Background to the project

1.1 Development setting

The Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) is a cooperative arrangement between nine Nile countries to support better management of the Basin's resources. A Subsidiary Action Programme (SAP) has been organized into two sub-programmes: the Nile Equatorial Lakes (NELSAP) and the Eastern Nile (ENSAP). The latter corresponds approximately to the tributaries originating in the Eastern Nile Highlands located mostly in Ethiopia, which is the source of 86% of the Nile flow at Aswan. Approximately 62% of this flow comes from the Blue Nile or Abay River.

ENSAP has adopted a two-track approach: the first is a multi-purpose track to develop an overall strategy, undertake appropriate baseline studies, and properly plan a multi-purpose, multi-country investment programme; the second is a fast track process to identify doable projects for immediate implementation which can show the way forward and which may open the door to financing for other multi-purpose projects.

The Integrated Development of the Eastern Nile (IDEN) project, the first investment project of ENSAP has seven integrated components related to improved water resources management and use, one of which is the proposed Integrated Watershed Management Project (as described in this report). The IWMP will form an integral part of a larger development plan known as the Tana Beles Integrated Water Resources Development Program, which is being taken up to improve development and management of land and water resources of the Tana and Beles sub-basins. The IWMP is intended to bring about improved land management and contribute to socio-economic development through improved rural livelihoods in the Tana sub-basin.

1.2 Location of the project

The general location of the IWMP was determined in 2005 by ENTRO and MoWR following extensive consultation. The main requirements were that the selected areas be appropriate to integrated watershed management development through a participatory approach and be capable of yielding early and demonstrable results on the ground.

Studies were undertaken throughout the highlands area of Ethiopia leading to more detailed review of three sub-basins, from which the Lake Tana sub-basin in Amhara Regional State was found most suitable on the grounds of development potential. Some 39 criteria were established and used to identify the study area for the project, which was agreed to be within the Gilgel Abay-Jema, Gumera and Ribb watersheds around Lake Tana.


ENTRO's brief for the project proposes a 5-year project covering approximately 75,000ha (split equitably between the three watersheds) as a first phase of a longer term programme, and that it should be focused on areas where greatest impact on land degradation can be achieved.

1.3 The project area

The selected gross study area lies in seven weredas (Dera, Estie, Farta, Fogera, Libokemkem, Mecha and Sekele) in the Amhara region, and includes some 121 kebeles. The total watershed area is about 444,000 ha (Gumera 47%, Ribb 42% and Jema 11%). The population of the project area is about 0.95 million (Gumera 49%, Ribb 38%, and Jema 13%). Population densities, whilst averaging 2.15 per ha, are observed to exceed 6.0 per ha in some areas. The selected areas for development, the project area, cover some 80,602ha with an estimated population of 180,189.


1.4 Development needs

Settlements in the watersheds date back over 70 years or more and there is evidence of habitation in some areas stretching back to the 15th and 16th centuries.

The growth in population has not been matched by increases in productivity. Over the last 20 years or so, the land resource to provide for the burgeoning population with the technologies available has become overstretched. The consequences have been:

  • In the struggle to maintain food security, expansion of the cultivated areas into the less productive areas on steep slopes with fragile soils, prompting widespread land degradation, most notably on the hill sides;
  • Greater runoff during the rains, with less retained within the soil and aquifers, diminishing the water resources and per capita water availability, both in terms of access to safe water supplies and to underpin agricultural production;
  • Reduction in forest areas, causing increased erosion and reducing natural energy resources with attendant hardships for the community;
  • Reduction in grazing areas for economically significant livestock production, prompting overgrazing, land degradation and reduced productivity.

Combined with limited public investment in basic services (safe water supply, health and education) and inaccess to markets and distant public services, the condition of the communities is very poor. Food shortages occur for part of most years and household cash incomes are extremely low ($200/year on average and less than $100/year for female headed households).


1.5 Development challenges and vision

In the Ethiopian highlands, annual crop production of staples like teff, wheat and barley is constrained by a uni-modal, rainfall pattern with growing periods ranging from 90 to I80 days.

A farmer has only one chance per year to grow staple crops to feed his family. The problem is exacerbated by between year and within season variability in the rainfall, the consequence of which is either feast or famine. Furthermore, with an average of less than 1.0 ha of land available to each household for annual crop farming, there is little capacity to tolerate any level of crop failure. The result is that most families experience a hunger period of up to four months a year.

The communities' response to this problem has been to expand their area under cultivation by moving to the higher slopes and cutting the forest, first for timber and fuel, and then clearing the land completely for cultivation. With generally only degraded land or protected forest land remaining and with the cultivated land losing fertility and becoming increasingly susceptible to further erosion, their only remaining strategy to cope with food shortages is to reduce the number and size of meals taken each day.

