Tag Archives: GWI

Ethiopia: development and grandeur astride the Abbay

It’s a chilly Monday morning in Addis Ababa with the sun crawling over the horizon. After a refreshing night and hefty breakfast at one of the many hotels sprinkled all over the city centre, I set off, together with three GWI EA colleagues, on a 500km drive to Bahirdar, home to the beautiful Amhara people and project site of our 63 Champion farmers.

dadOver a period of two and a half years, the Global Water Initiative East Africa programme has successfully supported smallholder farmers in Dera Woreda to improve their agricultural production and realise food security. This has been achieved through farmer trainings, on-farm demonstrations, extension support and provision of irrigation technologies such as water pumps, purchased through farmer cooperatives. irrig Our approach has provided the desired multiplier effect, where the cooperatives purchase more pumps – with money paid by the farmers–and which other farmers hire and eventually purchase. Farmers have been trained to appreciate the importance of managing and using the little water available effectively and efficiently for maximum production through supplementary irrigation, especially during the long dry seasons.

Sandwiched by colleagues in the back seat of our rented Land Cruiser, I rubbed my hands in gleeful anticipation as the excitement of a road trip through the rift valley gorge to Bahirdar, north east of Addis Ababa, enveloped me. Not even the reminder that I was on a working visit or the thought of sitting in a car for over nine hours was going to dampen my spirits.

Driving through the city, I was soon struck by the magnitude of history that the people of this land have preserved over the years. Coming from a country where development translates into multi-billion glass buildings and malls, it was time for my patriotism to take a back seat while I rained down glorious chunks of praise on this fascinating land, adorned with beautiful historical architecture. In the heart of the city, sit the palaces of emperors who ruled these lands decades before. Two that especially caught my eye were the Jubilee Palace, a commemoration of the Silver Jubilee of Emperor Haile Selassie’s coronation, and the National Museum of Ethiopia that houses the fossilised remains of the famous early hominid, Lucy.

As we drove away from the hustle and bustle of the city, the beautiful sights of historical monuments were soon replaced by proof of people still living in absolute poverty and under development. I was quickly sobered up from my state of awe by the sight of women, some as old as 50 years, racing down the roadside doubly bent over under the immense weight of piles of wood on their backs. While I was appalled and saddened by this burden I was witnessing, I quickly learned that this is a source of livelihood and the life these women know. With their images engraved on my mind, it was hard to hitch back on my high horse of excitement. Of course that was until I laid my eyes on the breathtaking Blue Nile Gorge, or “The Grand Canyon of Ethiopia” as Liz, my colleague chose to baptize it. lizLocated on the western margin of the northwestern plateau of the Rift Valley, the gorge comes into view some time after leaving behind Debre Libanos and the thrilling drive down and round mountains and plains, a striking scenery that leaves you holding your breath in anticipation for what you just might see next.

And there, right at the bottom of the gorge was the spectacle of the Blue Nile River – reduced to shallow waters at this time of the year – as it lazily flowed on its way down from Lake Tana, the largest lake in Ethiopia, to meet the White Nile River in Khartoum and flow into Egypt as one Great Nile. Although the Blue Nile, locally known as the Abbay is significantly much shorter than the White Nile, it is interestingly the origin of approximately 80 percent of the water that flows through the Great Nile. It is here that a huge 6,000 mega watt dam, the nile bestlargest in Africa, is being built. Having contributed a set proportion of their incomes, people of Ethiopia – through the purchase of bonds – will co-own this major infrastructure. The government plans to reimburse the people by selling hydropower to neighbouring countries from this grand investment.

As we drive closer to Bahirdar, it is hard not to notice the dramatic shift in the landscape and lifestyle of the peoples on this side of the Abbay, especially the unique richness and tefftraditional vibrancy in the air. The first to catch my discerning eye was how the women and girls here shaved their heads completely and covered them up with head scarves. The soils too looked much drier. For as far as the eye could see, were bare fields, clustered with heaps of freshly harvested tef and wheat built into domes and left to dry. On first sight, one would think these delicately fashioned masses of grass were huts built for accommodation. In a region that receives very little rain and experiences long dry spells, these heaps of food are a comforting reminder that food security may not be a threat to the people here, at least not for months to come.

Seven hours down the road, hungry, with our joints protesting and demanding for a stretch, we stopped for lunch at a restaurant in a town called Saint Michael. A few minutes after placing our orders, a tray of the traditional Ethiopian food –injera, with an assortment of vegetables and meats – gazed invitingly back at us, tempting our long-starved taste buds. One bite into the spicy cuisine and I realised that this dish was on a fast train to becoming my favourite addiction. Each mouth-watering morsel was a enjeramasterpiece waiting to delight my perceptive palates. After the delicious meal, I was presented with a little cup of strong steaming coffee and although the sun was unforgiving and the heat too irreconcilable with a hot drink, I soon learned that under the Ethiopian sky, anytime is chai/coffee time. By the time I had drained my cup, I was left in no doubt that this country could very well be where the fine art of brewing coffee was born.

