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 first key message from the Nile Basin Development Challenge is to ’empower local communities and develop their leadership capacities to achieve long-term benefits and sustainable outcomes.’ Participatory design and planning on rainwater management interventions ensures key issues are addressed, the right pilot interventions are taking place and provides long term solutions with the commitment of everyone.

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.


ILRI’s Beth Cullen was recently interviewed by the USAID Feed the Future Agrilinks web site about innovation platforms and participatory video.

Read the interview

Watch the video:

From 4-6 May, some 70 people working with the Nile Basin Development Challenge convened in Addis Ababa with three objectives in mind:

  • Assess science progress of the NBDC program and projects
  • Review and strengthen project synergies and progress
  • Reach consensus on core concepts and approaches

To foster integration across the various projects, the workshop was organized around 5 cross-cutting themes:

Theme 1 looked at rainwater management strategies and aimed to clarify the key concepts and shared undersatnding among the various teams.

Theme 2 looked at  various research and development processes key to the success of the projects: platforms, innovation systems, networking, learning, policies, and institutions.

Theme 3 looked at livelihoods impacts, who the projects are targeting, gender dimensions, and how to integrate these concerns across the various projects

Theme 4 looked at water and productivity aspects – and modeling – to achieve a better understanding of the system at sub-catchment to basin scales.

Theme 5 looked at environment and ecosystem impacts, examining how we link rainwater management strategies with broader environmental health and ecosystem functions and notions of resilience.

During the sessions, we organized three ‘hard seat’ interviews with colleagues attending the workshop.

The final session looked across the projects at issues of communication and capacity building and reflected on progress towards the workshop objectives.

In the synthesis session Shirley Tarawali (see below) highlighted two overall lessons from the workshop discussions: First, the broad science concepts have been articulated but still need to be translated into practical realities on the ground. Second, issues of cross-project and cross-theme integration need to be addressed realistically to ensure synergies.


Workshop notes and materials are posted on the project wiki

Workshop presentations are on slideshare

Video reports from the discussions are online


Between 7 and 13 May, 2011, the Project ‘4’ of the Nile Basin Development Challenge (NBDC) will organise a week-long workshop on modeling in the Program. The aim is to bring together the project modeling teams to discuss emerging issues and work together on current technical challenges and cross-cutting issues.

Particular issues include scales of model applications; linking productivity and economies; linking productivity and hydrology; populating the ECOSAUT model with scarce data; and specific model technicalities such as how to incorporate RMS and how to couple SWAT and WEAP.

The workshop starts with a one day field trip to Jeldu on Saturday 7th May.

The first Partner’s Technical Workshop on the Mapping, Targeting and Scaling out of rainwater interventions in the Ethiopian Highlands project was held March 28-29 2011 on the ILRI Campus in Addis Ababa.

With participants from national partners, the meeting promoted discussion and exchanges on rainwater management related experiences amongst partners. It also provided an opportunity for preliminary identification of agricultural practices relevant for improved targeting of interventions.

During the workshop, discussion was driven by concrete objectives of moving towards a common understanding of rainwater management strategies, in addition to identifying and categorizing currently implemented and potentially effective agricultural practices.

The information gathered throughout the workshop will help define and support a structure to prioritize practices in the Ethiopian Highlands with regards to environmental settings and adoption factors.

Moreover, the discussion contributed to generate a conceptual outline of the spatially explicit decision support tools along with project output products ensuring capacity building beyond the project duration and scope.

Download the meeting report

An important  ‘project 1’ of the Nile Basin Development Challenge was to carry out a review of past experiences with rainwater management systems in the Ethiopian Highlands.

This report is now available for download.

The study is based on a review of nearly 400 sources, including policy papers, project documents, and research studies. We have approached the subject from a broadly historical perspective, tracing changes in policies and strategies from the 1970s to the present as policy makers, implementation agencies and development partners learned from experience. The authors also traced the results and outcomes of associated research programs and identified knowledge gaps. They provide recommendations regarding policies and implementation strategies, and for research.

Download the main report

Download the annexes

As we embark on the NBDC project on Integrated Rainwater Management Strategies – Technologies, Institutions and Polices, one of our early activities will be to undertake a baseline survey to understand what is currently going on.

