In late 2013, the Nile Basin Development Challenge developed eight key messages. Taken together, these messages form a new paradigm that can help further transform policies and programs and better enable poor smallholder farmers to improve their food security, livelihoods and incomes while conserving the natural resource base.

The fifth key message from the Nile Basin Development Challenge is to ‘adapt new models, learning and planning tools and improved learning processes to increase the effectiveness of planning, implementation, and capacity building’.  Planners, development agents and farmers, together with researchers, can use a variety of tested tools to plan and implement rain water management solutions, and to develop capacities of all actors along the way. Tools such as Wat-A-Game, hydrological modeling, Cropwat modeling for crop-water productivity, the Nile Goblet tool and feed analysis tools etc. have been all used and tested in the NBDC and are available for anyone.

See the overall digital story ‘An integrated watershed rainwater management paradigm for Ethiopia: Key messages from the NBDC‘.

Download the brief covering the full set of key messages.

Read the full technical report “A new integrated watershed rainwater management paradigm for Ethiopia: Key messages from the Nile Basin Development Challenge, 2009–2013


This digital story was produced to communicate the key messages resulting from the Nile Basin Development Challenge (NBDC). The Nile BDC aimed to improve the livelihoods of farmers in the Ethiopian highlands through land and water management and was funded by the Challenge Program for Water and Food. The eight key messages constitute a ‘new integrated watershed rainwater management paradigm’ and are based on the outputs and outcomes of trans-disciplinary scientific research for development

Best practices for rainwater management in the Ethiopian Blue Nile are well known. They include many practices related to crop livestock and trees that increase water availability or productivity within the watersheds, such as soil and water conservation, small scale irrigation, fertility management, or livestock management. Nonetheless, adoption of many of these practices is still low, mainly because they have been promoted in locations where they are not suitable, or have not been combined with symbiotic practices that would result into real benefits for farmers.

Rainwater management practices therefore need to be combined at landscape scale to form rainwater management strategies. These strategies fit a specific context that is defined by the bio-physical, socio-economic and institutional constraints. In other terms, best bet rainwater management strategies are location-specific and best practices should be combined differently in different locations.

Suitability analysis

In geographic information systems (GIS), suitability analysis is a procedure that allows to select locations where a given practice is suitable. It is a four-step procedure :

  1. Selecting bio-physical suitability criteria
  2. Selecting the geographical layers that represent the bio-physical suitability criteria
  3. For each criteria, selecting location from the geographical layer where the criteria is met (in other words, creating criterion maps)
  4. Selecting all locations where all criteria are met (overlaying criterion maps) and creating practice suitability maps

For the Nile basin, adoption maps were created, based on economic models. These show the percentage of farmers that are predicted to adopt a practice, given the socio-economic and institutional constraints. When the suitability maps are overlaid with adoption maps, a feasibility map is created that shows how many farmers will likely adopt the technology on a suitable location allowing to prioritize locations with suitable socio-economic conditions.

The Nile Goblet tool

The Nile Goblet tool (also presented here) is an open source GIS tool that allows easily to make suitability and feasibility maps without prior GIS knowledge. It is a very flexible tool that in principle allows to map any practice for any location of the world, and helps consider combinations of practices. A database has been developed which includes all the (freely) available layers for the Nile basin, as well as the suitability thresholds suggested by the “integrated participatory watershed management guidelines” from the Ministry of Water and Energy.

Using the results of the tool on the ground

The maps resulting from the tool can be very inaccurate, due to the scale and inaccuracy of the input data. As such the maps present windows of opportunities based on expert knowledge of what communities could do. Action on the ground should help unlock local knowledge and complete this picture. Implementation should therefore be done in a participatory manner for instance with approaches such as the ‘happy strategies’ game. It can enable a dialogue between communities, non-governmental organizations and local government agencies around rainwater management practices, so as to validate the maps and come up with a feasible plan on the ground.

Conclusion

Offering a tool that allows policy-makers and practitioners to introduce their own or expert knowledge about suitability criteria into a transparent procedure will help them understand and trust the resulting maps, better understand why promotion of rainwater management should be location-specific and move away from today’s blanket approaches. Indeed, the resulting maps can support the elaboration of context-specific policies. In combination with the happy strategies game, the maps also enable expert knowledge to blend into a participatory approach and improve the planning on the ground with communities.