As the night set in, the feeling of home away from home descended upon me. Having learned and seen so many unforgettable sights that were a perpetual spectacle to my curious eyes and having perfected my “Oh my goodness” mantra of awe, I finally snuggled back into my seat as the beautiful sounds of Madingo Afework flowed from the car radio washing over my spent soul. I was home.

GWI EA team; Matilda, Tesfaye, Elizabeth, Alan and Bethel with some of the Champion Farmers

Matilda Nakawungu
GWI EA, Uganda

Harnessing Irrigation for Improved Food and Income Security

Workie Tarekegn, 55, lives in Shimie Kebele, Dera Woreda, Ethiopia, with his wife and five children. The youngest is under five years of age. His eldest son is a civil servant, another, a mason. The other three children are attending elementary and high school. He is a farmer.

Champion Farmer Workie with wife

Workie started irrigation by digging a well in his compound 15 years ago. He planted vegetables and trees such as Gesho (a plant whose leaves are used in making local brew). Today, he uses surface water to irrigate his field which borders a river.

Workie is a model farmer to the village and has received recognition from the local government; it has given him two pickaxes, a shovel and a spade as reward for setting a good example in his community. Workie says that learning from his experience, other farmers in the village have started to practice irrigation.

“We used to experience months of food shortage. I was not able to feed my family. This was before I started practicing irrigation” Workie says. “With irrigation I have been able to feed my family and to send my children to school.”

Workie adds:“One of my neighbors, who started irrigation after seeing what I was doing, now has more money than I have. He has made significant progress. I am happy to be a model to him and many other farmers in the village.”

Besides his orchard and vegetable gardens, Workie has a eucalyptus plantation worth 20,000 birr (about 1000 USD). He is food and financially secure because he produces with rain as well as irrigation.

Workie says that the lack of technologies to lift and convey water to farms is the major reason why many farmers in his village are unable to irrigate their crops. To counter this challenge, he recommends that farmers be provided with water lifting technologies, conveyance structures, gully crossing structures and small weirs construction to raise the water level of the stream for easy diversion into the canals.

GWI EA is supporting small-scale farmers such as Workie to access appropriate technologies that can efficiently lift and deliver water on farms to increase yields. Among these are water lifting pumps, plastic hoses and water saving technologies such as drip irrigation.

Tesfaye Ewnetie

GWI East Africa, Ethiopia


Farmers Believe What They See

Technology can serve as a catalyst in agriculture, shifting farmers from subsistence to profit oriented production, and spurring dramatic quality of life improvement for the rural poor. New technologies can also help farmers contend with the mounting challenges to food security brought about by climate variability. The million dollar question is how to best get these new technologies to the farmers who need them.

A learning tour of Masaka and Rakai districts

The Global Water Initiative EA (GWI EA) in November 2013 organized a visit for its stakeholders from northern Uganda to Masaka and Rakai districts, in central and southern Uganda respectively, to expose them to water for agriculture technologies. One of the immediate objectives of the visit was to increase appreciation, understanding and inspire smallholder farmers to identify feasible and cost efficient water harvesting technologies to increase farm production.

Among the participants in the week-long study tour were champion framers, community based trainers, policy makers, technical staff at the district and sub county levels, and GWI EA partner staff from Otuke and Gulu districts.

A learning opportunity

This was a combination of theory and practice. After brief introductory presentations by the farm managers and owners, participants would be taken to the farms to see how technology can improve a farmer’s production.

The farmers learned how to harvest rainwater and manage run offs. They were taught how rain water harvesting facilities are built and maintained, as well as the economic and social benefits of rainwater harvesting.

Otuke farmers learn about rainwater harvesting

At a climate resilience centre in Masaka, hosted by Mr and Mrs Dhaki; the farmers learnt that it was possible to harvest run off and rainwater without external support. They were taught how to use the treadle pump and the importance of group marketing as demonstrated to the participants by the “Akamira Eyiye Tagiseera Mata” group where all the 27 members had planted Nakatti, a green leafy vegetable, and each member had two days to supply to their local market.

At Josephine Kizza’s family farm project, farmers learnt the importance of intensive land use for optimum land productivity. They learnt that for higher yields, a farmer did not need to open huge chunks of land but could work on two acres and earn sufficient income and be food secure. It is at this farm that they were introduced to the farmers’ motto: “Know what to grow, grow what you know and be known for what you grow.’’

