Tag Archives: Lessons Learned

Promoting the use of information management system in the Ethiopian sesame sector: Lessons learned from BENEFIT-SBN

From 2016-2019, one of Sesame Business Network (SBN)’s initiatives focused on promoting the use of information management system in the Ethiopia sesame sector. The effort that started with an Excel database in 2016-2017, evolved into a sector management information system, based on a tailored, more advanced software application. The pilot was implemented in 2018-2019 in four kebeles, with a vision of having a public digital information management system that is up-to-date, reliable and accessible, supporting all sector stakeholders and paid through a levy system.

Specific objectives of the pilot included: (i) support transparency with a public database; (ii) facilitate the provision of public services by government agencies to farmers; (iii) promote in-depth sector analysis through customized reports; (iv) digitize member administration of cooperatives; and (v) support information exchange between cooperatives and unions.

With increased access to computers and the internet, public agencies and farmers’ organizations in the commercial sesame sector are increasingly showing interest in using digitalized information system to gather, share and use consolidated information for professional planning, management, transparency, collaboration and trade.

The process of providing the Excel database and developing the digital information system, which included working with handheld devices and software, training and frequent discussions have raised the awareness of stakeholders on the importance of reliable digitalized field data. As partners in tailoring the software, they have gained insights about how to: i) work with software programs, ii) structure and prioritize information iii) organize data collection and quality control, iv) exchange information with other partners and v) analyse data and produce a report.

The process over the years

The first step towards information management was the establishment of woreda databases in Excel, which is a widely available and known tool. Databases were developed, based on available information on key parameters such as population, land, cultivated acreages for different crops, production, productivity and market prices. Whenever possible, attention was given to disaggregate information according to gender and age. By the end of 2017, the databases were handed over to 13 woredas, with appropriate training on how to use and maintain it.

In 2018, two digital information systems were introduced (FarmForce and eProd). Both systems were specifically developed for smallholder agricultural production and marketed in remote areas. They work with a mobile application to collect field level data, including GPS references. A desktop application allows for extensive analyses of collected data and can generate several reports.

Several stakeholders of the sesame sector, BoA, CPO, unions and cooperatives, have been involved to build a sector-wide information management system that meets their data and information needs. Based on the eProd software, which was further developed and tailored for the sesame sector, the piloting was done in two kebeles in Tigray and two kebeles in Amhara regions. By the end of 2019, field and farmer information was entered in the system for four kebeles (6,677 farmers), two kebeles in Amhara (3,038 farmers) and two in Tigray (3,639 farmers).

Lessons learnt

  1. Limited infrastructure and human capacity. Stakeholders hardly own functional hardware to install the software. Power cuts, virus infections and damaged hardware make installation and reliable functioning of the software challenging. In addition, stakeholders have limited experience to work with computers and any type of software. As a result, the training of dedicated staff members was time-consuming, compounded by high staff turnover.
  2. Start from a simple solution and have a multi step introductory approach. The Excel based woreda databases featured several benefits like low cost, easy understanding and use, and flexible formats. In the context of non-existing digital data collection practices and a non conducive environment, a more incremental approach, with a modest scope at the beginning, reduces the time and investments for getting a digital information system up and running. This reduces the risk of errors and limited use of the information system.
  3. Software customization. The software was adapted to accommodate specific needs and translated in local languages. Translation from English to Amharic and Tigrinya was a very time consuming exercise. A tailor-made system increases the likelihood of relevancy and future use by local stakeholders.
  4. User friendliness. Some software interfaces are more intuitive and easier to use than others. A combination of a simple mobile and advanced desktop application is a good solution to accommodate the different stakeholder capacities and needs.
  5. Offline functionality. In a context of unreliable access to internet, an offline system is a valuable asset.
  6. Data collection and modification. Data collection in the field, including GPS referencing, takes time. Stakeholder expectations and data correction need to be carefully managed. Moreover, if data entering or correction is not carefully managed or users can easily modify the format (Excel), data quality and aggregation are at risk. Digitized systems and consistent processes can help to reduce this risk.
  7. Data aggregation and multi-stakeholder accessibility. Software systems make it easy to aggregate data at different administrative levels (e.g. from kebeles to woreda, zone and regional level). The generic information can be easily accessed by various stakeholders, who can add and manage additional information streams according to their specific needs. This requires dedicated, competent staff.
  8. Community acceptance. The most important data input providers are farmers. Providing personal information requires trust and understanding. Careful introduction with the help of community leaders or local authorities is key. Clear benefits, such as weather forecast services and others, enhance the likelihood of acceptance.
  9. Stakeholder support and benefits. Bureau of Agriculture (BoA) and unions supported the hosting of staff and shared costs for transport (motorcycles). This contribution is important, especially for creating ownership. Benefits of the information system stimulate users to make an effort and invest.
  10. Technical assistance. Digital tools are complicated and can face many technical problems. A computer expert who knows the information system is needed to support stakeholders with any challenges they face along the way.
  11. Sustainability/affordability of scaling. The introduction of advanced information management systems comes at high implementation costs (field staff and experts, computers, phones, motorbikes). System licenses are often expensive and require yearly payments in forex, which is an issue in Ethiopia.
  12. Integration into daily processes. The organisations participating in the pilot are used to a certain way of working and procedures. Integrating a new information management system in their daily work routines is a major challenge. This requires the support and commitment of higher officials.
  13. Moving towards a digital information system is a long process. During the past years, the pilot in the mentioned four pilot kebeles is a first proof of concept. The next step is to explain the process, lessons learnt and current proof of concept to higher officials of different stakeholder organizations, who increasingly believe the need for a digital system. High level buy-in can facilitate the change of work routines and the search for sustainable funding, for which a levy system is a possible solution.

