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Nile River Basin Research Highlights


A landscape approach to rainwater management can strengthen rural livelihoods and their resilience





Summary of Research in the Blue Nile River Basin

About 160 million people live in the Nile River basin. The ten countries encompassed by the basin each face its own set of water and food challenges.

Nile BDC sets outIn the Blue Nile River basin—the Blue Nile is the largest branch of the Nile River; it drains the Ethiopian highlands—high population pressure and increasing use of marginal land is causing land and ecosystem degradation. High sediment loads are making it expensive to clean irrigation canals and dredge reservoirs in the downstream countries of Sudan and Egypt, putting pressure on people and their livestock. Ecosystem degradation is resulting in a downward spiral of poverty and food insecurity for millions of people in Ethiopia and downstream countries.

In the past, increases in food production resulted from land expansion in upstream countries and irrigated agriculture in downstream countries. Now, the challenge is to increase the productivity of rain-fed and irrigated agriculture while at the same time reversing degradation and sustaining ecosystem services.

With the launch of its second phase of research in 2009, CPWF set out to explore how a landscape approach to rainwater Open source GIS toolmanagement could strengthen rural livelihoods in the Nile basin. Considering the potential of rain-fed agriculture as well as time, resource, and institutional constraints, CPWF focused especially on the causes and consequences of low rainwater productivity in the Ethiopian highlands. One of CPWF’s major achievements in this basin was to define the main elements of a new integrated watershed rainwater management paradigm.

CPWF’s research on rainwater productivity was preceded by its first phase of research in the basin: Between 2004 and 2008, CPWF implemented fourteen loosely connected research projects on water and food issues in the Nile River basin.

The CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems’ East Africa Focal Region research is building on CPWF’s work in the Nile.

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View all publications from the Nile.

A new integrated watershed rainwater management paradigm for Ethiopia: Key messages from the Nile Basin Development Challenge (Technical report)

This document synthesizes eight key messages based on the outputs and outcomes of a trans-disciplinary scientific research for development program. The work combined detailed local field research and engagement with local stakeholders, development and testing of practical learning, communication and planning tools, assessment of opportunities and likely outcomes from scaling out improved rainwater management, and engagement with Ethiopian policy makers and senior officials – all with a foundation in scientific excellence.

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Lessons from the Nile Basin Development Challenge Program: An Institutional History (Working paper)

This Institutional History draws on the large collection of documents, informal and formal reports, minutes of meetings, etc. available through the NBDC wiki and website; and interviews of 26 partners and stakeholders to find out their perspectives and views on the program and its lessons.

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Rhetoric versus realities: A diagnosis of rainwater management development processes in the Blue Nile Basin of Ethiopia (Working paper)

Smallholder rainfed farming is the backbone of the Ethiopian agriculture sector, the dominant contributor to national GDP, and at the heart of the country’s current national economic growth strategy. Considerable potential exists for enhancing food production and rural livelihoods through better rainwater management. Ethiopia has invested extensively in RWM interventions, in particular soil and water conservation and afforestation, over the last 40 years, but often with disappointing impact, for multiple reasons. Given this limited success in natural resource conservation, a new approach is clearly needed, but what should it be?

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Innovation Platforms to Enhance Participation in Rainwater Management (Working paper)

This paper draws on lessons from two years of work with 'innovation platforms' that were established by the Nile program in an attempt to strengthen landscape-level rainwater management in Ethiopia.

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The Nile River Basin: Water, Agriculture, Governance and Livelihoods (Book)

The Nile provides freshwater not only for domestic and industrial use, but also for irrigated agriculture, hydropower dams and the vast fisheries resource of the lakes of Central Africa. The Nile River Basin covers the whole Nile Basin and is based on the results of three major research projects supported by the Challenge Program on Water and Food (CPWF). It provides unique and up-to-date insights on agriculture, water resources, governance, poverty, productivity, upstream-downstream linkages, innovations, future plans and their implications.

