IWMI in East Africa

Abdulkarim Seid

IWMI’s regional office for Eastern Africa, based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, works closely with government and nongovernment partners to develop solutions for water challenges and priorities. Our work is aligned with the agendas of regional and continent-wide organizations, including the African Union Commission, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development and the East African Community. IWMI’s strategy is centered around three strategic programs – Water, Food and Ecosystems; Water, Climate Change and Resilience; and Water, Growth and Inclusion – each supported by high-quality science and digital innovation. All our activities contribute to supporting the efforts of countries to meet their targets towards achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.Abdulkarim Seid, Country Representative - Ethiopia, Regional Representative – East Africa, IWMI, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

  • Wetting front detectors
    Wetting front detectors
  • Woman packaging roses at AQ Roses PLC farm near Ziway, Ethiopia.
    Woman packaging roses at AQ Roses PLC farm near Ziway, Ethiopia.
  • Chili farmer using a wetting front detector
    Chili farmer using a wetting front detector
  • Feeding time
    Feeding time
  • watering rose plants
    watering rose plants
  • Woman bundles cabbage leaves to sell at market
    Woman bundles cabbage leaves to sell at market
  • Urban farmer Fekadu Sebani inspects his cucumbers in Addis Ababa
    Urban farmer Fekadu Sebani inspects his cucumbers in Addis Ababa
  • Urban farmer carrying greens from field in Addis Ababa
    Urban farmer carrying greens from field in Addis Ababa
  • Transporting urban produce to market
    Transporting urban produce to market
  • Isotope hydrologist Seifu Kebede at the National Isotope Hydrology Lab
    Isotope hydrologist Seifu Kebede at the National Isotope Hydrology Lab
BackgroundWater, Food and EcosystemsWater, Climate Change and ResilienceWater, Growth and Inclusion
Water is crucial for food security, human well-being and health, and biodiversity. With population increases and economic growth, water is also essential for energy generation, manufacturing and urban development. Economically, Eastern Africa is the fastest growing region on the continent. Most of the growth is in cities, driven by rural migration, especially of young people. Economic expansion leads the continent at close to 7% per year. However, the benefits of economic development are not equally distributed, with women, young people and marginalized groups receiving a disproportionately low share. They are also more vulnerable to climate shocks, due to social exclusion and lack of support, particularly in the agriculture sector, as well as being dependent on natural resources for their livelihoods. Rapid economic growth has also led to unsustainable use of land and water resources, and uncontrolled and widespread industrial pollution.

Eastern Africa experiences regular lengthy periods of drought. The region is plagued by floods: five of the seven most flood‐prone countries on the continent are in Eastern Africa. The frequency and duration of droughts and floods will only increase with climate change. Rapid urbanization and a strong push to create employment in the manufacturing and industrial sectors have created competition over the relative distribution of water for domestic, industrial and agricultural purposes. There are also issues around whether distribution should favor water for smallholders or large-scale farmers, often export-oriented agriculture. Policies on these matters are often vague. The mandate for managing water is spread across different ministries, and the organizations tasked with water management are understaffed and underfunded.

The share of cultivated area equipped for irrigation in Africa varies considerably by country, but is generally very low (less than 3%). This is due, in part, to the mountainous topography in many countries, and also because farmers lack access to finance for investing in irrigation, and an economic and institutional environment that hinders the scaling of promising irrigation technologies and approaches.

IWMI is working towards bringing irrigation technology to smallholder farmers in Eastern Africa. In Ethiopia and Tanzania, IWMI scientists are testing water-lifting tools and practices in farmers’ fields, while addressing constraints to adoption and scaling, such as gender issues, and access to credit and the technology supply chain. Another project works with communities in Ethiopia to build small-scale irrigation systems, which are owned and managed by farmers, underpinned by sustainable irrigation water management, and agricultural support services and institutions. Yet another project evaluates irrigation performance in the Nile River Basin to support joint action by countries to enhance the efficiency and productivity of irrigated agriculture. We promote sustainable irrigation development while providing advice on policy options and incentives for low-cost, inclusive solutions. We also carry out capacity development to support the pathway from research to impact.

