Transforming lives with improved seed varieties: lessons learned from ISSD Mekelle University

This briefing note summarizes the success and lessons learned in introducing new sorghum varieties through crowdsourcing/participatory varietal selection (CS/PVS) interventions and seed multiplication activities in Tigray. It is based on three-year experience of Integrated Seed Sector Development Programme in Ethiopia (ISSD Ethiopia) Mekelle University (MU).

Introduction

Sorghum is a dominant food crop in Asgede Tsimbla Woreda. Prior to 2017, most farmers depended on local varieties that were handed down from farmer-to-farmer, mainly Merewey and Wedi subush. For years, due to the lack of attention given to strengthening the sorghum seed system and minimal effort into introducing new improved varieties, the farmers used low producing and late maturing varieties. The crop was also ignored by the formal research system especially in the north western lowlands of Asgede Tsimbla wereda.

Interventions implemented

In 2017, to better understand the social seed exchange networks embedded in the social system and resolve the pressing challenge in the sorghum production system, ISSD Mekelle University conducted a baseline study on farmers’ access to seed and role of local traders in seed market. The findings showed, a very intertwined seed exchange networks where farmers solely depended on each other to get information and access to quality seed and lack of access to better performing improved varieties.

Based on the recommendations of the study, ISSD MU used crowdsourcing and PVS approaches to facilitate variety deployment and enable farmers identify, use and access varieties that suit their micro climate or locality. CS/PVS approach is in essence a seed research and extension method that strengthens, promotes, and creates demand for new and improved varieties and ultimately increase adoption rate of quality seed. Gender mainstreaming was central in all planning and implementation stages resulting in 48% women farmers participating in crop and variety selection and deployment.

The activities started with awareness creation and building partnership with relevant key stakeholders to facilitate piloting and scaling up of CS/PVS approaches by Bureau of Agriculture (BOA) and Agricultural Research Centers (ARCs) in the region.

New, improved and popular local varieties of sorghum were deployed to 200 farmers in 2017, 400 farmers in 2018, and 350 farmers in 2019. Farmers evaluated the varieties on their farm plots and used both men and women traits preferences to make their selections. Field days were organized to facilitate varietal evaluations by farmers on PVS sites. The farmers ranked Melkam and Meko varieties the best for their early maturity partially addressing the drought issue in the area; good panicle size with high yield and productivity potential; strong short stalks that are wind resistant; shorter plant height easing labor during harvesting especially for women; quality sweet stock suitable for livestock feed; and good grain color and cooking quality (injera).

Following the increasing demand of the selected sorghum varieties, and convinced by the promising performance of Melkam, the Woreda office of agriculture (WoA) agreed to work in farmer clusters for wider area seed multiplication. ISSD in collaboration with the WoA facilitated access for improved Melkam variety and 125 quintals of seed was distributed to 1,224 (155 female) individual farmers for seed multiplication on a 1042 hectare of land.

Results

Since 2017 as many as 25 sorghum varieties were deployed through CS/PVS interventions in Asgede Tsimbla wereda. They have adopted early maturing Melkam variety that brings high yield, easy to harvest, responsive to women needs, better in color and cooking quality. Farmers now own different varieties that respond to the climatic and agronomic demands of the area.

In addition, you see a significant shift from the traditional methods of accessing and using seeds. Farmers testimonies reveled that growing improved varieties is a new tradition and they have learned improved varieties mean better yield that can improve their livelihoods. They also acknowledged the value of engaging women in variety selection and the need to engage them in the seed system.

Challenges

Some of the challenges encountered during the implementation period included limited number of varieties, lack of awareness on the CS/PVS implementation approaches, use of improper plot design and size, poor data collection and management, limited capacity by enumerators and focal persons.

Conclusion

The programme showcased the impact and reach of using CS/PVS as an extension model to increase adoption of improved varieties. With over 25 local varieties, Asgede Tsimbla is becoming a center of diversity for sorghum. Beyond sorghum, farmers now know the value of using improved crop variety seeds, creating new levels of demand for all crops.