Since the climate cannot be changed, what must be changed are the patterns of land use in association with the diversification of livelihoods to provide alternative or additional sources of income to cover any shortfall in staple food. The underlying strategy for the project is; therefore, to promote a significant shift to permanent agriculture which makes better use of variable rainfall than annual agriculture as it is presently practiced.

The vision is of a landscape with permanent tree crops and improved perennial pastures above its Keyline with lower slopes used for annual crops and pasture leys. The Keyline would be demarcated by cut-off drains leading to ponds in the principal waterways which provide water for livestock high in the landscape and which act as silt traps. These ponds would also slow down the rate at which water leaves the landscape.

Above the Keyline, forestry and agro-forestry can contribute significantly in two ways to bring about a beneficial change to the landscape. The first is to enrich and/or expand remnants of natural forests and to replant severely degraded areas strategically with appropriate species for soil and water conservation purposes as well as the provision of livelihood elements such as the collection of fuel wood, medicinal plants and the selective harvesting of construction timbers. The second is to develop agro-forestry systems which will enhance soil and water conservation measures as well as supply products for human consumption and sale and quality livestock feed throughout the cycle of the seasons.

This is the beginning of protecting the lower slopes used for annual cropping. The Keyline provides the guide for ploughing these slopes on the contour. A pasture ley or strip crop can provide another break for the downward movement of water after heavy rain, which is an important foundation to rebuilding and maintaining soil fertility for annual food crops. Once the crop lands are securely protected from soil erosion of any type, farmers should feel more confident to invest in fertilizers of the right sort to enhance productivity from a smaller area of crop land. In this situation, high-yielding varieties of greater yield stability also can be introduced. When this point is reached farmers will be less likely to use any land they can to cultivate food crops.

Many farmers operate farming systems with a mix of crops and livestock. The primary purpose of cattle is to provide oxen for ploughing. There is a shortage of ploughing oxen for purchase (i.e. high price) and for hire (at a high rent, and good timing is at risk due to availability). This affects low-income families and female-headed households particularly. Otherwise, cattle and small ruminants like sheep and goats are the primary source of income for families (particularly needed to meet health, educational and social commitments). Moreover, they can be sold if the need arises. The primary problem the farmers face is that the loss of one animal in a small population is a significant loss of capital. Interacting with animal health as a constraint is the shortage of feed relative to the number of animals held.

The shortage of cattle feed will be relieved when they have access to quality forage in the uplands as well as high quality pasture leys in the crop production areas. Well-fed cattle can be mated earlier and have shorter calving intervals. Allied with the delivery of a basic animal health system, the result will be more and stronger oxen available for ploughing.

If all the Project activities are seen in the context of this dynamic vision, the end result will be a diverse landscape producing crops, livestock and money as well as happy, healthy, productive people at an equilibrium level substantially above what it is now. This is the direction which must be taken "to improve directly the livelihoods of Ethiopia's rural communities through improved land productivity, increased food security, livelihood diversification and improved access to water and biomass fuels".

1.6 Development aims and agenda

The complementary aims of the project are to lift the communities out of the poverty trap they are in by raising their productivity whilst promoting sustainable use of the landscape and natural resources. This in turn is expected to lead to reduced erosion to the benefit of downstream users (both nationally and in the context of the Nile Basin as a whole). This wider significance underscores a further aim of the project to develop both sustainable and replicable processes.

The project components are arranged; therefore, in three mutually supportive themes:

  • Theme A (Livelihoods) has four components directed at improving livelihoods through better communications, increased productivity and enhanced income generation.
  • Theme B (Natural Resources) has two main components covering soil and water management and forestry and agro-forestry. The aim of theme B is to create a sustainable landscape that both limits erosion and creates a more productive basis for livelihood generation.
  • Theme C (Capacity Building and Project Management) addresses the immediate constraints in capacity to implement the project and sustain the outcomes through more robust community and government institutions.


1.7 Design considerations

Given these aims and the importance of achieving sustainable solutions, the project has been designed with the following considerations:

  • Community and individual assets are sustained where they are sufficiently valued by the community and individuals and there is the technological and financial capacity to maintain them.
  • Asset value reflects both a sense of ownership (either legal and/or having been involved in the development of the asset) and the returns of that asset on investment (cash or kind).
  • Most improvements to the landscape require some degree of cooperation amongst the community and sustainability hinges also on the institutional capacity within the community to manage and maintain a shared asset.
  • Households have too little cash to consider anything beyond meeting their most immediate needs and the reality is that their labor is the only investment that is practically available to them. However, under prevailing cultural and socio-economic conditions, labor is a scarce resource and household and community investment choices will be primarily determined based on the returns to their labor.
  • Given the significance of labor, measures to increase labor availability and productivity through improved health will contribute to the overall project aims (with obvious wider impacts on the communities' well-being as well).
  • The community, individually or collectively, has the greatest stake in developing their own livelihoods and must be in the driving seat from the outset in determining what should be done to improve their lot (aided by sound advice and within the project's mandate).
  • Notwithstanding this central role of community, reliability will hinge on the public sector's ability to manage the investment programme and transfer the processes and lessons learnt from one watershed to the next.