Land degradation is a serious problem in Eastern African countries. This disrupts agricultural production and puts significant pressure on water resources, as farmers try to counter decreasing land productivity with the increased use of irrigation water, fertilizers and pesticides.

IWMI develops strategies for better land and water use. In Ethiopia, we are designing measures to combat land degradation and enhance local benefits, particularly for marginalized groups. These measures include the use of ‘exclosures’ – degraded areas where woodcutting, grazing and agricultural activities are prohibited to promote natural regeneration. IWMI trains landless youth and women to manage these exclosures and conduct income-generating activities, such as beekeeping or livestock fattening. In the Omo-Turkana Basin, we are gathering data on the status of, and drivers of change in, the basin’s ecosystems, and suggest practical solutions to ensure the continued delivery of ecosystem services to communities whose livelihoods are threatened by the degradation of these fragile ecosystems.

All IWMI’s activities in Eastern Africa aim to increase the resilience of agricultural systems and livelihoods. Our research on sustainable agricultural water management, for example, identifies the most efficient and economically viable approaches. These approaches are inclusive, which means they are accessible to different social groups, and enhance the resilience of farming households. Through modelling, we generate information on water availability and spatiotemporal distribution under different climate scenarios. This can be used by decision-makers, for example, in river basin authorities, to support water allocation planning and better prepare for a changing climate.
Weak institutions, poor governance, and a lack of accurate and current data are major obstacles to water security in Eastern Africa today. IWMI supports the organizations tasked with managing water at all levels. For example, we assist river basin authorities with data acquisition, management and use to ensure a more integrated approach to basin management and water allocation planning. We help governments to establish water payment systems covering thousands of smallholder farmers as well as approaches to establishing the value of ecosystem services. IWMI’s work on governance emphasizes the need to understand power dynamics within and between societal groups and institutions, and to ensure equitable outcomes for the most marginalized people.

Water has an emotional and spiritual dimension in many countries. Through stakeholder dialogues, IWMI is exploring the uses of water and the economic, social and cultural values of these uses to develop strategies that manage competing interests. Including the perspectives of groups that do not frequently interact, such as representatives of watersheds and basins, communities, the private sector and governments, is key to disentangling perceptions, views and ideas.

Tensions between urban and rural areas over water resources are becoming more intense and complex as urbanization outpaces the region’s capacity to provide essential services. In Ethiopia, we are working to understand the synergistic relationship between water demands in urban and rural areas, and to develop approaches to increasing water security, including the productive reuse of wastewater in both settings.

Unprecedented migration is reshaping social, economic and political landscapes in the sending and receiving countries. To date, communities facing labor outflows have received relatively less attention. IWMI is focusing on these ‘sending communities’ to understand the economic, institutional, cultural and agroecological factors that mediate the outflow of labor from rural areas, and explain how demographic changes are reshaping rural transformation in these areas.

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Innovation bundles

Farmer-led irrigation development is about much more than installing a pump in a field. It requires access to financing, labor, energy, and input and output markets, so that investments in irrigation translate into sustainable returns. IWMI uses a systemic approach to understand the farming system as well as the factors in the enabling environment that prevent women, men and youth from engaging in and benefitting equitably from farmer-led irrigation. We partner with farmers and the public and private sectors to test contextually relevant innovation bundles that combine irrigation technology such as solar pumps with financing mechanisms like pay-as-you-own or pay-as-you-go, agricultural inputs and agronomic techniques. We also look at ways to improve on-farm water management and nutrient use efficiency and reduce evapotranspiration through digital advances and agricultural extension. We integrate the scaling of innovation bundles into agricultural value chains to enhance the impacts on farmers’ irrigation investments, incomes and livelihoods.

This focus area contributes to the following One CGIAR impact areas:

Nutrition, Health & Food Security Climate Adaptation and Mitigation

Gender and social inclusion

The barriers facing women and men in accessing irrigation technologies are not the same. Neither are the benefits. Social, cultural and religious norms influence inter- and intra-household power relations. These, in turn, affect access to resources such as land, credit, information and training. IWMI carries out cross-dimensional analysis of gender and social inclusion in policy, financing, livelihood assets and access, institutional approaches and interventions as well as gender-based technology preferences. For example, we work with farmers, financial institutions and the private sector to address gender-based constraints in credit scoring and enhance women’s purchasing power. But benefitting from farmer-led irrigation does not stop at accessing and adopting technologies; enabling women and resource-poor farmers to participate in input and output markets is equally important to ensure that investments in irrigation result in improved nutrition and economic empowerment. Other ways we enhance gender and social inclusion include tackling agency issues around financial management and literacy, livelihood diversity and social capital as well as access to infrastructure, extension services and market linkages.