Lessons learned and recommendations

  1. CS/PVS is a cost effective approach that is instrumental to promote and reach large number of farmers with many new and improved varieties in short period of time. The approach should be incorporated and institutionalized by the extension system with close collaboration with ARCs;
  2. With the right blend of extension approach and accessibility to new improved seed varieties, farmers are very willing to take up and adopt new varieties;
  3. CS/PVS varietal deployments enables farmers to experiment, evaluate, and identify the best fit varietal for their micro climate;
  4. Creation of seed demand through CS/PVS approach should be followed by coordinated seed multiplication efforts to encourage wider adoption and create sustainable seed source;
  5. To ensure success, interventions should include activities related to capacity building of farmers, experts and enumerators; ensure women are included at all levels of implementation; deploy as many varieties as possible and create linkage and create linkage with ARCs to alleviate the current seed supply shortage.

BENEFIT-REALISE held its annual review and planning meeting

BENEFIT-REALISE held its annual review and planning meeting on Feb 11-13, 2020 at Nexus Hotel in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The first two days that included external stakeholders were devoted to reflect on 2019 accomplishments across 8 implementing clusters in four regions, review 2020 work plan, identify areas of collaboration, and agree on the mechanism of institutionalization. Over 50 participants, representing Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) at federal level, Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Ethiopia (EKN), Universities, Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR), Southern Agricultural Research Institute (SARI), INGOs, BENEFIT Partnership programme (REALISE, SBN, CASCAPE-CANAG, PCU) from Addis Ababa and WUR attended the meeting. The last day was devoted to revise 2020 plan based on feedback provided and for CLUM (cluster managers) meeting.

Following an introductory session, the programme management team presented 2019 accomplishments, challenges and lessons learned. It was highlighted key success factors for 2019 accomplishments were (i) strong stakeholders’ collaboration at national and regional levels (research, extension, PSNP, NGOs like GRAD, HELVATAS Ethiopia, World Vision etc); (ii) availability of knowledge and different technologies that can be tested for local adaptation (EIAR & RARIs); (iii) existence of knowledge, experience and expertise within BENEFIT programmes; (iv) interest of farmers to use improved agricultural technologies; and (v) team work and commitment of programme staff.

Major challenges raised in 2019 implementation period included late onset, shortage and unpredictable nature of rainfall, pest problem (fall armyworm and locust), shortage of quality seeds for some crops/or varieties, lack of well-established RuSACCo and the fact that many of PSNP beneficiaries are resource poor (landlessness, lack of capital for inputs esp. FHHs). Sufficient time was allocated to discuss on common challenges and possible solutions the programme should consider in the coming year.

The second day was devoted to hearing 2020 plans, that focus on demonstration, pre-scaling and scaling support, woreda plan support, strengthening linkages between seed producers, service providers and markets, provision of evidences to policy makers (policy dialogue, in-depth study report), presentations of evidence-based programme results, developing better strategies for effective engagement of youth in the target woredas, documentation and sharing, and institutionalization process.

Presentations

  1. BENEFIT-REALISE 2019 achievements, focus on 2020’ by Remko Vonk, BENEFIT-REALISE Coordinator from WUR
  2. 2019 progress and objective of the workshop by Dr. Mulugeta Diro, BENEFIT-REALISE Deputy Manager
  3. Segmentation for customized extension: REALISE experience” was given by Dr. Tewodros Tefera, BENEFIT-REALISE Manager
  4. “Extension System in Ethiopia: Refection on current challenges, current reforms and changes, extension package formulation and targeting” was given by Dr. Chimdo Anchala, Senior Director of Production & Productivity, Ethiopian Agricultural Transformation Agency (ATA)
  5. “Resilient Seed System: The case of PSNP/REALISE beneficiaries” by Dr. Mulugeta Diro, BENEFIT-REALISE Deputy Manager
  6. “Seed Security for Food Security” by Dr. Amsalu Ayana, BENEFIT ISSD Manager
  7. “Food Security: Consideration for BENEFIT-REALISE” by Ramko Remko Vonk, BENEFIT-REALISE Coordinator

The participants had an opportunity to discuss the value of segmentation in the extension system, how to critically evaluate our intervention’s contribution verses target reaching, meaningful collaboration, training best practices, farmer targeting in scaling activities, target for yield increase, beneficiary reporting, staff retention, seed availability, and strengthening platforms to share experiences that will ultimately contribute to PSNP HHs self-sufficiency.

Promoting Best Fit Practices in Crop Production: The case of BENEFIT-REALISE Mekelle Univesity

The BENEFIT-REALISE programme aims to improve food and nutrition security and build resilience of targeted Productive Safety Net Programme (PSNP) households. The
programme that started in 2018 works with eight Ethiopian universities as implementing partners, spread across four regional states of Ethiopia – one of them Mekelle University Cluster in Tigray.

