Monday, August 6, 2012

benefit sharing mechanisms in the Blue Nile Basin

These are my last hours in office before my home leave, the occasion to clean up and close down everything. A recent look at my drafts on my blog reminded me that since last November I wanted to write a post on benefit sharing mechanisms in the Blue Nile. Somehow i never wrote this post that now fit very well the topic as my last post was about payment for ecosystem services for Kenyan pastoralists ( .

 During my field trip in November, we went to Hamusit (Amhara region, near Tana Lake), and we visit a dam, which water is used downstream for an irrigation scheme.

Dam near Hamusit
The watershed was one of the best managed watersheds I had ever seen in Ethiopia. Everywhere soil and stone bunds could be found. All the bund were vegetative bunds, upon which beans where growing. As bean are nitrogen binding they improve soil fertility. The whole plant can also be fed to livestock, that get more protein rich fodder and therefore will give more milk. Also inter-cropping could be found, maize was planted with beans.
the stone bunds

Fascinated by this very well managed watershed, i asked my Amharic speaking colleague to talk to a farmer passing by. We discovered that the people who are profiting from the irrigation schemes, come upstream for about 20 days to help the upstream farmers to build and maintain the bunds. The farmer explained that if the watershed is not well managed than siltation of the lake (created with the dam) will be too important and the capacity of the water reservoir will decrease. As the farmers downstream are the one who profit from having more water in the reservoir so they have to dedicate some of their time working on the fields of the up-stream farmers.
the vegetative soil bunds
By digging further it turned out that this was a governmental scheme organized by the DA that obliged farmers downstream to contribute to the up-stream farmers. 
Whether is is smart to have a top-down approach or not, is beyond the discussion here. Fact is that the farmers who benefit from better up-stream management contribute the up-stream management of the watershed. This is nothing else that a benefit sharing mechanism, which does not make use of cash payment but takes the form of labor exchange. 

This benefit sharing mechanism in Hamusit made me rethink the mass mobilization program of Ethiopia. This program mobilizes all farmers in one regions during a certain amount of days, during which they have the obligation to build bunds and terraces for free, independently of the ownership of the land. The objective is to get the whole watershed well managed, and help farmers who own land on the slope to build the right structures. 
Bunds and terraces will increase infiltration of water, conserve soil moisture and decrease run-off. Downstream farmers on the lowland will have more water as form of groundwater or river thanks to these structures. As the lowland is usually flat, there farmers do not need to build  the labor intensive terraces and can benefit from structure built upstream. So is the Ethiopian mass mobilization not a form of benefit sharing mechanism, which aknowledges that the benefit might be diffuse and cannot be quantified for each farmer separately? 

Food for thoughts when talking of benefit sharing mechanism... it is not always about money... and it can take unexpected forms...

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