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.


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.

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)