The attached brief presents a summary of major activities, testimonies and lessons learned from BENEFIT-RELALISE Mekelle University Cluster experience in 2019. It highlights activities implemented in crowdsourcing, Participatory Varietal Selection (PVS), validation, demonstration, nutrition, pre-scaling, seed multiplication etc. While acknowledging the successes achieved so far this paper also highlights key lesson learned in the implementation process to encourage learning, contributing to knowledge management process to improve further efforts in similar innovations and efforts.

BENEFIT-REALISE held Regional Annual Review and Planning Workshops

BENEFIT-REALISE Programme conducted annual review and planning workshops in  four regions: Tigray (Mekelle University cluster), Amhara (Bahir Dar and Woldia University clusters), Oromia (Arsi, Haramaya and Oda Bultum University clusters) and SNNP (Arba Minch and Hawassa University clusters) of Ethiopia. The eight REALISE University clusters organized the workshops in their respective regions from January 23-February 1, 2020. The objective of these workshops were to create a forum for REALISE to review the performance of 2019 activities and present 2020 work plan for the upcoming budget year. The workshops were relevant to learn about the status of the program, receive feedback to refine 2020 plan and agree on way forward decisions. In attendance were officials from the Regional Bureaus of Agriculture and Zonal and Woreda Offices of Agriculture, Productive Safety Net Program (PSNP) of each region, Regional Agricultural Research Institutes and Centers, Affiliate Universities and their respective program’s,  institutional advisors, BENEFIT-REALISE National Program Management Unit team and Cluster Managers and experts.

Detailed reports on the performance of planned activities for 2019, major achievements, challenges faced and lessons learnt were presented. Plenary discussions were conducted on the reports to clarify issues and answer questions raised by stakeholders. In addition, presentations on the 2020 work plan were made by the clusters  and feedback was provided through group discussion with stakeholders.

On conclusion, since 2020 is the last year of implementation for REALISE consensus was reached to focus on documentation of evidence, institutionalization and sustainability to ensure that the lessons learned and evidence generated by the program will be integrated in the formal government operations.

2nd Round of Innovation Recommendation Mapping (IRM) Training Conducted (BENEFIT-CASCAPE)

BENEFIT-CASCAPE conducted a six day training (Dec 30, 2019 – Jan 5, 2020) to develop the skills of government institutions staff members (Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) Ethiopia Soil and Resource Institute (ESRI) and MoA Extension Directorate and the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR))  responsible for implementing IRM in the country. The 2nd round training focused on basics of GIS, R, land evaluation; concept to data, input data source, data quality and fitness for use, bio physical input data preparation (land use requirement, soil, climate, topography), accessibility map input data preparation (market location, roads, FTC) and AHP & Ethno suitability mapping.

As per the findings of the skill assessment, the trainers applied learning by doing methodology to effectively bridge the skills and knowledge gaps. There were series of individual, pair and small group practical exercises and assignments. One of the group exercise entailed discussing factors affecting adoption of CASCAPE’s Best Fit Innovations (BFIs) ranked from highest to lowest. The group also identified those factors that can be mapped and those factors that can be mapped and have data. The three major factors identified for wheat related to attitude (culture, religion), farmer type and access to extension service, while the top three factors affecting adoption for faba bean were educational level, market value and cultivable land size.

Both formative (continuously monitoring progress in learning) and summative evaluation (at the end of the training) were conducted to collect feedbacks for improvement of future efforts. Total result of the quantitative assessment in terms of relevance, achieving objectives, participation, organization, exercises etc. was 69.6 out of 70.

At the end of the training, the participants affirmed their commitment to apply the knowledge and the practical skills they have learned. The training was organized by CASCAPE’s National Programme Management Unit NPMU (Desalegn Haileyesus – Senior Expert, Capacity Building) and was given by Dr. Amanuel Zenebe and Dr. Atkilt Girma (Mekelle University – Mapping members).

