WLRC – Ethiopia in Brief


Serious land degradation and associated poverty have been major development challenges facing Ethiopia and the Eastern Nile sub-region at large. Although past attempts that were made to tackle land degradation have brought about considerable success, there is still a long way to go to address this important challenge both in the country and in the sub-region. Some of the key deterring factors are:

a) The available information on water and land resources both in the country and in the sub-region, which can be used for proper planning of land management practices, are highly fragmented, incomplete or obsolete. This is partly related to the lack of a systematic collection, storage and circulation of information, as well as sectorial and compartmentalised approaches to water and land use and management. All abovementioned realities hampered the development of integrated and sustainable solutions. As a consequence, regional, bilateral, national and local agreements, policies and interventions were often not based on accurate knowledge and a sound analysis of the situation.

b) Lack of research-supported, participatory and integrated watershed development for learning, i.e., ‘Learning Watersheds’ that addresses the serious land degradation problem, is another challenge, which negatively affected the documentation and up-scaling of best practices in the country and the sub-region.

c) Limited efforts and experiences to understand the diverse processes of land degradation under different agro-ecological and farming system set-ups through long-term monitoring and data generation.

d) Weak capacity and awareness of local land users and local institutions on integrated watershed development, data generation and management, including data sharing to address the problems of land degradation and associated poverty challenges.

Rationale for the establishment of the WLRC and key functions

In response to the above key shortcomings, the Water and Land Resource Centre (WLRC) was established in 2011 as an institution associated to Addis Ababa University based on the bilateral agreement between the Government of Ethiopia and Swiss Development Cooperation (SDC). The Resource Center is an initiative to fill the above-mentioned gaps, and it seeks to establish a robust information management system for water and land resources of the country. Building on past experiences of the University of Bern (about 30 years) supported by SDC and other agencies on water and land resources management and research in Ethiopia, the resource centre is intending to improve the generation, processing, and dissemination of data on hydro-sedimentology, meteorology and land management and the transformation of data into useful knowledge in order to help informed planning and decision making processes. It also provides related information and knowledge on socioeconomic settings, land use and land cover of the country and sub-regions. The WLRC is an autonomous centre at the national level focusing on the Ethiopian Highlands, with a transboundary view on the entire Eastern Nile Basin. It is governed by the Ethiopian Government and international partners, affiliated with Addis Ababa University since 2011, and associated with the Centre for Development and Environment (CDE) of the Uni-versity of Bern. The WLRC is generating and managing knowledge about IWLRM, hydro--sedimentology, and governance, enhancing the capacities of key stakeholders concerned with water and land management. The RC outputs provide evidence-based information and knowledge, and powerful products for policy and practice on water and land manage¬ment, which influence the national and international debate and development and policy actions. We intend to build model cases of knowledge-based IWRM policy which are known at international level. The WLRC was established based on a bilateral agreement between Ethiopia and SDC concluded in September 2011, which will remain valid for subsequent phases unless amendment is requested by one of the parties. In Phase I, the Ethiopian WLRC was led by a high-level project steering committee (PSC) composed of State Ministers from the MoA, MoWE, MoST, and MoFED, as well as the Vice President of AAU and representatives of the Swiss Embassy (representing SDC), CDE, the RCO, and the Director of the WLRC as a sec¬retary. This setup will continue in Phase II. The PSC might be expanded, depending on the interest and contributions of additional key stakeholders. Particularly representatives of MoA’s Sustainable Land Management Programme (SLM-P) donors and regional organiza-tions such as NBI/ENTRO might get a seat as regional observers. The WLRC has three broad outcomes and four key components (See Figure 1 below).

Figure 1: Illustration of the conceptual framework of WLRC-Ethiopia, Phase-II

Components of the Resource Centre

1 Designing an open access and modern resource database and information system.

2) Establishing learning watersheds (model cases) ensuring sustainable land management by using combined efforts of research and development actions.

3) Knowledge generation on hydro-sedimentology and integrated land and water management based on long-term data collected in observatories and learning watersheds.

4) Enhance capacity of key stakeholders at all levels involved in water and land management.


Database/Information Management System Designing and availing a full-fledged and open accessed resource information management system that enables storing, analysing and disseminating water and land related information is one of the project components in the centre. Production and dissemination of timely and client oriented periodic outputs is an essential element of the resource information management system. The centre has developing the web-based resource information management system, called WALRIS (Water and Land Resources Information System), that integrates both, the spatial and non-spatial database of water and land resources of Ethiopia. All available data of the precious SCRP and data from other institutes that are released to the public but not well managed are populated to WLARIS and it is planned to be uploaded on the website in October, 2013. Please visit demo version at www.wlrc-eth.org

Learning watersheds

One of the objectives of the WLRC is to establish model ‘Learning Watersheds’ in the Abay Basin (Blue Nile) in Phase-I and undertake research-supported participatory integrated watershed development activities. Eventually, it is also aimed at designing an up-scaling strategy based on the lessons learnt from the learning watersheds to the national level. To this end, the resource centre has established six learning watersheds and has started applying research-supported watershed development interventions to improve water and land management and people’s livelihoods in the watersheds. As an integral part of the components a comprehensive baseline survey, preparation of integrated watershed development plans including ‘Technology Shopping’ plans by the research system, development of an-inbuilt exit strategy, awareness creation workshops and formulation of sustainable land use bylaws were undertaken. The resource centre was able to bring together researchers, development actors and land users in a single learning watershed to play their own role for the transformation of the watershed in an integrated way and that demonstrated exemplary interplays within and among each other. The main purposes of establishing these learning watersheds is mainly to establish live learning platforms and up-scale and extrapolate the lessons on research-supported sustainable land management interventions from these six nuclei watersheds to the country and if possible to the Eastern Nile Basin.


