About the Project


The Project seeks to contribute to the build-up of the practical knowledge and national and local capacity to systematically and comprehensively support the productive use of flood-based farming systems (FBFS) for poverty alleviation and inclusive growth in water-stressed regions of Africa and Asia with relatively short flood periods.


The area under these systems in Africa and Asia is estimated at 20-35 million hectares. In spite of their wide occurrence however, FBFS are neglected in most countries, with most attention going to conventional perennial irrigation systems or alternatively to rain-fed agriculture. The often extensive flood dependent resource systems that sit in the middle are usually forgotten, and do not appear in national statistics or in professional education for instance. FBFS cover a wide array of resource systems that depend on temporary floods, in particular: 1) Spate irrigation and flood water spreading from ephemeral rivers; 2) Flood recession/ flood rise systems, inundation canals and flood compartmentalization systems, centered on flood plains; 3) Land depression systems (dambo, bas fond), based on temporary land inundation. Whereas floods are often associated with havoc and disaster in FBFS floods are an asset and the main source of water and moisture for multiple uses.


These FBFS serve crop production, fishery, livestock, and are the sustenance of local ecological systems. Dependent on flood events, they are prone to climate change, yet they have considerable unused economic potential, as can be seen from the different experiences in countries in Africa and Asia. FBFS is, in essence, a resilience building block to smallholder climate change adaptation.


The project in particular will introduce promising practices – that balance multifunctional productivity and safeguard environmental values – (flood management and utilization measures, approaches to adaptation, governance, agronomic/fishery practices, and breeds/varieties) from Africa to Asia and back. It will identify and document these practices and share them between countries (South-South cooperation) and introduce them in policies, capacity building and tailored support programmes. The aim is to give an important impetus to the dry area flood based farming systems, following the experience in spate irrigation in the last five to ten years, and contribute to the up-scaling of meaningful investments in these often forgotten production systems. This project will be part of and contribute to the wider CGIAR Research Program on Water Land and Ecosystems (WLE). In this context, joint activities will be explored with WLE partners in the project target countries. The ultimate objective is for this  project to  reinforce and be reinforced by the relevant WLE activities in sustainable agricultural water management at research and policy level, with the ‘Africa to Asia’ working particularly on FBFS in often dry regions where occasional floods are vital water resources.


The mainstay of FBFS dependent users are in most cases very much IFAD’s target group: small farmers, inland fishermen and livestock keepers. FBFS by their very nature are the quintessential adaptation to climate variation, though they are also fragile and exposed to climate change. From the previous activities under the Spate Irrigation for Productive Growth and Poverty Alleviation grant and the preparatory work for this proposal it became obvious that small holder water productivity and livelihood security in these systems can be improved in several ways: better water retention, improved fishery, controlled flood spreading for rangelands, complementary shallow groundwater development, adapted varieties, strengthening value chains and other support systems. FBFS are also under pressure from large scale farming development (land conversion for sugar estates for instance) and indiscriminate upstream storage development and hence there is a strong case to develop and promote the approaches that give central importance to economic well-being of small farmers, inland fishermen and livestock keepers, while respecting the environmental functions and ecological balance of the FBFS as is the central tenet in WLE. Here access to water and land is an important boundary condition and in the development of material good practices on land and water ownership will be explicitly incorporated.


The project builds on the 2011-2014 Grant (IFAD 1230) on Spate Irrigation for Rural Productive Growth and Poverty Alleviation.  This grant focused on four countries with large or emerging spate irrigation systems (Ethiopia, Pakistan, Sudan, Yemen). It introduced spate irrigation in policies and in programmes, successfully built up sustainable capacity and strengthened the network with young professionals and farmers representatives. Important lessons from this previous grant were:


  • The large potential to do better – uncovered by action research and documenting good practices, emphasizing the large potential for sustainable productivity gains (in systematic recharge from the spate system, in better water retention and drainage, in defining user rights, in using low cost soil bund development techniques, in sharing breeds and seeds and in better moisture management techniques, for instance);
  • The strength of developing a broad-based network, triggering engagement and initiatives in different countries, beyond the direct deliverables of the grant project – such as developing a regional course on spate irrigation hosted in Ethiopia and a policy program on the invasive species mesquite with GiZ in the Horn of Africa;
  • The importance of investing in young professionals to have a new generation of experts and implementers; the importance of reaching farmer and local governments; the importance of personal interest and passion in network activities; the importance of using local languages;
  • The opportunities of long term capacity building by setting up MSc courses in spate irrigation/ FBFS, non-existent even in areas with large command areas;
  • The positive opportunities to connect the work in spate irrigation with other fields;
  • The interest of other FBFS in similar water stressed environments, such as flood recession farming or dambo systems, covering even larger areas but hardly the subject of study or systematic programming.



