Soil erosion is the driver of food insecurity and environmental degradation affecting the lives of smallholder farmers. To tackle soil and water degradation government-led large-scale soil and water management programs have been introduced at a watershed scale. The long-term viability of those practices in the Gumara watershed remains a major challenge. The objective of the study was to better understand the general approaches used to implement and design watershed management practices so that soil and nutrient transport to downstream water bodies could be managed. Sub watersheds from the large Gumara watershed were identified for detailed study based on erosion hotspots using the SWAT model. These sub-watersheds represent communities organized for conservation works in the absence of food assistance programs. The data were collected from four focus groups of fifty participants each, field observation, and desk-level meetings with experts. A structured questionnaire was used to get relevant information to the participating farmers. According to the findings, each of the selected watersheds used similar approaches to implement conservation activities. The community withdrew from conservation efforts, even on their farm fields, since the success rate was below the expectation. At this spot realizing the long-term benefits of watershed development activities stayed challenging. The smallholder farmer, on the other hand, clearly relies on rain-fed agriculture and hopes to see immediate results to feed his family. In conclusion, government-led development programs have not been evaluated, technically supported, lack trusted in the community and hence development efforts were put in jeopardy.