Headwaters of the Blue Nile, Ethiopia

Case study leader: International Water Management Institute (IWMI)

Ecoregions covered: Ethiopian montane forests, Ethiopian montane grasslands and woodlands, Ethiopian montane moorlands

Site description: Over 14 million people live in the Ethiopian part of the Blue Nile River, which has a catchment area of 172,254 km². In this case study we will focus our research on the Gumera catchment, located in the Lake Tana sub-basin in the Amhara Region which represents high rainfall (i.e. 1,800 mm), crop-livestock system including irrigation and wetlands.

Pressures: About two-thirds of the area the basin falls in the highlands where rainfall and runoff are erratic, with dry spells significantly reducing rainfed crop yields and in some years leading to total crop failure (Awulachew et al 2008). High population pressure, lack of alternative livelihood opportunities and the slow pace of rural development are inducing deforestation, overgrazing, land degradation and declining agricultural productivity. Poor water and land management in upstream areas (e.g. cultivation on steep slopes) reduces both potential runoff yields and the quality of water flowing downstream. The result is a vicious cycle of poverty and food insecurity. High sediments loads result in high costs to maintain and failure of downstream water management infrastructure (Awulachew and Tenaw, 2009). For many of the people living in the basin their vulnerability is expected to increase with climate change.

Stakeholders: AFROMAISON will collaborate with important stakeholders at national, regional and local level including researchers and development implementers such as the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR) responsible for availing technologies and practices for local use and facilitating extension services to upscale interventions to wider communities, NGO’s to target specific communities and landscapes, Universities and research centres to undertake similar work in Ethiopia and the wider Nile Region, policy makers from Amhara, Tigray and Oromia regions of the Blue Nile to tailor policy interventions to facilitate adoption and dissemination.

Case study focus: The main focus of this case study will be to provide strategies/tools that result in decreased degradation and increased land and water productivity in a sustainable manner. This will increase peoples’ resilience and reduce their vulnerability, particularly in relation to climate variability and change. Use of agricultural water management interventions (e.g. soil and water conservation measures and harvesting of runoff) can help manage climate variability and can significantly reduce poverty in some circumstances (Hagos et al., 2009). However, there have been relatively few quantitative studies of the large –scale potential of such interventions, the possible downstream consequences if they are significantly up-scaled or the possible impacts of climate change on the effectiveness/suitability of such measures. This study will focus on these issues.

Previous projects: Challenge Program on Water and Food, Agricultural Water Management (AWM) Solutions, Re-thinking Water Storage, Blue Nile Hydrosolidarity

Country or case-study specific expertise of partners: IWMI, PIK, UNESCO-IHE

For more information check study case