After interacting and seeing what their fellow farmers were doing, the northern Uganda farmers, most of them from Otuke district, were inspired to harvest and use water to increase farm production. By February 2014, 10 out of the 13 farmers who had been on the trip had dug pits to harvest runoff water.

Ojur John, Champion Farmer, Otuke

One of the farmers, John Ojur, was inspired by the Friesian cows he saw on Josephine Kizza’s farm and has procured for himself one heifer which has now calved and he is getting milk.

The Masaka and Rakai experience opened many participants’ eyes not only to water harvesting technologies but also to farm management skills including book keeping.

“We are delighted with the experience we have had in Masaka and Rakai,” said Ojur John, a Champion Farmer in Olilim sub county. “We will go home and turn around our farming systems. We have a lot to do, a long way to go, but we will get there.”

When I visited some of these farmers recently, I found they were still excited about their Masaka and Rakai visit. They were full of ideas of what their farms would look like in the coming two years. Indeed, farmers believe what they see!

Miriam Imalingat

GWI EA East Africa, Uganda

Talking Stockholm: Taking stock of cooperation and partnerships

GWI EA, a five-year program of action research, advocacy and policy influencing that focuses on investments in water for smallholder agriculture attended World Water Week in Sweden 1-6th September, the focus of which was on water cooperation  and “ building partnerships”.

2013 World Water Week: Opening Plenary_46
Dr. Peter Morgan, 2013 Stockholm Water Prize Laureate.

Our Program Director and Uganda and Tanzania Policy and Advocacy Managers used the occasion to contribute to sessions, strengthen networks and increase awareness on the GWI EA achievements to date. We also wanted to get a stronger sense of how cooperation and partnership building could address the “wicked” problem(s) of investing in water

management for smallholder farmers in East Africa, and how different levels of partnership building could contribute significantly to this task. Team members attended a variety of sessions and presented at the event.


Some of the key take-homes and reflections include:

  1. Competing demands on water in many parts of the world mean that there is no taking for granted agricultural use “ hence there is need for a far more robust business case for investing in water for small-holder agriculture. This should include demonstrating increases in income, improved food security and time savings, including a far stronger understanding of private sector engagement to help mitigate risk and optimize supply/investment. We will work on the latter process of engagement, in particular, given the huge significance of private sector operators in determining market behaviour in our three focus countries Ethiopia, Tanzania and Uganda.
  2. At least 10% of agricultural budgets should be spent on water for smallholder agriculture over the next 5-year period.  This aligns with the Maputo Declaration implemented by CAADP and is also (apparently) what is being discussed within the UN under the development of sustainable development goals. This provides an entry point for those keen to influence (as GWI EA is) inter-sectoral budget allocations. One investment challenge, is how to establish funds that can support water investments in smallholder agriculture “ at all levels“ and in particular focusing on technologies and practices that put more emphasis on harvesting “green” water.
  3. Promoting the use of natural capital “water infrastructure” is high on the current global policy agenda – unsurprisingly given that 70% of current water withdrawals are being used in agriculture, and this figure is likely to rise in coming years. Water use efficiency was one area of emphasis, particularly in the wider context of water management within “landscapes” (land and ecosystems). This strong message throughout the week built on an understanding of “natural capital” as a key asset to harness, including improving “green water” availability and use through enhancing soil moisture and establishing more robust and resilient soil systems. Conservation agriculture is one “smart” way of achieving this, using water for agriculture as part of wider farmer management of natural regeneration (FMNR).
  4. Returns on investment in conservation agriculture can be high because labour needs are reduced by 30%, as well as other inputs. There is a need to build a case for productivity per unit area under Conservation Agriculture (CA), and to nurture more private sector-led engagement in this area. This is an area GWI EA could lead on, providing examples of what can be done, how much it costs, and the kinds of mechanisms required to scale up.
  5. The week also allowed showcasing of new initiatives. USAID and SIDA launched the Grand Food Security Challenge, a venture capital fund to support implementation of promising innovations. This is an important initiative, and, we hope, will include support to innovations in learning. Innovation in funding is required globally as well as locally to respond to the need for investments in water for agriculture that are appropriate at different scales, affordable and sustainable.
  6. Strengthening Stockholm?: The World Water Week is an important global gathering.  The technical “meat” of the event is strong, but linkage to political engagement  and commitment  remains weak, apart from the “Stockholm Statement” that comes out on Friday (see here). From a GWI EA perspective, this makes participation less effective than it could be, so in future we will seek more targeted and political engagement in the process. This will include specific efforts to leverage greater global focus on levels of investment in water for smallholder agriculture, including building partnerships around the messaging of our Regional Charter on Investing in Water for Smallholder Agriculture. Our planning for Stockholm 2014 has already begun!

Violet Alinda, Lopa Dosteus and Alan Nicol