Catherine Pfeifer (credit: ILRI / C. Pfeifer)

Catherine Pfeifer, Post-doc at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), is going back to Switzerland in late December. For the past three years, she was involved in the Nile Basin Development Challenge project (‘N3’) on ‘Targeting and scaling out of rainwater management systems‘.

In this interview she shares some views on her involvement in the NBDC  and particularly her work around gaming solutions for targeting relevant land and water management options.

What range of NBDC activities have you been involved in?

My main activity has been the Nile-goblet tool, including finding the data, setting up the database (linked to our suitability data), developing the concept of the tool. In a way, the Nile-goblet brings everything from the N3 project together: concepts, suitability data and adoption maps. This work aims to explain how to introduce socio-economic constraints in biophysical targeting.

The other main activity has been the Happy Strategies game which helps people assess most suitable land and water management interventions in a given area.

In addition to this, she did a lot of capacity building: A one-week training on geographic information systems (GIS) in 2011 and two training courses more recently this year. Finally there was the learning event last week which introduced the Nile-Goblet tool to members of the NBDC national platform thematic working group on technological innovation.

What has been most successful / what are you most proud of?

The tools: the Nile-goblet and the Happy Strategies game. They are taken up by partners (the Water and Land Resource Centre will further promote and work with those tools. They are considering developing them further in future learning events of the thematic working group on technological innovation. The reason I am proud: our initial objective was to get other people involved in developing these tools and we seem to have achieved this objectives.

Working with partners has generally been successful, despite challenges (see below).

The Spatial Analysis and Modeling topic working group has also been great to work with and quite a success.

What has also been successful is the work in our team: as the GIS specialist, I could take care of the adoption maps and developed a participatory tool. The team was very flexible throughout the process. I had enough freedom to do the things the way I thought they should work out.

What has been most challenging? Why?

Working with partners has been challenging at times, but we overcame challenges.

The other challenge was the integration with other NBDC projects. The program aimed to work in an interdisciplinary manner but it hasn’t always worked, perhaps because of the the way the project was set up. I wonder if we really had the space to develop such interdisciplinary work. At any rate we haven’t really worked together across teams as much as we could have. Every team worked in its interdisciplinary approach but this didn’t extend across projects. We missed opportunities to think together about how outputs could have been developed.

What lessons learned will you use or build upon (from your NBDC work) in your next job?

I want to keep working on integrating socio-economic constraints in spatial models. There is scope to understand how this integration works much better. I learned a lot about it in the past two years but there’s a lot of space for improvement still.

What I also really learned was how important it is to involve farmers and mix expert and local knowledge. For example we can do this geographic targeting but it will never be perfect. We need a space to interact, validate and learn and adjust, which is what we tried to offer with the Happy Strategies game. That integration is something where the CGIAR is very strong.

I also learned to not be scared, to trust that things will work out in the end somehow…  Three years ago, I would have been scared to talk to farmers and now I’m ready for it any time.

Any advices to the NBDC for the final year?

  • Get the right people involved at the right moment. E.g. the learning event was small but it brought together interested people and they will take it up.
  • Move away from trying at all costs to bring the diversity of the NBDC together. Think also about bringing similar people together to take over the work. Perhaps in our innovation platforms we would do well to reduce the diversity and invest in people that will take things up.
  • Mind the fatigue of our partners. Only invite partners that can really benefit from the events we organize. Otherwise there is a risk of a lot of talking and nothing much happening. And some partners are investing precious time and money in the events we organize, we need to remember that when planning our meetings.
  • Don’t get lost in interdisciplinarity: Try to link the NBDC teams and people but don’t try to force them to work together. There is a lot of good work that could be used at different scales and for different people. Not everything needs to be integrated.
  • If you really want to integrate the NBDC work, develop a Google layer and look seriously into collecting geo-coordinates for each NBDC output, so it can be shown on Google Earth and linked to actual NBDC documents. This could be the easiest way for NBDC to integrate our work. If I were to stay another year I would work on that and try to develop a public layer on Google Earth or a KML file (for Google Earth) which people can download, click on and display the NBDC outputs.

How do you look back at the whole experience?

I had a great time. I loved my job. I loved the fact that my job was free, despite the occasional tensions. I’m happy to see it finish nicely.

