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Scaling out resilient water and agricultural systems (scaleWAYS)

The research and development project analyzes up scaling options for water and land management practices for the resilient and sustainable intensification of rice and fodder production systems in the Lake Victoria Basin.

About scaleWAYS

scaleWAYS aims to develop an integrated scaling simulation framework that could help to provide an improved understanding of the scaling process of pilot management practices for the sustainable and resilient intensification of rice and fodder production systems in the extended Lake Victoria Basin1.

scaleWAYS is a research and development project that aims to investigate agricultural, water and environmental management practices to enhance the resilience of land and water resources, to safeguard and improve human wellbeing and ecosystems in the Lake Victoria Basin and the East African Community as a whole, under the developed future scenarios.

A rapidly increasing population and urbanization, economic growth, degradation of the environment and ecosystem, and the impacts of projected climate change for the coming decades challenge the resilience of land and water systems with potential detrimental impacts on human wellbeing. The project seeks solution pathways for selected agro-ecosystems chosen by regional stakeholders, namely rice and livestock/fodder systems.

Several pilot initiatives, that involve a bundle of management practices, have been introduced over the last years by various development actors in the region to tackle such challenges. However, their larger-scale implementation remains limited.

The simulation framework combines biophysical suitability analysis, governance analysis, and agro-economic optimization. The suitability analysis conducted at high spatial resolution aims to identify suitable area for the management practices based on a combination of various biophysical factors, while governance and ago-economic analyses aims to identify the optimal economic and institutional conditions for scaling such practices.


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Food security has long been a challenge for the dynamic East Africa region. The challenge is expected to increase in the coming decades because food demand will increase considerably due to rapid growth in population, income, urbanization and related dietary changes.

Agricultural production in the region is thus required to intensify, in a sustainable way, to keep up with food demand and support resilience of livelihoods. However, the sustainable intensification of the agricultural production faces many challenges including low productivity, climate variability and climate change, inadequate management, small scale operations, lacking access to resources, and poor supply chains. Several pilot initiatives, that involve a bundle of agricultural, water and environment (AWE) management practices, have been introduced in the region to tackle such challenges. However, their large-scale implementation remains limited.

In the framework of scaleWAYS research and development project, researchers at the International Institute for Applied System Analysis (IIASA), and the International Crops Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) in partnership with the Lake Victoria Basin Commission (LVBC) and its member countries analyze the opportunities for scaling out agricultural, water and environment management practices for the sustainable and resilient intensification of rice and fodder production systems in the extended Lake Victoria Basin (eLVB) in East Africa.

Theory of Change

Scaling-up and scaling-out of solution option for sustainable and resilient improvements in agricultural production in East Africa have not sufficiently been taken up by policy making and implementation. They are constrained by several factors such as resource constraints, lack of harmonization and alignment, coordination among stakeholders and sound understanding of the benefits and trade-offs of the scaling. ScaleWAYS combines biophysical and agro-economic simulations, with political economy analysis and anchors scientific knowledge in a Community of Practice, to enhance policy impact and strengthen resilience in scaling sustainable rice and fodder production. The different activities of the project are identified and interwoven through what is known as a “Theory of Change (ToC)” commonly used by international development projects to achieve the desired impact. In moving from the proposed research activities to impacts on practices, ScaleWAYS adopts different channels formalized in four primary project activities, namely:

  • Social network analysis of water management actors;
  • Multi-dimensional simulation and modelling;
  • Comparative political economy analysis;
  • Establishment of a Community of Practice (CoP) and introduction of learning platforms.
Project Background

The IIASA flagship research initiative, ‘Water Futures and Solutions (WFaS) seeks to incorporate water science into water policy and planning, and applied water management practices.

With funding from the Austrian Development Agency, IIASA had been leading the implementation of a research project on ‘Advancing Water Future and Solutions for East Africa: Accelerating Transition Towards Resilient Water and Food Systems’.

