Rain Water Harvesting Ethiopia



Unlocking the Potential of Rainwater with Adaptive Strategies and Impacts for Upscaling

Ethiopia, 1st-12th June 2015

Shallow well in a season riverbed.  Source: IFAD

Samll stream used for domestic water use. Source: IFAD

Introduction to the International Rainwater Harvesting Symposium

The role of water in food and livelihood security is a major issue of concern in the context of persistent poverty and continued environmental degradation. Although there is considerable knowledge on water management, the overarching picture on water–food–livelihoods–environment nexus is still missing. This leaves uncertainties about management and investment decisions that could otherwise be used to meet both food and environmental security objectives.

The overarching ethos of this symposium was that sustainability requires an integrated approach in the management of multipurpose agro-ecosystems in a landscape and/or river basin setting. This symposium aimed at identifying existing knowledge and stimulated the exchange of thoughts on innovative and cost-effective ways to manage water resources so as to continue meeting the needs of both humans and ecosystems. Addressing water challenges requires inter-sectorial collaboration, because only then can policies and practices change.


Of the global poor people, 852 million live in developing countries of Africa and Asia and predominantly in rural arid and semi-arid areas. These lands are annually and constantly under stress from multiple elements steaming from severe land degradation, poor social and physical infrastructure, water scarcity, poor agricultural yields, poverty and malnutrition. The livelihood support systems of these lands/areas are threatened by increasing water scarcity and climate change particularly rain-fed agriculture, which is the major livelihood support system, constituting 80% of global agriculture.

By understanding and managing the dynamics of water, we can overcome water scarcity problems and adapt to climate change and nutrient flows across the whole landscape and through the complete hydrological cycle. The solutions lie in adopting an agro-ecosystem approach. Well-managed agro-ecosystems not only provide food, fibre and animal products, they also generate services such as flood mitigation, groundwater recharge, erosion control and habitats for biological systems. A recent assessment on ‘Water for Food and Water for Life’ revealed that global food security is possible with existing water resources. However, it calls for considerable efforts to improve water management in order to enhance water use efficiency in all sectors. The assessment demonstrated that current farmers’ yields in rain-fed areas are two to five-fold lower than achievable potential yields and that current rainwater use efficiency is only at 35–45% in most rain-fed areas.

With the recent upsurge of catchment- and/or landscape-based approaches to surface and ground water management, and in particular connection with the perceived effects of climate variability and change, and community resilience, several relevant organisations in this field of knowledge have signalled the need for more information in this field of knowledge.

Objectives of the symposium

  1. Significantly contribute in the understanding of rainwater potential and its dynamics with climate variability and change, resilience, food security and WASH at landscape level
  2. Encourage interaction between policy-makers, researchers and practitioners in the promotion of evidence-based decision-making.
  3. Foster professional development, collaboration and knowledge exchange in the interdisciplinary themes of water, food and environment.

Small-scale irrigated agriculture from a shallow well. Source: IFAD

Symposium Synopsis

In order to address the need for information on rainwater,  ICRAF, RAIN, the Southern and Easter Africa Rainwater Network (SearNet), AFRHINET and IFAD organised a joint international symposium on rainwater harvesting (RWH), which brought together relevant policy makers, NGO’s, research institutions and practitioners. These plans followed a successful symposium on RWH in Brazil which brought together networks and associations from across the world, including SearNet, IRCSA, RAIN and IRHA. This experience proved to be very valuable for cross-fertilisation of knowledge and experiences.

Rainwater harvesting management was assessed from three different dimensions: Policy, Know-how and Practice. The Policy dimension engaged stakeholders from governments, NGOs, scientists and local communities, and discussed how to incorporate RWH in policy frameworks, projects and programmes in order to increase their impacts on local communities. The Know-how dimension gathered relevant academics, practitioners, policy-makers and practitioners in writing about their most innovative and cost-effective projects and/or research in RWH. The Policy and Know-how elements took place in Addis Ababa. Finally, the Practical Dimension, which took place in the semi-arid region of Dire Dawa in Ethiopia, focused on practicalities and on-the-ground implementation of various RWH technologies.

The symposium covered a range of vital topics in rural arid and semi-arid areas like water, agriculture, food security and ecosystems – which is the entire spectrum of developing and managing water in agriculture, from irrigated to fully rain-fed lands. The discussions and presentations showcased people and society, why they decided to adopt certain practices and not others. A special focus was exerted on how rainwater management could help poor people at grass-root level, how agriculture affected ecosystems and their goods and services, and how water could be managed to meet both food and environmental security objectives.