Catherine Pfeifer regularly blogged about her NBDC work on her own blog: http://catherinepfeifer.blogspot.com/

Discover the Nile-Goblet tool: http://nilebdc.wikispaces.com/Nile+Goblet+tool+and+training

Discover and use the Happy Strategies game: http://happystrategies.wikispaces.com/

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.

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).

One project of the Nile Basin Development Challenge aims to match land and water ‘practices’ and interventions to the needs of specific landscapes.

In 2011, we experimented with a game – modeled on the ‘happy families’ childrens’ game – to discuss the challenges involved.

In this video, Alan Duncan (ILRI) and other game members explain the results of a game played at the 3rd International Forum on Water and Food in November 2011. While the landscape used was fictional, the story gives ‘real-life’ insights into rainwater management challenges and opportunities in Africa.

The game used a fictional landscape derived from real NBDC sites in Ethiopia – the landscape background and game objectives are described in this presentation.

More on the game and what it can do …

“The score never interested me, only the game.”  Mae West

Playing happy strategies (Photo: Ewen Le Borgne/ILRI)

Playing happy strategies (Photo: Ewen Le Borgne/ILRI)

There is nothing as practical as a good theory. And there is nothing as strategic as a game one might say, judging from the interest that the ‘happy strategies’ game generates among serious researchers. Not surprising perhaps, since the game holds a lot of value to understand the strategic issues behind effective land and water management. And it does so in a playful way.

During the Share Fair organized around the International Forum for Water and Food, the ‘happy strategies’ game was introduced to a group of about 20 participants. In the two-hour session, the participants learned all about the process of the game: First, the group discovers the imaginary site where the action of the game is taking place (through its altitude, slope, rainfall etc.). Second, all participants around the table receive (rainwater management) practice cards indicating the purpose and suitability of that practice for different types of landscapes.

Then the game starts. The basic idea of the game is two-fold:

a)      You can achieve a whole lot more with a group than alone – in practice in the game the participants around the table are working as one team. They have to develop a set of practices and interventions leading to a strategy. A table facilitator ensures that the purpose of the game is understood, that the basic rules are followed and that everyone contributes to the collective solution;

b)      An effective strategy comprises a complex set of interventions that are tailored to each specific location but also interconnected in some way. In the game, there are basically three levels of intervention: The highlands, midlands, lowlands. Perhaps this geophysical set up is informed by the topography of Ethiopia, where the game was created.

Where the power of the game really reveals itself is in the discussions that participants have around the most effective interventions. Looking at the cards they received, the groups discuss the potential of a certain intervention or practice over another, and if they are not happy with the set of cards they have, they can trade some at the central practice bank. They may also come up with innovation cards – on new practices – which they develop as a group during the game. Discussing the pros and cons of each intervention for each level itself sheds light on the benefits of each approach and its potential to be embedded in and reinforce the whole strategy. The arguments and discussions leading to select strategies effectively unveil a picture that is bigger than the sum of the parts.

At the end of the phase, after about an hour and a half, participants introduce their collective strategy to one another. It is possible to spend additional time to cross-review and assess these strategies. This process reveals additional issues and factors that might justify the strategy or shape the understanding of how different practices and interventions make sense together or not.

The game has a lot of potential to generate common understanding around food and water issues, harness collective thinking and devise more effective strategies for water and food interventions. The rich discussions triggered by the game bear the promises of revealing new interventions and practices. Expert inputs can therefore broaden the understanding be put directly into practice in the game (as new intervention cards at the next iteration of the game). We also think it might be something we can take to local communities – for them to identity and discuss different practices and strategies, with each other and with experts.

It was only the second time that the ‘happy strategies’ game was played (it was first played in Bahir Dar in October 2011) and some tweaking is still required: The fictitious site was too closely molded on an Ethiopian landscape and the set of interventions was therefore adapted to that environment. For people unacquainted with Ethiopia, engaging proved challenging and their ideas of strategies and interventions differed substantially.  That said, the simple and entertaining exercise that the game offers – to work on otherwise very complex issues – is worth exploring further and for once the result matters less than the discussion process.

Mae West wouldn’t have put it otherwise.

Photos from the Bahir Dar game

Find all elements of the Happy Strategies game