That project co-developed East African regional water scenarios for 2050. The spatially nested scenario approach included a quantitative hydro-economic modelling framework to examine the current and future water balance in the extended Lake Victoria Basin using the East Africa Regional Vision and a Middle of the Road scenario to identify cost-efficient future water supply and demand trajectories across different economic sectors and the environment.

scaleWAYS builds on analysis carried out in that project.

Two stakeholder workshops were convened in December 2017 and December 2018 involving government, academia, civil society, and private sector from the Lake Victoria Basin to develop the regional development scenarios and review the modelling results. For key results please refer to http://www.iiasa.ac.at/wfas-eastafrica.

Among others, results highlight agriculture as the main driver of water demand in the Regional Vision scenario. In consultation with regional stakeholders, this has led to more focused research in scaleWAYS about sustainable intensification options for agricultural production.

Expected Outcome

scaleWAYS will improve understanding of the up scaling of local and regional land and water management practices for the sustainable intensification of rainfed and irrigated agriculture.

About 200 scientists and practitioners working in academic, governmental, business, or civil society organizations in the EAC will benefit either through direct engagement in research, or through participation in capacity development events organized through a Community of Practice, a key component of this project.

scaleWAYS will contribute to the resilience of future water and land resources, ecosystems, and the wellbeing of the population living in the EAC region, especially the current 45 million and future (2050) estimated 90 million people residing in the study area of the extended Lake Victoria basin, the headwaters of the Nile.

Research Approach
scaleWAYS analyzes scaling options for water and land management practices for the resilient and sustainable intensification of rice and fodder production in the extended Lake Victoria Basin.

The decision to focus specifically on rice and fodder production was an outcome of the scaleWAYS start-up workshop in Entebbe, Uganda in May 2019, where various stakeholders representing policy, research and academia from Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda convened for three days to engage in an interactive and consultative decision-making process.

It was agreed that both rice and fodder production systems should be contextualized in their respective agricultural production systems where this production takes place (understanding the system boundaries). In the case of fodder production, this is an agro-pastoral system. For rice, it is a farming system where rice is typically grown alongside other crops with various degrees of intensity.

These intensification processes are undertaken by adopting agricultural, water and environmental management practices, which are specific to both production systems. The production systems and associated management practices for intensification are characterized for the study area (eLVB) in a detailed scoping study. The scoping study also characterizes distinctive and critical landscapes and geographies within the study areas, which are relevant to the production systems. In addition, pilot sites will be identified where management practices were implemented in each of the landscapes or geographies.

These pilot sites (about three for each production system) will be used to gather input data for the biophysical and agro-economic modelling as well as for the governance, political economy, and gender analysis. Not all the management practices in the production systems may be sufficiently tested within the study area.

Therefore, additional data from outside eLVB may be used for the simulations and analysis to be carried out. The model simulations are performed for the entire study area and provide critical decision support for implementing the selected management practices in the two agricultural production systems across the basin including specificities for the different landscapes and geographies. Both dimensions of scaling, scaling up and scaling out are being applied in the scaleWAYS project. Whereas scaling-out essentially involves replication and expansion of the object of scaling, scaling up involves a change in qualities/properties of the object of scaling (agricultural production system).

Project Structure

Activities that are being carried out over the course of the three-year implementation period are structured around the following four Project Output Areas:

Promising pilot initiatives for resilient local and regional agricultural water management are identified and scoped in detail to determine up scaling potential in selected agro-ecological zones.

A biophysical and economic model for scaling the sustainable intensification of selected rainfed and irrigated agricultural practices is produced/adapted and tested in two agro-ecological settings.

Political economy aspects, as well as social and gender dimensions relevant to the up scaling of selected pilot initiatives in designated agro-ecological settings are analyzed and the level of understanding documented.

The capacity of practitioners and researchers from regional and local academic institutions, governments, NGOs, and businesses is advanced as part of the scope of the research project.