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Partnerships for enhanced engagement in research (PEER) SCIENCE
Cycle 1 (2011 Deadline)

Reducing soil loss through effective soil and water conservation practices using hydrologic considerations and farmers’ participation in the Blue Nile Basin 

PI: Seifu Tilahun, Bahir Dar University
US Partner: Christopher Barrett, Cornell University
Project Dates: May 2012 - June 2015

Project Overview

Soil erosion decreases food production and hampers poverty reduction efforts in the highlands of eastern Africa. Although intensive efforts have been underway both to reduce sediment production and to halt land degradation since the 1980s, erosion continues unabated and the already low crop yields are decreasing even further. Shallow soils are becoming shallower and are often abandoned, and gullies are swallowing up productive cropland. Finally, some of the lost soil fills up reservoirs and silts up downstream irrigation canals. Current measures to reduce soil loss are ineffective, and new approaches that both consider the hydrology of the whole landscape (instead of the current plot based erosion research) and use traditional farmer’s knowledge for locating erosion control practices are required. The goal of the proposed research is to develop appropriate watershed and farmer-based erosion control practices for the Ethiopian highlands in order to replace the well minded imported and inappropriate technologies from foreign donors.

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The gully rehabilitation demonstration shows improvement through community participation in physical and biological conservation. (Photo courtesy Dr. Tilahun).

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At the same time gully erosion expansion is severe in the control area (Photo courtesy Dr. Tilahun).

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Team members conducting a group walk and discussion with local community women on erosion in Debre Mawi watershed (Photo courtesy Dr. Tilahun).
These researchers will instrument the Debre Mawi (5.27km2) and Bir (64km2) watersheds in the headwaters of Blue Nile and to continue monitoring another instrumented by the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), the Mizewa watershed (27km2). Their efforts will be aimed at identifying erosion hotspots by measuring spatially distributed runoff and soil loss (from periodically saturated areas in the valley bottoms and areas with exposed subsoil that are severely degraded) and by participatory watershed methods approach and sediment tracers. They will also study the relationship between nutrient loss and soil loss by measuring soil nutrients (N, P, K, Mg, and Ca). Perched water table levels will be measured in the Bir watershed (~64km2) to identify saturated areas. Gullies will be monitored through areal and satellite images in addition to field measurement in the Bir and Debre Mawi watersheds. By locating the hotspot areas within the watershed, they will propose effective conservation practices. A simple physically-based hydrology model will be applied to locate the practices on the vulnerable areas. Their predictions will be compared with farmers’ knowledge including the location of the traditional practices. Finally, practices will be designed with the participation of farmers. Within the project period and beyond, some of the proposed practices will be installed with the farmers’ help in the Debre Mawi and monitored after the project. This research project will be carried out by the School of Civil and Water Resource Engineering as part of the newly implemented PhD program and an existing master’s graduate program on hydrology in close cooperation with faculty and students of a NSF IGERT program at Cornell. Most importantly, the international partnership will train future scientists and managers for managing the soil and water resources in Ethiopia.
Summary of Recent Activities
During the months of October through December 2013, Dr. Tilahun and his research team continued their work at their different project sites. Since the PEER project is carried out as part of the newly established PhD program in Integrated Water Management at the school of Civil and Water Resources Engineering of Bahir Dar University, the efforts to admit more PhD students continued during that time as well. Four new students were admitted to the program and joined the PEER project at Bir Watershed. During the last quarter of 2013, second-year PhD students analyzed their data and continued drafting their paper to be presented at the international conference in May 2014 at Bahir Dar. In November 2013, the research team took thirty first-year MSc Hydraulic Engineering students to Debre Mawi watershed to present PEER research that is being conducted and discussed threats of gully erosion. In January 2014 Dr. Tilahun is planning to travel to London to partner on a new project led by the Imperial College London on adaptive governance of mountain ecosystem services for poverty alleviation, enabled by environmental virtual observatories (MOUNTAIN-EVO). At the meeting, Dr. Tilahun will present his PEER research results. Maintenance work for damaged structures within the watershed is expected to continue, and a second round of data collection is estimated to be conducted between June and September 2014.
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The project team examines gully erosion in the Debre Mawi watershed















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