Partnerships for International Research and Education (PIRE) is a program funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to promote innovative international projects that enhance the welfare of global citizens through science, research and education.

The Water and Food Security PIRE project seeks to understand how the relationships between scientists, farmers, water managers and other authorities influence the production, dissemination, and outcome of new scientific knowledge. Drawing on strong collaborations with partners in Ethiopia, we are introducing improved forecast products in six field sites in the Blue Nile Basin, Ethiopia, while observing the social interactions that surround this transnational scientific intervention. The Blue Nile Basin (BNB) contributes ~65% of the Nile flow and its water management decisions deeply influence all of East Africa. It has the physical resources to drive regional economic growth through irrigated agriculture and hydropower development, but its vulnerability to exceptional hydrologic variability and sensitivity to regional and global climate change have limited this development.

We hypothesize that although forecasts help mitigate risk, political-institutional constraints may impede the development and transfer of scientific knowledge to manage risk. To test this hypothesis, we developed a novel field experiment that identify key sources of variation in hydro-ecological vulnerability (rain-fed versus irrigated agriculture) and in political-institutional vulnerabilities: vulnerabilities: “open”communities that encourage voice and trust versus “closed” communities that do not as well as highly institutionalized (hydropower), moderately institutionalized (irrigated), and minimally institutionalized (rain-fed) sites. By capturing both hydro-ecological and political-institutional variation, we are able to test competing models of science: a “pure science” model (communities mostly vulnerable to climate variability benefit most from forecasts), institutional model (more institutionalized communities implement forecasts at higher rates), and political-institutional model (open communities will exhibit greater benefits than closed communities).

Our objectives are to: (i) improve seasonal hydrologic and crop yield forecasts at scales relevant to farmers and water managers; (ii) identify and reduce barriers to their effective dissemination and uptake; and (iii) train a new generation of global experts who recognize both the political-institutional and hydro-ecological dimensions of food-energy-water security problems, collaborate successfully with international partners, and communicate fairly and effectively with stakeholders from disparate backgrounds. Ultimately, we seek to develop a political-institutional model of science that links sociological and engineering methods in a people-centered approach to the human-climate-water-agricultural nexus.