Amhara region, Maksenit watershed (near Gondar) and Zefie watershed (near Debre Tabor).

The sampling of the farmers covers high-, mid -and low slopes in each landscape and represents female-headed households proportionally.

At landscape scale, the team ran focus group discussions in the four new watersheds and asked key community informants to imagine the best possible rainwater management strategy for their watershed, using an adapted form of the happy strategies game to understand which practice fits where and how it may need to be combined.

Capturing GIS data in Debre Tabor (photo credit: ILRI/Catherine Pfeifer)

Factors limiting adoption – which are beyond farmers’ influence – are identified in the process. They result in a set of interventions needed to enable the adoption of the strategy.

The 600 farm household surveys have been collected and are all geo-referenced at farmstead  – all in close collaboration with partners. Data entry will begin soon and the team plans a ‘writeshop’ to run the first analysis of the data with partners – to develop partners’ capacity to work with statistics and write analysis reports.

Find more detailed descriptions of the watersheds and how data has been collected on the blog of one of the NBDC researchers involved in the project.


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

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

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

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

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

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

Story contributed by Catherine Pfeifer