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

Nile Basin Development Challenge experience in Ethiopia shows that natural resource management (NRM) requires multi-sector integration and the strong involvement of farmers to identify problems and implement solutions. However, research shows there is a ‘disconnect’ between farmers and decision makers in their perceptions of NRM problems and ideas for solutions.

Participatory tools – such as ‘WAT-A-GAME‘ that can be used to encourage better communication and joint understanding among different actors are essential for successful planning processes. NBDC researchers, in collaboration with the AfroMaison project and local partners, have been experimenting with the WAT-A-GAME tool in Fogera, Ethiopia. 

Learning event

Mulugeta Lemenih facilitates the WAT-A-GAME learning event (Photo credit: ILRI / Apollo Habtamu)

Mulugeta Lemenih facilitates the WAT-A-GAME learning event (Photo credit: ILRI / Apollo Habtamu)

In February 2013 a ‘learning event’ was organized to present the tool and experiences from Fogera woreda to an expert group of regional and national partners. The participants included representatives from the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ethiopian Insitutue of Agricultural Research, OXFAM- African Climate Change Resilience Alliance, Forum for Environment Ethiopia, Ethio Wetlands and Natural Resources Association, Horn of Africa Regional Environment Centre, Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus, Ethiopian Rainwater Harvesting Association, World Vision Ethiopia, Hundee-Oromo Grassroots Development Initiative, Fogera Woreda Livestock Agency and SOS Sahel Ethiopia.  The aim of the event was to discuss the tool and its potential use in supporting landscape scale strategy development for integrated NRM at a larger scale. Participants played the game using two similar game boards designed for the Fogera landscape. Seven volunteer participants from each group represented the farmers living in the highland, mid-land and wetland areas and also a landless farmer.

After the learning event, participants raised many questions:

  • Was the tool new?
  • Does ‘landscape’ mean the same as ‘watershed’?
  • Were users surveyed before and after they played the game?
  • What time framework is involved in playing the game?
  • Participants gave constructive feedback on the game itself and how to make it useful for other organizations and experts working in the area of NRM.

All agreed on the need to simplify the tool and called for further research to investigate ways in which the tool could be used to complement current government approaches towards watershed management. They also suggested that community level representatives should be grouped by gender and that land management strategies should be developed separately to ensure that women’s views are recognized.

More generally, playing the game stimulated a discussion around different approaches towards integrated planning of NRM used in Ethiopia. It seems that most of the approaches in the past lacked genuine community participation and they failed to create a sense of ownership. At the learning event it was agreed that the WAG tool could usefully complement ongoing watershed management planning and implementation.

Participants also felt that the role playing element would help communities better understand their problems, from household to landscape levels, and give them an opportunity to identify potential solutions from their own perspectives. The game also presents an opportunity for decision makers to better understand the challenges facing communities in the implementation of NRM interventions.

Some participants showed interest in taking and adapting the tool to their own organizations and programs. However, a simple set of guidelines is needed to explain how to design the game board for a specific landscape and then to use the game effectively to reflect and address different actors’ views. This will help the scaling up of the tool by other organizations. In-depth training is also needed for organizations that are interested to use it in their project sites with necessary documents and materials.

See this presentation about using WAT-A-GAME for participatory NRM planning in Fogera – presented at the NBDC science meeting in July 2013:

Read the WAT-A-GAME brief

The Nile Basin Development Challenge (NBDC) has identified several challenges to effective planning and implementation of rainwater management (RWM) interventions in its three sites, (Jeldu, Diga and Fogera) located in the Blue Nile Basin of Ethiopia. Challenges include poor coordination and communication between actors, lack of bottom-up planning and insufficient community participation.

Local level innovation platforms have been established in each site an attempt to work with a range of stakeholders to address these issues. So far, innovation platform members have identified common RWM issues and have designed pilot interventions at a micro catchment scale. However, we need to draw on the lessons learned to design more effective strategies at a larger scale.

Zelalem Lemma (ILRI) introduces the WAT-A-GAME workshop

In December 2012, researchers from AfroMaison and the Nile Basin Development Challenge co-organized a workshop in Fogera to develop landscape scale strategies for improved rainwater management. The workshop was organized by Mulugeta Lemenih, Beth Cullen, Zelalem Lema and Aberra Adie with assistance from Geraldine Abrami and Emeline Hassenforder.

The aim of the workshop was to use WAT-A-GAME (WAG), a participatory planning tool, as the starting point for looking at RWM issues at a landscape scale.

WAT-A-GAME is an open toolkit developed by IRSTEA and CIRAD which enables participants to design and run simulations for water management, policy design and education. It aims to show how water moves within a landscape, how it is used, polluted, transformed and shared by actors. Using WAG, participants can simulate various actions or strategies and the resulting impact on their household economy, their wellbeing, labor, and the surrounding ecosystem. New policies can also be invented and tested. It can be adapted to individual cases, various land and water management issues and different scales. WAG has been designed to be used by a range of stakeholders, including farmers, scientists, experts, administrators and policy makers. In this workshop WAG was used to model the Fogera catchment and simulate key RWM issues including water availability, run-off, soil erosion and the impact of different land-use practices.

Aberra Adie (ILRI) introduces the WAT-A-GAME to farmers

Research conducted by NBDC scientists has highlighted a disconnect between farmers and decision makers in terms of perceptions about NRM problems and ideas for solutions.

This is exacerbated by a lack of communication and understanding between the different actors. In order to highlight these differences participants were separated into two groups of 28 community representatives and 22 decision makers and experts.

For the first two days these groups worked separately to identify and prioritize key issues, identify technical, institutional and policy interventions to address these issues and to incorporate these actions into an integrated strategy.

Actions required to address rain water management issues are prioritized by farmers

On the third day, the two groups presented their strategies to one another. This led to knowledge sharing and constructive dialogue about similarities and differences between the strategies, the reasons for this and how they can be merged. The role-playing exercises and subsequent discussions raised awareness about upstream and downstream linkages and landscape interconnectedness. Regional and district staff learned about farmers’ knowledge and priorities, and vice versa.

This was the first in a series of workshops, the next step will be to test strategies developed during the first workshop and work with stakeholders to create an integrated and feasible strategy for the Fogera area that can potentially be implemented. It is hoped that this process will be replicated in the two other NBDC sites over the coming year. The process will be used to share experiences and knowledge between the three sites, as well as between local and national platforms in an attempt to inform policy.

See more photos