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.

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)

The so-called ‘Nile 4’ project aims at quantifying the consequences of improved rainwater management, measuring downstream, cross-scale consequences of successful innovation in the Ethiopian highlands.  On 23 May 2012, this project team organized a coordination meeting with the team of another Nile project (‘Targeting and scaling out of rainwater management systems‘, or ‘Nile 3’ project) to integrate targeting, impact assessment and priority setting between the two teams, as the pressure to integrate Nile Basin Development Challenge work streams is mounting.

Rainfall, one of the many factors the Nile Basin Development Challenge teams are interested in (credits: IWMI/Charlotte McAlister)

The coordination meeting gave a good occasion to review progress so far and identify the building blocks that the two project teams should capitalize on. For the year 2011, the N4 project team has been working on a number of important developments that should benefit the wider Nile Basin Development Challenge program and beyond.

The main research highlights for 2011, which will extend into 2012, include:

  • Modifying the open source Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT) to better represent hydrophysical conditions in the Blue Nile Basin (for use at a whole basin and at the catchment scale of the project). The team has done so by incorporating the concept of ‘topographic index’ into the model routine to account for saturation excess flow and landscape run-off processes, more realistically representing how and where run-off and sediment generation occur within the defined catchment.
  • Developing a first version of the Water Evaluation And Planning (WEAP) model to assess water resource optimization in the Blue Nile. Further plans include the coupling of the WEAP and SWAT models and to run a number of climate change scenarios to gauge possible impacts.
  • Developing a new method for acquiring a 30-year weather data set for anywhere in the world. Currently, most African weather data sets do not feature adequate temporal or spatial resolution, length of recording period and reliable quality of data. This endeavour aims at re-dimensioning the existing Climate Forecast System of Reanalysis (CFSR) dataset as a temporal series of grid points to avoid having to download terabytes of data to access a single point. Cornell University is assisting the project team.
  • Applying and adapting the economic benefits-optimization model ‘ECOSAUT’ in the Blue Nile Basin. This model was originally developed by the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT). The project team also compiled a literature/data source data of economic benefits in Ethiopia (and East Africa) to help scale up this work in the longer run.

The N4 project further documents progress on the overall program wiki and on the CPWF Spatial Analysis and Modelling topic working group wiki.

Terraces in Debre Libanos

Terraces - a possible application for spatial analysis and modeling (Photo credit: ILRI/Ewen Le Borgne)

What does hydrological modeling offer when analyzed together with human land and landscape interventions? Where does it lead and how practical can it be? This was the focus of a podcast on spatial analysis and modeling work undertaken mainly in the Nile Basin Development Challenge.

As part of the Challenge Programme for Water and Food, Peter Casier interviewed Catherine Pfeifer, a post-doctoral scientist working for the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

In this podcast (3’42’’), Catherine explains that, as compared with Geographic Information Systems (GIS), spatial analysis and modeling (SAM) work does not limit itself to being a useful tool – it actually focuses on what is planned with the data collected and how to analyze it for what purpose. In addition, it is not just hydrological modeling but it works in combination with emergent understanding of how human systems define and shape their landscape and land interventions. The combination of biophysical and human perspectives adds the richness to the work of the SAM topic working group.

In practice, this work can prove very useful for predicting the impact of a given landscape intervention to it hydrology. Pfeifer mentions the case of terraces where spatial analysis and modeling helps estimate how terraces might impact water flow and the potential benefits to the farmers in the future (improved productivity, reduced erosion etc.).

In other settings too, spatial analysis and modeling should help inform extension services and farmers about the potential benefits and drawbacks of different interventions for water and land management, placing the work of the CPWF SAM group at the centre of the rationale behind the Challenge Programme for Water and Food.

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