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Integrated innovations and recommendation domains: Paradigm for developing, scaling-out, and targeting rainwater management innovations (Journal article)

This paper reviews Ethiopia's experience in rainwater management (adoption, performance, and impact) to get insights about the proposed paradigm and the factors entering the paradigm. The findings suggest that integrated innovations and the conditions of success embraced in a recommendation domain provide the necessary and sufficient conditions for a successful rainwater management intervention at a landscape level.

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Nile BDC sets out 8 key messages on rainwater management in Ethiopia

Ethiopia’s policies and programs on sustainable land and water management have evolved over several decades and have had important positive impacts on land management and livelihoods. These policies and programs can be further transformed and integrated into a new paradigm that will better enable poor smallholder farmers to improve their food security, livelihoods and incomes while conserving the natural resource base. Implementation of the eight core elements of this paradigm will greatly improve the long-term benefits of the Sustainable Land Management Program and related interventions in Ethiopia.

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Uptake of integrated termite management to rehabilitate degraded land in East Africa

In degraded areas in East Africa, termites pose a major threat to agricultural crops, forestry seedlings, rangelands and wooden structures. A project was designed to identify appropriate combinations of technical and institutional options for Integrated Termite Management (ITM) through a process of shared learning and innovation.

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Seed funds to oil the wheels of innovation in rainwater management: what have we learned?

As part of the Nile’s work, local Innovation Platforms (IPs) were established in three sites in the Blue Nile Basin of Ethiopia: Diga and Jeldu woredas (districts) in the Oromia region, and Fogera woreda in the Amhara region. One primary question was how could action be incentivized when the returns on investment in natural resource management are so long-term? The program therefore decided to trial the provision of a small grant fund from CPWF to the three platforms, to kick start activities and encourage people to get around the table.

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Participatory video for ‘vertical communication’ between farmers and policy makers

One CPWF project investigated and documented the effectiveness of participatory video (PV) as a tool to bring local issues to the attention of planners and implementers of rainwater management interventions in Ethiopia. The resulting participatory video made by community members from three kebeles in Fogera woreda was recently shown to members of the Fogera Innovation Platform. The video, titled ‘A Rope to Tie a Lion’, captures community views on land and water management and focused on three issues: unrestricted grazing, water stress and government-led soil and water conservation work.

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Multi-scale participatory mapping to answer the question: Where does which rainwater management strategy work?

One CPWF project – ‘Targeting and scaling out of rainwater management systems’ – aimed to map which rainwater management strategies work where, targeting specific strategies and scaling them. The maps generated by the project are based on biophysical suitability criteria and socio-economic constraints identified in literature and through stakeholder consultation.

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An open source GIS tool to plan context-specific rainwater management strategies for Ethiopia

This brief showcases a GIS planning tool—the Nile Goblet tool—which has been developed to help target rainwater management practices and strategies to a specific context defined by its bio-physical, socio-economic and institutional characteristics.

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WAT-A GAME: A tool for participatory natural resource management planning at landscape scale

Research shows there is a ‘disconnect’ between farmers and decision makers in their perceptions of NRM problems and ideas for solutions. Tools for better communication and joint understanding among different actors are essential in development planning processes. This brief showcases one such tool—WAT-A-GAME—that has been tested in Ethiopia.

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Happy strategies: where strategic land and water management is as simple as playing a game

The Happy Strategies 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.

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Participatory hydrological monitoring in Ethiopia

Detailed understanding of hydrological processes can only be obtained through the establishment of monitoring networks that measure water fluxes at different location within a catchment. The establishment of such network is complicated, time consuming and costly. Through engagement with relevant stakeholders and communities, hydrological monitoring networks were established in three research catchments.

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Innovation platforms, participatory video and WAT-A-GAME for participatory NRM: Experiences from Ethiopia

This presentation provides an overview of some of the tools that have been employed by Nile researchers in order to move towards participatory natural resource management.

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Browse the projects below to learn more.


  • CPWF-Nile Website
  • CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems--East Africa Focal Region
  • CPWF Slideshare
  • Nile Flickr
  • Wiki-based CPWF-Nile Workspace