This focus area contributes to the following One CGIAR impact areas:

Poverty reduction, livelihoods and jobs Gender equality, youth and inclusion

Environmental sustainability

Population pressure and increasing water competition in a changing climate require us to take stock of the availability and use of water across scales. Water availability not only influences farmers’ commercial prospects but also irrigation-related enterprises and agri-businesses. Greater water scarcity could jeopardize irrigation and agricultural markets while excessive water use can lead to declining ecosystems, water quality and soil health. IWMI advises development partners and the public and private sectors on all aspects of water resource availability and use through a variety of advanced modeling and remote-sensing products and tools, including Water Accounting+solar irrigation mapping and internet of things. These are complemented by multi-criteria analysis to evaluate the potential of irrigation expansion, taking into consideration environmental flows. With our private sector partners, we are leveraging converging technologies, such as sensors on solar pumps that capture usage data, to encourage better resource management and governance.

This focus area contributes to the following One CGIAR impact areas:

Environmental health and biodiversity

Adaptive scaling and partnerships

The ability of farmers to engage in or expand irrigation depends on the prevailing socioeconomic, ecological and political contexts, which are often complex, non-linear and changeable. Overcoming systemic barriers to farmer-led irrigation development while taking advantage of existing opportunities requires scaling processes to be adaptive. This means diverse actors feed off, adapt to, support, cooperate, compete and interact with each other, forming different multi-actor networks and engaging in collective action to undertake various functions in the scaling ecosystem. IWMI works with farmers and public and private sector partners to co-design and pilot contextually relevant innovation bundles and their scaling pathways or strategies, influence policies and accelerate the transition to scale of innovations with demonstrated early impact.

This focus area contributes to the following One CGIAR impact areas:

Nutrition, health and food security Poverty reduction, livelihoods and jobs Gender equality, youth and inclusion Environmental health and biodiversity Climate adaptation and mitigation

Financing ecosystem

A lack of affordable credit, particularly for women and resource-poor farmers, is one of the main barriers to expanding farmer-led irrigation in low- and middle-income countries. But credit alone is not enough. Financing for irrigation equipment must be embedded in a wider financing ecosystem that bundles credit with inputs and services, market information and access, and technology such as digital payment. In several countries, irrigation equipment suppliers are stepping in to provide financing directly to farmers. In doing so, they increase their own risk. To address this issue, IWMI works with farmers, private companies, finance institutions and development partners such as the World Bank Group to analyze whether credit-scoring tools are inclusive. We also help to identify gaps in the financing ecosystem and de-risk the private sector from testing innovative end-user financing mechanisms that take into account farming system typologies, financial and social capital and crop seasonality.

This focus area contributes to the following One CGIAR impact areas:

Poverty reduction, livelihoods and jobs

Human capacity development and knowledge exchange

Scaling farmer-led irrigation requires strengthening human capacity and knowledge exchange among all actors and stakeholders involved. IWMI takes an action research approach, working with national and international research institutions, governments, extension agents and public and private organizations to co-develop the scaling ecosystem and strengthen capacity to drive scaling networks and collective action. We support the development of or reinforce national multi-stakeholder dialogues with the aim of sharing scaling experiences and realizing win-win collaboration, interactive learning and capacity development. Other modalities for capacity development include hackathons, innovation research grants for bachelor’s and master’s students, private sector scaling grants and innovation internships with private companies. These all serve to stimulate local and contextually relevant innovation, close the research-private sector divide and enhance job readiness among young professionals.

This focus area contributes to the following One CGIAR impact areas:

Nutrition, health and food security Poverty reduction, livelihoods and jobs Gender equality, youth and inclusion Environmental health and biodiversity Climate adaptation and mitigation

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