Lessons learned: BENEFIT-SBN promotion of rotation crops in the sesame dominated production and market systems
In the lowlands of north-west Ethiopia, farmers mainly depend on sesame and sorghum, respectively for cash and food. Together these two crops account for more than 90% of the cultivated land. Among others, this situation bears different risks:
- (i) mono-cropping leading to soil depletion and increased pest and disease infestation;
- (ii) farmers’ dependency on single cash crop that has a volatile market; and
- (iii) a monotonous diet (low diet diversity score) of resident population and seasonal labourers.
In response to this, BENEFIT-SBN (Sesame Business Network) programme started promotion of rotation crops in the lowlands of Northwest Ethiopia, with three main objectives: sustainable agricultural production, farmer income improvement and diversification, food and nutrition security and diversity. Emphasis was put on the improvement of sorghum production and marketing, and introduction of soya and mung bean, as these can importantly contribute to soil fertility management and reduced incidence of pests and diseases.
- Selecting of the right rotational crops: It is important to give focus on rotation crops that are most important for sustainable farming practices, contribute to diet diversification and have market potential, with due attention given to seed supply, food habits, storage and farmer company relations and, if appropriate for livestock feeding. SBN was successful in introducing crops that are important in the context of climate change, such as short-cycle mung bean that is becoming more important as nutritious food to farmers and daily labourers. In addition, the adoption and expansion of soya bean is very encouraging in Amhara and has the potential for selling to food and oil processing companies. Nevertheless, more attention could have been given to existing alternative cash crops like cotton and sunflower, as a new emerging rotation crop important for production of edible oils.
- Testing and validation: Exploring, testing and demonstrating a broad range of crops and varieties in collaboration with farmers and mandated research institutes and extension services is critical for successful uptake and scaling. Between 2014 and 2018, rotation crops were demonstrated at farmer training centres (FTC’s) and in farmer fields. Farmers have been supported to grow and market sorghum, soya and mung bean. Tens of thousands of farmers observed these plots and were triggered to consider growing them. Feedback of farmers was used to set priorities for scaling out rotation crops. A malt sorghum variety (Deber) was tested on field performance, as well as on its suitability for brewing.
- Quantity and quality of seed: One of the challenges faced by SBN related to getting the right quantity and quality seed at the right time. Currently, seed supply depends on research centres and seed producer cooperatives and private investors are not in place for seed multiplication for rotation crops.
- Capacity building (training, manuals and other relevant support documents): To ensure sustainability, it is critical to build the capacity of experts and farmers using different mechanisms. In addition to continuous training, the programme produced and distributed three practical field guides explaining recommended agricultural practices to farmers (for sorghum in 2017, for mung and soya bean in 2019). Soya bean and mung bean preparation recipes were developed and shared, mainly with women, during practical training sessions.
- Market linkage: The successes achieved in market linkage were achieved through the facilitation role the programme played to connecting companies to sourcing areas, including building a good understanding of delivery contracts. Unions were supported to enter in contract agreement with Diageo for the delivery of malt sorghum to malting factories. Visits were organized for companies to see the production zone and discuss with farmers. Because of the growing interest in mung bean sand soya bean, the legumes were included in the Ethiopian Commodity Exchange (ECX) marketing system, to facilitate sales. For sorghum, an effort to link producers with buyers started good but was discontinued since farmers defaulted because of price volatility.
- Collaboration: The recommended practices for sorghum, mung bean and soya bean were developed and consolidated, in collaboration with GARC, HuARC and BoA and the promotion of rotation crops was part of the collaboration agreements with BoA and ARCs. It is relevant to plan the rotation crop promotion programme in collaboration with several stakeholders, both at the production and market side. This institutional collaboration helped to make the promotion of rotation crops a success.
Read more here.