Improved Potato Variety Demonstration Trail Changing the Lives of PSNP Farmers: BENEFIT-REALISE Arba Minch University (AMU)

Ashke Ena, a destitute 35 year-old widow and mother of five children was one of PSNP farmers selected for the BENEIT-REALISE Arba Minch University potato demonstration trail in Bola, Kutcha woreda. Even though she owns 0.125ha of land, she always struggled to feed her family and has been dependent on PSNP for years. Based on the finding of 2018 PRA (Participatory Rural Appraisal) study, one of the 2019 BENEFIT-REALISE AMU cluster interventions focused on introducing two improved potato varieties with an aim to minimize food gap months and improve the livelihood of the surrounding PSNP farmers. The intervention was successful in closing existing food gaps of selected PSNP farmers, giving them an opportunity to think beyond consumption to selling their produce to earn an income.

The intervention started by setting target criteria for farmer selection process that was shared with the woreda experts. The programme also provided 1qt of each improved potato variety, 0.25 quintal NPS and 0.25 quintal urea for the demonstration trails. With close collaboration with the woreda agronomists, the selected farmers were taught on appropriate agronomic practices to plant Belete variety on 0.0625 ha and Gudene variety 0.0625 ha. The land was prepared in March and row planting was done in April. The first-round weeding took place 15 days after planting and the second in May.

All the hard work paid off and Ashke was able to harvest 44.6 quintals from Belete variety and 33.4 quintals from Gudene variety, a total of 78 quintals. Askhe is very happy with the outcome. With a smile she said, “I earned 26,439Birr (input cost covered by the project) from my produce. With my new income I can make sure there is always food at home, and was able to even send money to my son for graduation. I am ready to replant some of my potatoes next year, applying all what I have learned. TOSA GELETA! Meaning Thank God!” Prior to harvest, farmers from different kebeles visited her farm to see the performance of the varieties and discuss lesson learned in the implementation process.

In addition, following BENEFIT-REALISE key objective of developing best fit practices towards increasing productivity and resilience, BENEFIT-REALISE experts collected necessary data throughout the implementation period to document evidences, address existing challenges (e.g. bacterial wilt, and pest) and influence farming practices for scaling in selected PSNP woredas.

BENEFIT-REALISE Woldia University Field Day on Layer Poultry Farming and Sheep Fattening Interventions

On January 16, 2020, BENEFIT-REALISE Woldia University (WDU) Cluster held a field day to showcase the contribution of small scale layer poultry farming and small ruminant (sheep) fattening interventions in youth employment and building PSNP households resilience in North Wollo, Amhara Region. The field day was relevant to better understand the different components that contributed to the success of the interventions and discuss how to ensure continuity of the effort to reach more youth and PSNP beneficiaries.

The interventions were conducted in two woredas (Wadila and Habru) engaging 16 youths (8 male and 8 female) on layer poultry farming and 16 women in ram (male sheep) fattening. Recognizing PSNP HH’s poor resource status, the programme worked in collaboration with RUSACO, providing revolving fund to support the farmers through credit to run the activities. This was done to minimize dependency syndrome associated with aid and reach more farmers over time with the limited available fund. Through this credit scheme, the programme provided 50 pullets from Nicos Private Poultry Farm in Mersa town to each or the 16 youth, materials to construct the chicken house, feed for the first three months and training on poultry care and management.  In relation to the fattening intervention, the programme provided 5 sheep and training on sheep care and fattening to each of the 16 women selected for the intervention.

The field visit demonstrated, within a short time (3 months), both interventions have become profitable businesses that can contribute to improving the lives of PSNP HHs by increasing their household income towards ensuring their food security and building their resilience.

Kidest Aynachew, who participated in sheep fattening activity said, “I used to depend on selling ‘Tela’ a local alcoholic drink and support from the PSNP programme. After the BENEFIT REALISE Wolida University gave me 5 sheep and taught me how to construct a place for them, how to fatten them and keep them healthy, in just three month I was able to earn 4000 birr. I started saving money so that I can buy more sheep to fatten and sell.”

Derebew Alene, who was engaged in poultry farming, is also very happy with the result. He said “Out of the 50 chickens I have, 35 are already laying eggs, and I am getting about 120birr each day. I was very happy with the result. I have already started paying my loan to RUSACO and plan to expand even more.”

The field day was attended by over 40 participants including Daikon Tesfa Batabil, Head of North Wollo Zone Department of Agriculture, Dr. Solomon Abegaz, Vice President of Woldia University Research and Community Service, representatives from Sirinka Agricultural Research Center Livestock Research Directorate, North Wollo Zone Livestock Agency, woreda livestock and cooperative offices, Development Agents (DAs), RUSACO members, beneficiary youths and women.

Woldia livestock fattening picture

woldia livestock field day layer chicken picture

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