Nile Basin Development Challenge at the IFWF3

Nile Basin participants reflect on the IFWF3

With a 45-person delegation, the Nile Basin was well-represented at the third International Forum for Water and Food. The Forum, which took place in Thswane, South Africa, from 14 to 17 November 2011, brought about 300 representatives from the six river basins of the CGIAR Challenge Programme on Water and Food, as well as a host of other international actors.

The Nile delegation was not only strongly represented physically. It also actively contributed to the forum in various ways and reported about it on blog posts, through video and on Twitter …

1. Leading and facilitating a couple of Forum sessions:

2. Contributing to a host of other Forum sessions:

3. Organising four sessions during the Share Fair:

4. Organizing a NBDC stand:

IMG_5279

Nile Basin Development Challenge briefs on display

Posters focusing on the different Nile projects were exhibited at the stand. Moreover, two NBDC technical reports on the review of development of key national policies with respect to rainwater management in Ethiopia prepared by Ethiopian Economics Association and on promoting improved rainwater and land management in the Blue Nile (Abay) basin of Ethiopia were distributed at the stand. Seven briefs of the Nile were also distributed.

5. Contributing to the social reporting of the Share Fair with about 300 tweets, three videos, ten blog posts, various pictures and capturing the presentations. Read a related blogpost.

On the final day of the event (Thursday 17 November), the whole group gathered to review the insights garnered by the whole team during the week and to devise ways forward, building upon what happened at the Forum. Among the great results achieved, the NBDC team is involved in various topic working groups either to lead (livelihoods, spatial analysis modeling) revitalize (multiple use systems) or support (resilience).

In addition, under the leadership of Basin coordinator Tilahun Amede, a group of representatives from the three African basins will coordinate the development of a publication synthesising evidence produced on the topic of rainwater management in Africa. Amede is also heralding discussions with other basin leaders to consider setting up a network that would extend cooperation around rainwater management on the continent.

The next National Platform meeting (19 December 2011) will be a crucial moment to bring together all these results to the wider group of stakeholders in Ethiopia, including the young professionals who were empowered to join decision-making processes regarding water and food management during the Forum.

The Nile delegation has now flowed back up to its familiar banks but the knowledge confluents of the age-old Nile are growing in all directions. The next year may see the Nile banks, and its people, flourish with new ambitions.

Our pictures.

All Nile presentations and posters

Our blog posts.

Our videos

See also the Forum website.

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:

During the 2011 Third International Forum on Water and Food (in South Africa) Amare Haileselassie from ILRI reflected on ways that livestock can be integrated into rainwater management systems and strategies in Ethiopia. The overall aim is to improve ‘livestock water productivity’ through the adoption of various practices at farm and landscape levels.

View the video interview:

See his powerpoint presentation to the forum

Read a recent policy brief on water-efficient livestock production

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.

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 …

ILRI’s Alan Duncan was asked to share a Nile Basin Development Challenge (NBDC) ‘story’ at the recent International Forum on Water and Food.

Watch the video:

Alan’s story introduces some of the challenges that the Ethiopian Government faces in seeking to improve natural resources management at the local level, in the Blue Nile Basin. He reports that the sectors need to be better connected (water, agriculture, livestock); and more dialogue between officials and communities towards more participatory approaches to rainwater management.

One approach the NBDC is trying, is to support local ‘innovation platforms‘ – spaces for diverse actors to come together to engage in dialogue, and to jointly identify and address issues. The idea is that these will catalyze greater local participation and ownership of interventions, connect with national initiatives, and help make Ethiopian landscapes more productive.

He concludes stating that Ethiopia is known as the ‘water tower’ of Africa … with strong community participation and ownership, it could also be Africa’s breadbasket!

On the final day of the Third International Forum on Water and Food, I was fortunate to participate in a very interesting and informative discussion regarding the role of participatory video in CGIAR Challenge Program on Water and Food (CPWF) projects. ILRI’s Beth Cullen presented some ideas and expereinces from her work in Ethiopia (see the presentation)

Read the full blog post by Natalie Bowers …

View a poster on participatory video in the Nile BDC:

“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

Change is not linear. Change is not easy. Changing the way research is carried out for more impact is certainly no exception.  In session of the Third International Forum for Water and Food, dedicated to innovation platforms, the tone was set: if we want to achieve impact, we have to change dramatically and it will not be a smooth learning curve.

Read the full blog post by Ewen Le Borgne …

View a poster on local innovation platforms in the Nile BDC:

Recent research sponsored by the CGIAR Challenge Program on Water and Food concludes that higher temperatures and shifting rainfall patterns will bring uncertainty and change to river basins in Africa. These changes could significantly alter water flows, presenting a new barrier to nascent efforts to better manage water for food production and to resolve potential cross-border water conflicts.

“Climate change introduces a new element of uncertainty precisely when governments and donors are starting to have more open discussions about sharing water resources and to consider long-term investments in boosting food production,” said Alain Vidal, director of the CPWF.

According to the authors, climate change could also introduce uncertainties into the water politics of the Nile Basin, with the CPWF analysis showing that higher temperatures—a rise by 2050 of two to five degrees Celsius—have the potential to increase water evaporation to the point that it would reduce the water balance of the upper Blue Nile Basin.

The findings are discussed further at the 3rd International Forum on Water and Food.