In the Sheeb area in eastern Eritrea a Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) was carried out in two villages, one upstream and one downstream of the ephemeral rivers Laba and Mai-ule. The objectives of the study were to obtain a better understanding of farmer-managed spate irrigation systems and to enable the local people to perform their own farming system analysis. This paper describes the various PRA activities, such as mapping, diagramming and ranking of problems, that were undertaken with the participation of local people. The resource mapping revealed that lack of water and not scarcity of land is the main constraint affecting the development of the spate irrigation system in the Sheeb area. When there is a lack of rainfall in the highlands of Eritrea, there are only few floods per year in the Sheeb area. The development trend diagrams showed that the number of floods, the food production and the prevalence of pests vary considerably over time. The livelihood diagrams indicated that food, fodder, and water were only available during part of the year. In search of these resources, the farmers have developed a livelihood strategy of seasonal migration to the highlands of Eritrea. The PRA data collected in the two villages appeared to be very useful for the preparation of community action plans in the entire Sheeb area.