This project seeks change in the way in which rainwater management strategies are planned and implemented. We are also looking at ways of spurring local innovation through the use of innovation platforms. We hope this will lead to a more joined up approach to rainwater management that will connect different landscape elements such as livestock, crops and trees. We also look for better connections between technologies and the human factors surrounding them.

But before we look at ways of bringing about change, we need to know how things are currently done. This is where our baseline survey comes in. Back in November 2010, we held a workshop with a range of national partners to develop a survey tool to assess planning, implementation and innovation aspects of rainwater management. This led to a series of checklists for various key informants and focus groups (see related blog post).

We are now about to go to the field to conduct the survey and our national partners are ready to go. We plan around 20 days field work at each site – our research partners will be accompanied by scientists from the NBDC team. Following collection of qualitative field data we plan a further analysis workshop with national partners to help us synthesize the findings.

Alemayehu Belay will be co-ordinating this effort with backstopping from Katherine Snyder and Eva Ludi, both of whom plan to go to the field. Alan Duncan and Josie Tucker will keep a watching brief from their bases.

Outputs from this project


Speaking at the Launch of the Nile Basin Development Challenge program (29 September 2010), ILRI Director General Carlos Seré explains why ILRI is partnering in a program focused on improved water management in Ethiopia and the Nile Basin.

He emphasized how the type of integrative science envisaged in this Program is in line with directions envisaged for the new CGIAR. He drew attention to a few ILRI lessons from this type of project: that technology alone is not the issue – we also need to understand policies and institutions; that gender is absolutely critical to understand household interventions; that we need good baselines and good impact data; and that we must go beyond diagnostics and the characterization of systems to the identification of drivers of change and key tipping points.

He also emphasized the importance of serendipity … that requires open minds to look at and take advantage of unexpected opportunities and ideas.

In the end, he argued, it all has to achieve impact at scale – which requires more than just the efforts of researchers, it needs many other types of people and skills brought together to innovate along value chains.

View his video presentation:

More information on the initiative is at

In July and August, we conducted a site specific survey and rapid diagnosis in the three selected research sites: Jeldu, Fogera and Diga.

We collected the available biophysical and socio-economic data about the sites and their watersheds and assessed the level of awareness of local actors (farmers, communities, Woreda and NGO staff) in rainwater management strategies.

The team captured detailed information on how the different watersheds in the landscapes function (biophysically and socially), how different landscape components are interacting and how changes in one component could bring about direct and indirect changes in others.

The roles, responsibilities, interactions and the working arrangements of a range of actors involved in rainwater management related research and development investments were also assessed.

The teams used key informant interviews, focus group discussions and field observations to gather relevant information in each Woreda.

The January 2010 workshop was used to kick-off the CPWF Nile BDC research program. Thirty participants from the four NBDC projects joined the workshop. During the workshop, participants worked further on their output logic models and shared their thoughts on the main practice changes and corresponding knowledge, attitudes and skills changes and strategies that their projects aim to address.

Cross-project interactions and topics were identified and discussed, and project groups began work on their Milestones, modifying their Gantt charts as needed. Some of the main implementation cross-basin topics and possible ways to address these were discussed.  Throughout the workshop, participants got a sense of what the CPWF core values are, how the CPWF is implementing this new phase, and how it is different from the first phase concept.

The four NBDC projects have also developed matrices of cross-project overlaps, synergies, areas of sequencing and areas to work together. The teams also developed criteria for site selection within the sub-basin, namely Socio-economic status, RWM challenges, Agro-ecologies, Production systems, Market access, and Diversity of actors (type, numbers, etc.). Based on these criteria, three sites – Jeldu and Diga Woredas (Oromia regional state) and Fogera (Amhara regional state) were selected for landscape level detailed studies.

We also made inventories of other Nile Basin RWM related on-going initiatives, mapping them to our activities. Participants also shared their expectations from the learning ‘Nile 1’ project led by Doug Merry as most proposals designed their work plan with the assumption that there will be an inventory and synthesis of past lessons at the early stage of this phase.

Prior to the Inception workshop, the NBDC team conducted a pre-inception workshop to create a common understanding of the different Nile BDC projects and how they interact with each other and with similar external initiatives. It was also about creating strong linkages to produce the expected outputs and outcomes while efficiently using the available staff and budget.