 1.8 Principles adopted in project design

Building from these considerations, the project has been designed with the following principles in mind:

  1. The project will support and promote, principally through demonstration and training, those economically viable activities that the community are readily willing to contribute their time due to the evident quick returns. The activities undertaken will be designed to contribute towards improved soil and water conservation, but are prioritized on the basis of their income generation (eg improved husbandry and improved perennial pastures)

The project will invest in and support those economically viable infrastructure developments which have a substantial impact on soil and water conservation and which

  1. the community are capable of maintaining at their own cost under conditions of moderate productivity improvement, but for which absorption of the capital cost is not financially viable under such conditions (eg forestry, check dams and gulley control)
  2. The project will identify economically viable infrastructure developments which have a substantial impact on soil and water conservation but for which the sustainability is in doubt due to high maintenance costs and low returns to labor under conditions of moderate productivity improvement, but which in the medium term (beyond the project lifetime) could be expected to become viable with a substantial improvement in productivity, occasioned by improved marketing and farm technologies (eg reclamation of highly degraded lands with terracing, etc).
  3. The project will invest in and support activities that will directly result in improved labor availability and a significant transformation of productivity that would render viable the more expensive soil and water conservation measures as described above (eg improved access to safe water supplies, access roads, strengthened operation of local institutions).
  4. The project will identify through facilitation of community action plans other development activities that will contribute towards overall livelihood improvement which would be appropriate for funding from other sources (eg credit services)
  5. The project will support through technical assistance, provision of equipment, training and community mobilization the development of sustainable institutions at village level to maintain and build upon the project's investments, at kebele and wereda level to continue the programmes within their areas after the project, and at regional level to promote replication in other areas.
  6. The project will also support a monitoring and evaluation programme that will assess the physical progress and the achievement of outcomes which will generate lessons learnt and appropriate corrective actions both during and at conclusion of the project.


1.9 Project design process

The project areas lie within the nominated three sub-catchments (determined in 2005), which together comprise a total study area of about 444,000ha. Five study sites within micro watersheds, each of approximately 300ha, were selected for detailed study on grounds that they were representative of conditions throughout the study area. Baseline surveys and two rounds of detailed consultation were conducted in each detailed study area, leading first to an identification of the communities' view of their development needs and priorities and secondly to a discussion of the different options for addressing those needs. In parallel, data were assembled on conditions throughout the study area.  

Investments were first determined for the entire project area based on the requirements of the communities expressed through the consultation process augmented by any additional needs to stabilise the landscape beyond those requirements brought forward by the communities. The communities' needs were ranked by the communities themselves and highlighted a range of important problems they believed to be limiting their ability to improve their livelihoods.


These needs were reviewed and a set of interventions were identified to address these problems. These were discussed with the communities and ranked by them. They inevitably focused on the immediate problems faced by the community and further interventions were identified by the team to address the wider problems of longer term reduction in landscape degradation. The apparent low ranking of "access" may have reflected that the study sites enjoy better access than most of the project area.

This comprehensive set of interventions was then further developed by the team to extend over the entire project area and cost estimates were prepared. In the case of soil and water interventions, designs follow the principles and guidelines established by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MoARD) under the MERET programme.

The proposed investment project area was delineated using the five study sites as nuclei for development (facilitating a rapid start to the investment project) and recognising that the investment area should be expanded contiguously from these nuclei on grounds that this will facilitate meaningful assessment of impacts on sediment flows, logistical efficiency in implementation and demonstration of impacts from one community to the next.

Investments identified in the project area were extrapolated across the entire investment area using spatial analysis of physical and socio-economic data. The initial investment package was then subjected to multi-criteria assessment (MCA) and ranked in terms of overall score per investment cost. This then provided a basis for identifying those investments which should be included within a first phase of an overall programme.

Parallel to the above, assessments were made of the institutional capacity to implement and sustain the project, of stakeholders and of baseline socio-economic conditions. These have led to the proposed implementation arrangements and social and environmental management plans. The bases for extrapolating the cost estimates for the entire investment area were:

(i) Detailed estimates prepared on the five study sites,

(ii) A comparative spatial analysis of topography throughout the investment area and a review of land use, and

(iii) socio-economic data collected for the area as a whole.


Source - Eastern Nile Regional Technical Office (ENTRO) Project Implementation Plan 2007

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