Newsflash November 2016

The Spate Irrigation Network changes name

During a recent meeting in October, the board of the SpN Foundation decided to change the name from Spate Irrigation Network, into Flood-Based Livelihoods Network (FBLN). This new name reflects the recent direction taken by the Foundation to strengthen livelihood benefits of not just spate irrigation, but of other major flood-based livelihood systems as well, including flood rise and flood recession, flood inundation, flood spreading weirs and water harvesting from roads. Moreover, by using ‘Livelihood’ instead of ‘Farming’, more topics such as fisheries, agro-forestry, climate change adaptation, buffering landscapes, wetland management and natural regeneration can be placed within the Network’s mandate. According to Dr. Frank van Steenbergen, chair of the board, the name change gives much opportunity to the Network’s country chapters and the foundation to profile on practical issues related to the livelihood of people who live in flood-prone areas. In due time, a new logo and format will be launched and shared to conclude the name change of the foundation and network.

Cover story: Conflict affecting the lives of communities in Tihama, Yemen


According to the UN, more than 7.000 people have been killed and nearly 37.000 wounded in Yemen since the Arab coalition launched a military campaign in March 2015. The Tihama region, where the Flood-Based Livelihoods Network is working since many years through the Water and Environment Centre of Sana’a University, is one of the worst affected areas of the country. Here, thousands of Yemenis face severe food shortages as a result of collapsed livelihoods. The signs of a real famine and widespread malnutrition are beginning to appear in the Tihama region. Basic services such as water provision and electricity have stopped being available in many places. On October 31st, the Al-Hudaydah governorate declared the Tihama region a ‘disaster area’, due to the prevalence of famine, malnutrition and subsequent rise of infectious diseases among the weakened population. Over 300.000 households in Al-Hudaydah need urgent relief.

The per capita income continues to decline due to the deteriorating situation, ongoing blockade and lack of oil revenues, which consisted 70 percent of Yemen’s foreign revenue before the conflict. The lack of safety has caused the fishing communities along Tihama’s long coastline to be unable to perform their livelihood. The fear to be targeted by military aircrafts of the Arab coalition has reduced fishing movement in Al-Hudaydah in general. This has contributed to the dramatic state of malnutrition among coastal communities. Besides fisheries, the main crops cultivated in the region are fruits, vegetables and fodder. However, the deteriorating economic situation and the high price of petroleum products affects the communities that depend on the pumping of groundwater for agriculture. A recent UNICEF field survey found that 32 percent of the governorate’s children suffers from malnutrition, leading to many complications, and death.

With the high temperatures in the Tihama region, reaching over 40°C in summer, the people are suffering hard from the lack of electricity services. Hospitals are unable to provide basic services to those affected by disease. The Public Health and Population Office of Al-Hudaydah launched a distress call this year, appealing to the WHO and all international organisation to immediately intervene and save the lives of tens of thousands of people who need emergency services. The conflict has made work for many institutions working on social development and livelihoods very difficult. In this context of scarcity and lack of safety, it has become difficult for the Flood-Based Livelihoods Network partners as well, to properly implement network activities in Yemen. To read more about water and energy in times of war, read this blog on TheWaterChannel.

Horizontal learning

Besides broadening the thematic scope of the Network, the FBLN has the ambition to become a farmer network in which Water User Associations and farmer groups are provided with the tools to be in closer contact with each other and exchange. There is much potential to stimulate the sharing of already known good practices, discovering good practices that are worth sharing, and jointly developing innovations and new good practices as part of a farmer-to-farmer exchange. To read more about the power of peers, the methods that can be used to strengthen self-evolving institutions, and great examples to follow, read this blog on TheWaterChannel.

The FBL Network aims to promote research that is solution-oriented and community-based, meaning that research on good FBL practices needs to be relevant to, and ideally includes, water user associations and farmer groups. Hence, in the Network there is no place for ivory towers where research is done with no relevance to society. To read more about the ivory towers of science and what we can do about it, please read this dedicated blog on TheWaterChannel.

Water rights and codification in Afghanistan

A Practical Note on Codifying Water Rules and Rights was recently finalised in collaboration with partners of the FBLN Afghanistan chapter. The Note is based on dialogue and research in the Nimroz Province in Afghanistan, but also draws on cases from Pakistan and Yemen. It builds the case to better define water rights to improve water distribution. More information on the Network’s initiative in Afghanistan can be found here.

Tree pullers and scythes: introducing improved farming tools in Ethiopia

The Centre for Environment Concerns (Hyderabad, India) and MetaMeta Ethiopia are on their way to introduce tree pullers and scythes in Ethiopia and achieve a complete technology transfer from local production to maintenance of these improved farming tools. Both tools are developed to improve labour productivity and reduce the drudgery of manual work. Tree pullers can be used to uproot small trees, e.g. in coffee plantations, as well as to clear invasive species. Scythes allow the harvesting of dry-stem crops, grasses and weeds at a pace four times quicker than sickles. Scythes are suitable to harvest cereals such as wheat, barley, sorghum and maize, and to clear grasslands. See for yourself how the tree puller works!

Making better use of Gash water resources in Sudan

From December 12th to 14th, the FBLN Sudan chapter will organise the closing workshop “From Research to Concrete Recommendations for Better Use of Gash Water Resources”, in Kassala State. During this workshop the findings of the research project ‘Harnessing Floods to Enhance Livelihoods and Ecosystem Services’ will be presented to a wide range of professionals and farmer groups from different parts of the country. The project aims to optimise the use of Gash floodwaters and this gathering will provide a platform to share knowledge on the performance and development of different spate systems along the Gash. Furthermore, the meeting highlight the FBLN network development plan, which is instrumental to transform the FBL Network into a farmer network. More information and videos on the Gash project is provided on HRC’s website.

Road water harvesting in Malawi

Farmers in most parts of Malawi experienced crop failure and yield losses of between 60 – 80 percent during 2015’s dry spell, caused by El Niño weather patterns. This has shown the need for farmers to increase adoption of water harvesting practices that collect and store rainwater in the soil. During early November, the Rainwater Harvesting Association of Malawi organised a pilot community capacity building training on road run-off harvesting in the Lilongwe District. This involved the collection and diversion of rainwater run-off from roads for direct use by crops or into farm ponds and percolation ponds. During the training, farmers and extension staff were oriented on a number of water harvesting methods, including infiltration and planting pits, water retention ditches, farm ponds with plastic lining, percolation ponds and check-dams. The training was facilitated by Macpherson Nthara, chairman of the Rainwater Harvesting Association, with support from young professional, Blessings Jeranji.

Female farmer explaining how she will excavate a pond to capture road water run-off

 Left: Marking out the position of infiltration pits; Right: Marking out a percolation pond

Research on the effect of sowbug in Iran

A new study was published by the Sari Agricultural Science and Natural Resources University on the effect of sowbug on soil aggregate stability in a floodwater spreading area of Iran. Activity of the sowbug has proven to be beneficial for the improvement of the soil’s physical conditions, and therefore, for plant growth. The burrowing by the insect improves air and water penetration into the soil, and its influence on soil aggregate stability is very important to maintain soil fertility and quality. To access the publication please click here.