Blue Nile Basin


In the Blue Nile Basin, a rapidly growing population faces increasing food and nutrition insecurity due to climate and demographic change, ecosystem degradation, low productivity, limited and inefficient irrigation systems, and a lack of agricultural land and access to clean energy.

NEXUS Gains is focused on the Tana-Beles sub-basin in Ethiopia, where Lake Tana is the source of the Blue Nile. Here, inadequate coordination of water resources management for the irrigation, hydropower, and tourism sectors has adversely affected natural resources and the viability of interdependent economic activities. This includes the installation of the Beles Hydroelectric Power Plant and large-scale sugarcane irrigation. The Government of Ethiopia has selected Tana-Beles as a key region for agricultural intensification due to the availability of water and land resources, both of which can be developed for economic purposes and to promote greater food security.

NEXUS Gains is supporting national-level assessments of interventions on water and energy systems for rural livelihoods, poverty alleviation, and national growth, as well as developing business and finance models for scaling climate-smart irrigation solutions and accelerating the rural energy transition.

Our work

Work Package 1: Trade-off analyses and foresight methodologies

NEXUS Gains researchers conducted a systematic literature review to assess the challenges across various sectors and indicate the key nexus issues in the basin. This was followed by a consultative workshop with stakeholders from organizations including government offices, basin authorities, academia, and research institutions.

The researchers subsequently worked on models to understand trade-offs and foresights. This included updating a computable general equilibrium tool. This disaggregated WEFE systems model has been used to study the economy-wide effects of water and energy investments. The tool assesses the impacts of climate change-induced recurrent weather shocks as well as investments in irrigation and hydroelectric generation to address water, energy, and food security challenges.

NEXUS Gains researchers also collaborated with the Food, Agriculture, Biodiversity, Land-Use, and Energy (FABLE) Consortium to develop the FABLE calculator to simulate trade-offs and synergies of various development pathways at the national scale between 2000 and 2050. The calculator analyzes key food, agriculture, biodiversity, land-use, and energy indicators, and tests the impact of different policies and changes on these systems using multiple scenarios.

In partnership with the Alliance of Bioversity International and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture, NEXUS Gains is applying the Agrobiodiversity Index in the Blue Nile Basin to understand agrobiodiversity risk based on data-driven hotspot analysis, and identify agrobiodiversity-based interventions.

Work Package 2: Water productivity and storage

NEXUS Gains has undertaken a systematic review of the types of water storage in Ethiopia’s Blue Nile Basin region using a range of literature, looking at both built and natural storage, including lakes, wetlands, and reservoirs.

An integrated water storage diagnostic tool is being developed in the Tana-Beles region to provide a clearer picture of the volume of available surface and sub-surface water storage; local water demand; and how both will change over time. The tool will also enable researchers to predict how the ‘storage gap’ might change in the future. For this, analysis has been carried out in the Tana-Beles region to assess the month-by-month dynamics of surface water volume change. Researchers have used seven years’ worth of remote sensing data to track trends. The results indicate that total water storage has declined over time, particularly storage in wetlands and dams, and that the expansion of agriculture, land degradation, and sedimentation are contributing factors. Climate change, population growth, and economic growth are expected to exacerbate the basin’s water storage gap in the future. An analysis of sub-surface (soil moisture and groundwater) storage is due to be completed by the end of 2023.

NEXUS Gains is working closely with the Ministry of Water and Energy and their regional basin offices within Tana-Beles. The integrated water storage diagnostic tool aims to help the ministry and the Abbay Basin Administration Office to address issues of over-abstraction and environmental degradation through improved water storage management, and to achieve a balance between the overuse of surface water and under-use of groundwater.

Finally, to track water productivity in Ethiopia’s most heavily managed river basin, NEXUS Gains has launched the beta version of the Awash Online Irrigation Dashboard in support of Ethiopia’s Ministries of Agriculture and of Irrigation and Lowlands. The dashboard includes information on scheme size and location, water resources, irrigated crops, irrigation governance, and scheme challenges that help identify management interventions.

Work Package 3: Energizing food and water systems

Energy poverty shapes the livelihoods of the majority of Ethiopia’s rural population as access to clean energy sources remains limited and unreliable. NEXUS Gains is working with government and private sector actors on the development of business and finance models to accelerate rural access to clean energy sources, including solar-powered irrigation, and to identify interventions that support rural women’s access to clean energy technologies. This includes an analysis of the gendered benefit streams from electricity access.

Work Package 5: Developing capacity for WEFE actors, including women leaders

Building capacity in nexus approaches is critical for sustainable planning and management of natural resources. In 2022, NEXUS Gains carried out a capacity needs assessment with stakeholders in the Tana-Beles basin; participants were asked about the development and planning challenges they face when promoting nexus thinking, and their knowledge and skills gaps. The responses informed the design of capacity building workshops with staff from relevant government ministries. The first round of workshops will include representatives from across the energy, water, agriculture, environment, and tourism sectors to encourage systems thinking.

Future workshops have been planned for decision makers within the local and national governments, and for technical staff.

Contact us

Abdulkarim Seid: Country Representative – Ethiopia, Regional Representative – East Africa, IWMI Ethiopia


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