Strategy, Approach/Methodology

The overall strategy in this project is to develop and promote (on operational and policy level) practical, actionable and up-scalable FBFS. This is done through solution ns-oriented research and evidence-based documentation of compendium of good practices, network development and capacity building at various levels and the formulation of investment programs and policies in FBFS. The preparatory work and the earlier work of the SPNF identified the scope for many such improvements and the benefits of taking good practices from Africa to Asia and back, which is the core theme of the grant. Examples include the excellent soil moisture management techniques applied in the Horn of Africa that can serve as a model to areas in Asia; the use of crop mixes, the existence of teff not only in Ethiopia but also in Pakistan (and in general the importance of neglected and underutilized crops); the use of traditional soil bund-based diversion techniques and the social organization of FBFS.


Central to the approach is investing in people and the further development of strong knowledge and practitioners’ networks. This will take place within the context of national and regional centers that will collectively bring together the “Change makers” (farmers, grassroots/community organizations, practitioners, researchers, development organizations and policy shapers) working in the FBFS areas. This builds out already extensive actionable knowledge available on open source basis in line with the Creative Commons (including working in local languages).


The activities will focus on eight countries, partly consolidating existing network and partly engaging in new countries: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uganda, Ghana, Malawi, Ethiopia, Sudan and Yemen. The program will be flexible enough to allow adaptive research to show its potentials in targeting development goals. To ensure this flexibility and demand-responsiveness the detailed activities will be agreed on a yearly basis in the annual meetings with the investors interested in application and scaling-up (IFAD CO, IsDB, ADB, national authorities) based on preparatory work by the Project Coordinator (PC) and Deputy Coordinators (DPCs). Section IV has the details on project implementation.

Target Group


Within the 8 intervention countries, the project is expected to provide specific benefit streams to key target groups, which potentially include 24m FBFS users, as outlined below.


Target Groups Benefits
50 Policy shapers Informed policy statements and understanding of practical opportunities of developing Flood-based Farming Systems (FBFS)
400 practitioners and professionals Enhanced skills and attitudes and access to best practices in Africa and Asia; special attention for female professionals
1600 Male and female farmers, fishermen and livestock herders (TOT; Training of Trainers) Increased knowledge on water security and productive and sustainable use of FBFS
8 National governments Guided investments – covering entire range of activities from agricultural/pastoral improvement to governance
8 (Inter)national partner organization increased outreach and leverage – in shape of educational programs or thematic investment programs
6 IFAD development/investment programmes related to the themes/ located in the project area Leadership in the development of  FBFS and enhancement and support of investment portfolio



The outputs and outcomes will be reported annually and be linked to the WLE annual reporting process and other systems.

Overall Goal and Objectives

Overall Goal: Help developing FBFS policies and programmes that will meaningfully invest in rural people, based on action research and south-south documentation of practical experiences, imbedded in long term capacity building and program development at various levels.

Specific objectives:

  • (A strengthened knowledge network established within and across the target and other selected countries in Africa and Asia): Establish a strengthened network (which also serves as the basis to realize the above specific objectives) that builds upon the existing SPNF and the outreach and regional and national centres of ICRAF, and is equipped with the platform and mechanisms for active engagement of farmer leaders from different countries and the merger of practitioners (including farmers, policy makers, investors and educators) within and across the target and other selected countries in Africa and Asia. The long term (5-7 years) ambition is to transform the current network into a farmer owned Flood Based Farming Network;
  • (Human resources, local institutions and FBFS knowledge strengthened): Knowledge base strengthened of men and women staff of local institutions contributing to water and food security in the estimated 30 million hectares under FBFS taking evidence based local practice in the eight target countries as the point of departure;
  • (Capacity Building delivered): Undertake capacity building including mainstreaming in farmer learning centres, and in higher education and contributing to the development of a group of young male and female professionals; and
  • (Investment programs and policies developed): Pertinent policies and investment programmes informed of and shaped by FBFS good practices, supported by South-South shared documentation and evidence generating research.

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