One of the components of the resource centre is continuing the long-term data monitoring on hydro-sedimentology, climatology and land use/land productivity on the three observatories, namely Anjeni, Maybar and Andit Tid. These smaller research watersheds (observatories) were established between 1981 and 1984 as part of the Ethiopian Soil Conservation Research Programme (SCRP) with the support of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC). Since 1981, data and knowledge on hydro-sedimentology and land management have been accumulated from these observatories. Considering the gap on hydro-sedimentology and climate data related to larger watersheds and high altitude areas, the resource center recently established one Meso-scale observatory (Gerda Watershed close to Dembecha) and High-Altitude Observatory at Simen Mountain National Park. It is also in final stage of negotiation with Eastern African Partnership Programme (ESAPP) to rehabilitate and took over the technical management of the three SCRP observatories (Hundelafto and Dizi in Oromia Region and Gununo in SNNP Region) in collaboration with regional government institutes in Oromia and SNNP. However, apart from the limited utilization of this massive data and knowledge (which is due to lack of appropriate institutions as well as lack of organized database system and dissemination mechanisms), the long-term observations in these observatories were found necessary under the current Global Change scenarios. These observatories have been institutionalized within Amhara Regional Agricultural Research Institute (ARARI) and WLRC took the mandate to rehabilitate the infrastructure, instrumentation and continue the research work in an enhanced way in collaboration with ARARI. To this effect the three observatories have been rehabilitated (including instrumentation) and all the new setups for the Meso-Scle Observatory at Dembecha and the High-Altitude Observatory at Simen were finalized and all are now fully operational and data collection work has been resumed. The resource centre also applies modelling and other techniques to extrapolate findings from plot and smaller watershed level to larger areas through specialized studies. Building on these experiences, it is intended to ultimately expand the activities of the resource centre to serve as a regional knowledge hub facilitating national and transboundary decision support for sustainable, equitable, and rational use of water and land resources in the country and Eastern African sub-region.

Capacity development

In line with the above three major project components, the centre has offered capacity development programmes for different stakeholders. Among them are academia (AAU, BDU, Wollo University, etc), MSC/PhD students and federal and regional institutes (MoA, MoWE, EMA, CSA, ARARI, ORARI, EIAR, etc), development agents, and farmers are centre of attention of the capacity development program. The programme includes, but is not limited to, short term trainings both in country and abroad, seminars and workshops, providing field and office equipments that facilitate watershed management, in service trainings, awareness creation workshops, local study-tours, and field days both for farmers and partner institutes and support long-term studies at MSc and PhD level. While some of the above mentioned capacity development activities are underway the resource centre has also concluded a capacity needs assessment survey in the country focusing on major partners and land users to make the future capacity development interventions more effective and focused.

Linkages with government strategy

The issues being addressed by LWRC are in line with the broader Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP) of government, Agricultural Transformation Plan (ATP) and the broader sustainable water and land management strategy led by Ministry of Agriculture and Ministry of Water and Energy. WLRC will be instrumental in providing the necessary knowledge and information towards successful implementation of these strategies. WLRC launched both the resource centre and the new state-of-the-art database on 27th of July, 2012, to its key stakeholders and got very big support from the government of Ethiopia and other development partners. The activities of the resource centre were also evaluated by the external review mission on end of July, 2012, and got very encouraging and positive recommendations which lead the approval of Phase-II started in April 2013 and will end March, 2016. The Government of Ethiopia and Switzerland have also renewed their bilateral agreement.

Key Competences of the Centre

The RC has key competences on the following fields:

1. Implement integrated water and land resource management (IWLRM) both on applied research/monitoring and development and provide capacity development training;

2. Monitoring hydro-sedimentology at different scales – plot, watershed and basin level (Note: the RC is the only center in the country where long-term monitored and organized hydro-sedimentology data is available);

3. Conducting detail baseline information and developing watershed directories using the state of the art technologies and provide capacity development training;

4. Geo-spatial analysis (Note: the RC has one of the best well organized geo-spatial information of the country) and provide capacity development training;

5. Information management system – the RC has developed a web-based and user friendly information managements system which allows users to make their own analysis but also to down load spatial and non-spatial information. It is called Water and Land Resources Information System (WALRIS). WALRIS can also be customized to serve other organizations database;

6. Develop and implement an inbuilt exit strategy for watershed development and provide capacity development training on the use and implementation of exit strategies;

7. Conducting periodic performance assessment of complex watersheds and identifying their development stage, sustainability and follow-up actions and provide capacity development training;

8. Doing cross-cutting research on landscape transformation, assessment of land degradation including mapping of degradation hotspots, hydro-sedimentology, and integrated water and land resources management.

Institutional Arrangement and Governance

The Resource Centre is institutionally attached to Addis Ababa University and governed by a national project steering committee (MoA, MoFED, MoWE, MoST, CDE, AAU, SDC, RCO) led by two co-chairs, i.e., Addis Ababa University representing the government of Ethiopia and SDC Country Director representing SDC (See Figure 2). The WLRC got its core funding from Swiss Development Cooperation (SDC) as part of its Global Water Initiatives, but also form other donors on collaborative assignment basis such as WFP, SDC/HOA Regional Programme and HEKS International and has its own financial and human resource management and is autonomous in its operation.

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