Lessons learned in institutionalization of CASCAPE’s validated best fit practices in the national extension system
BENEFIT-CASCAPE has been engaged in participatory action research activities that involve testing, validation, scaling and capacity development to generate innovations and agricultural best practices for uptake among smallholder farmers. During 2016-2019 implementation period, the project generated 26 best-fit practices that have been scaled out to 65 woredas reaching 863,495 farmers, covering 215,874 ha of land. The 26 best-fit practice manuals for production of major crops were submitted to the Extension Directorate of the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) of which seven are already included in the national best practices extension package.
Using best fit practices composed of improved varieties (high yielding, disease resistant, early maturing) and management practices (soil-crop specific fertilizer recommendation, row planting, disease and pest management), the programme succeeded in doubling the yields of cereals (wheat, maize, teff, barley and sorghum) and vegetables (potato, onion) and pulses (faba bean, soybean). The yield advantage of CASCAPE Pre Extension Demonstration over local practices and national averages ranges from 40.80 to 97.39% and 31.98 to 120%, respectively.
This indicates that overall, all CASCAPE-validated best-fit practices significant yield advantage contribute towards national and regional food self-sufficiency in Ethiopia. For example, wheat is grown by 4.64 million smallholder farmers on a total area of 1.7 million ha in Ethiopia with a national average yield of 2.7 t/ha (CSA, 2018). With average yield of 4.9 t/ha in CASCAPE PED fields, annual production would be 8.33 million tons (4.9 x 1.7 million = 8.33) if all wheat farmers adopt CASCAPE best practices. This volume is approximately equal to the current national consumption level, substituting subsidized wheat grain import costing the country over 56 million USD annually. We therefore argue that implementation of ASCAPE validated wheat-best practices holds the promise of bridging the production gap to achieve national wheat self-sufficiency.
Testing/validation activities were implemented in 10 so called “high intensity woredas” and scaled out to 55 other woredas in agro-ecologically similar settings. In order to facilitate the scaling process, best fit manuals that includes information about agronomy practices (variety, land preparation, planting time, fertilizer rate, etc.), crop protection, harvesting and post-harvest handling were prepared following each pilot.
In addition to its validated BFPs in the National Extension System, CASCAPE has been working to institutionalize its programme’s approach that is based on bottom up planning, is demand driven, encourage a high degree of participation of farmers and other stakeholders, and promote local innovation, capacity development and a value chain approach. More importantly, the best-fit practices validated and disseminated by the BENEFIT-CASCAPE programme have helped to achieve significant higher crops yields across different locations and agro-ecological zones.
- Even though the national and regional research institutes have developed a wide range of agricultural technologies (e.g. improved varieties and management practices), they have not reached the farmers where the technologies are most needed to boost agricultural production. Often, lack of farmer participation and contextualization of the research priorities with the needs, priorities and interests of farmers is presented as the major cause of failure for technology transfer to farmers. In response, BENEFIT-CASCAPE adopted a participatory action research approach involving researchers, extension workers and farmers in diagnosis, planning and searching for solutions to address production problems. This is conceptualized in the project as the “innovation path ways”, involving testing-validation-pilot scaling-pre-extension demonstration and scaling support.
- CASCAPE’s strategy of technology development and scaling (development pathways) combined with its participatory approach has played a crucial role in generating different best fit practices. The standard protocol developed by CASCAPE project to evaluate the applicability and scalability of the best fit practices worked well.
- The involvement of different stakeholders (e.g. extension and research) in the preparation and review of best fit practice manuals was crucial contributing factor to the uptake of the BFPs.
- It is also advisable to undertake joint planning and implementation with relevant stakeholders across the value chain in order to identify demand driven best fit practices.
- Institutionalization is a slow and long process that requires time and commitment of all relevant stakeholders at different levels. Timely hand over of best fit practice manuals requires creating a strong linkage with the extension system from the beginning. Thus far only seven best fit practices are incorporated into the national best practice extension package. Delay in delivering the best fit practices manuals to the MoA should be considered.