Sunday, June 24, 2012

successes and failures : the Maksenit watershed (Gonder)

During my recent field trips, i got the chance to walk through a very interesting watershed : Maksenit Watershed, which outlet lies on the border of Maksenit town, South East of Gonder, Ethiopia.
approximate location of the farmers' training center of Maksenit watershed

It is a very interesting watershed, as GIZ (German development cooperation), ICARDA (international center for agricultural research in dry areas) and the Ethiopian government have been involved in water issues over the last years. It is a watershed full of success stories and failures.

Please join me on this long but interesting walk across the watershed. I started the walk near to the farmers' training center and discovered 3 of the 5 water havesting ponds. These ponds have been build by ICARDA in order to better understand on the ground under which conditions individual water pond could work. (have a look at for a study that suggest that ponds do not work in the Ethiopian context
the almost empty pond
Two basins trap the sediment before the water flows into the pond

Some farmers got a treadle pump and a drip irrigation system, other just irrigate with a simple bucket. The pond allows to irrigate a plot of 30x20m and get one crop during the dry season, mainly pepper.

ICARDA has also installed two sediment traps to measure sediments from an untreated watershed, and one from a watershed treated with terraces and bunds. Sounds like a great initiative, in a country where there is no empirical evidence that about the effectiveness of this type of technologies. Finally ICARDA also has build a monitoring station at the outlet, allowing to know all the year round how much water is following in the perenial river. 

female headed household 
But while crossing a watershed, there is nothing better than stopping and talking to farmers. The first farmer I stopped at, was a female headed household. The lady and her three kids mainly live from selling garlic which is grown near to the outlet and is irrigated thanks to a river diversion. She earns enough money to invest into a house in Maksenit town, that she plans to rent out.
Roof full of dry garlic, the source of cash for many farmers in the watershed.
Years ago, a roof water harvesting system and a cistern has been built on her farm by GIZ. Unfortunately, the cistern is leaking even after several attempt to repair and therefore is not in use anymore. She did not seem to really need the cistern as she could get water for domestic use from the near by river. 
the roof water harvesting installation with the leaking cistern 
The whole farm is surrounded by fodder trees that allow her to feed her livestock during the dry season. She also has a sort of olive tree, that does not give edible olives but is a very good timber tree. To have sufficient trees, she has a mobile tree nursery, which she can carry around, mainly to the water or to the shadow when necessary. She mainly uses the seedling for herself. A governmental tree nursery is within walking distance near to Maksenit, in case she want seedling from trees she does not have. Finally she also had modern beehives, allowing her to get income from honey. 
the mobile tree nursery 

As we walked upwards, we discovered an amazing landscape with mountains in the back covered with shrubs, and in the flatter areas, farmers where ploughing. 
looking upwards 
We stopped at another farmer who ended up guiding us through the watershed. He had a very similar livelihood, with garlic as major income, mobile tree nursery, traditional and modern beehives. He also affords a pump that allow him to irrigate some of his plots. He also rents out the pump. In principle he has electricity, but the distributor broke down. And despite of the continuous request of the community, the government did not give them the permission to repair the electric system. 
the tube used for irrigating with the pumps 
Near to his house, there is a non-perennial river that was dry. Nonetheless one can tab from the underground stream. ICARDA has build a pump that now allows his wife to get domestic water from very near by. 
the ICARDA water pump
A bit further down in the river bed, one can find hand dug wells, which are used for livestock as well as irrigation of near by nurseries (trees or pepper). He makes use of the pump, to get water from the well to the nursery and in some other season to irrigate nearby plots.
a hand dug well in the river bed, taping into the underground stream.
One of his neighbors tried to get groundwater by digging a well on his field, but could not find any water after 10m. So the whole was closed again. 
the unsuccessful well
Walking down the watershed towards the outlet, we stopped at a "papaya orchard" or what the locals call "home garden". Also pepper could be found next to the papaya trees. Women are usually responsible for these home gardens.
Papaya orchard
As we were crossing the main gravel road in the watershed, we found again a plot owned by the farmer who was guiding us. The plots South of the road in the flat area are mainly vertisol, that are soil that can absorb a lot of water and keep soil moisture over a long period. He would use the run-off of the road and divert the stream to flood his fields increase the number of days with sufficient soil moisture to crop (also referred as spate irrigation). He would even use electric pole from the ongoing renovation of the electric system, that has not yet been fixed to divert the water. 
furrows for diverting the water during the rainy season
In principle on these vertisol one can have 3 crops per year, first a cereal, then a legume on residual moisture and then a high value crop (pepper, onion or garlic) if there is access to irrigation water. 
Also we found the relatively big tree nursery. All the trees were dead, attacked by termites. 
the failed tree nursery
Back to the road we found another manual water pump taping water from the underground stream. It was build by the government as part of the WASH program and came with a additional concrete basin for giving water to livestock and a concrete place to wash cloth. The two latter infrastructures were broken and not in use anymore. Just the pump survived, and a micro-dam from earth has been built to capture the excess water pumped, were livestock can access water now. 
the govermental pump

the broken washing basin
the micro basin that capture excess water from the pump and is used for livestock
This is a nice example on how locals adapt and use the infrastructure differently than inially though of. Cloth are washed in the nearby perennial river.

In this watershed, some things have worked : the pumps are still in use, mobile nurseries allow women to grow their own seedling, hand-dug wells allow to tap the underground streams, women grow more diversified food (papaya) for their families. Others haven't worked, the GIZ cistern is leaking, some hand-dug wells have been closed, a tree nursery failed due to termites. Finally others will have to proof their use : the ICARDA water harvesting ponds and their lifting devices. It is definitely a watershed where a lot has happened and there is a lot to learn both for the successes and the failures. I hope you have enjoyed on my virtual tour of the Maksenit watershed and that you are convinced now, that unless we have tired, we don't really know what works and what doesn't work.

I would like to thank Baye from the Gonder Agricultural Research center for having accompanied me on this transect walk of more than 5 hours as well as the farmer who crossed have to the watershed to show his success and failures on this fields.
the farmer (left) and Baye (right)

1 comment:

  1. I just have received an e-mail from the ICARDA coordinator for the Maksenit Watershed including some corrections.
    "I would like to congratulate for the very good and comprehensive assessment you did in the watershed. Had your visit been during the cropping season you would have a chance to have a look at of the much more research activities and initiatives of ICARDA in the watershed. One or two comments. One of your photos which you referred as ICARDA water pump is not ICARDA's water pump. It has been there even before ICARDA went there. Thus, you need to correct that. Secondly, the mobile tree nursery is a research activity run by the ICARDA project and you should have emphasized ICARDA's role in establishing the mobile tree nursery technology in the watershed."