Lessons learned from a decade of ISSD in Ethiopia

2019 marked a decade of ISSD in Ethiopia. Ten years have passed since the concept note on Integrated Seed Sector Development in Ethiopia was endorsed by the Ethiopian Ministry of Agriculture (MoA), FAO and the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands (EKN) at Ghion Hotel in Addis Ababa.

In the last ten years, ISSD Ethiopia registered many achievements in the areas of

  1. Introducing Local Seed Business (LSB) model to more than 270 Seed Producer Cooperatives (SPCs) and 50 development organizations across the country and enhancing pluralism in seed production.
  2. Farmers’ use of quality seed increased 28% between 2014 and 2016. The programme improved the availability and use of quality seed for more than 4 million smallholder households, reducing bureaucratic burden, inefficiency and costly rates of carryover seed in some cases by as much as 85%.
  3. ISSD Ethiopia introduced the concept of Direct Seed Marketing (DSM), piloted it, and helped scale its practice in 313 districts across the country.
  4. ISSD Ethiopia pioneered the establishment of independent seed regulatory authorities in Amhara, Oromia and SNNPR to enforce regulation and improve delivery of public services to the sector, including licensing, certification and quality assurance.

A strategy which greatly contributed to these achievements was the establishment of regional seed core groups in the four regional states where ISSD Ethiopia operates. The groups, composed of selected key decision-makers in the regional state arena, including: deputy-/heads of the BoA; directors of research institutes; representatives of public and private seed producers and farmers’ organizations; and coordinators of seed related NGO- and multi-/bilateral projects. Jointly, they formulate interventions to overcome strategic challenges, coordinate developments, facilitate partnerships, channel financial and technical resources, monitor and support interventions and embed successful interventions in working practices. Much of the attention has been directed to addressing the underlying causes of systemic problems.

As ISSD Ethiopia’s presence continued and results materialized, collaboration was increasingly solicited at federal level. After years of investment in piloting innovation and facilitating dialogue, ISSD Ethiopia generated good rapport to pursue sector wide and inclusive strategy involving institutional and regulatory reform.

Today there exists a stakeholder-owned and MoA endorsed seed sector Transformation Agenda, a draft seed policy and amendment proposal to the 2013 seed law. Whilst these results outlined are an achievement in itself, they are yet to lead to positive impact on the performance of the seed sector. What is a necessary and challenging task is still to come, in translating these documents into action and the actual implementation thereof. ISSD Ethiopia has already started raising awareness of the strategies proposed in the Transformation Agenda. It was presented to 24 MoA staff in the presence of the State Ministers, who directed their staff to incorporate the strategies in their new multi-annual plan. With the same outcome in mind, a process started at the regional level. 700 copies of the Transformation Agenda have been distributed for public reference.

Lessons learned

  1. Embrace systemic change: ISSD Ethiopia did well to focus its narrative on systems, addressing systemic changes and root causes of stubborn problems of the seed sector, and raising the ambitions of its partners. Developing the vision of tomorrow was a far better point of departure than dealing with the pressing day-to-day problems, elevating the dialogue to a far more strategic level. But it is good to note, it is challenging to work on systemic changes with professionals from different organizations as they tend to approach issues and solutions primarily from their own field of expertise and interest. We should also keep in mind systemic change is a slow game, considering that much of ISSD Ethiopia’s efforts from as far back as 10 years’ ago are only recently coming to fruition.
  2. The programme employed a sector model, which helped participants in the process to unpack complexity, realize the interdependencies between building blocks of the sector, and create a shared language.
  3. ISSD Ethiopia worked in parallel with key stakeholders at regional state and federal levels, which created familiarity and trust making communication and follow-up effective. Exchange of experiences between regional states created confidence for those lagging behind. ISSD Ethiopia’s collaboration with other partners was pivotal in building its credibility crucial for successes achieved and has earned ISSD Ethiopia government’s trust as a respected adviser.
  4. ISSD Ethiopia has been strategic in adapting to unfolding circumstances of Ethiopia’s dynamic political environment into consideration.
  5. The turnover of staff in public institutions in particular has been an enormous obstacle (but also an opportunity if you consider ISSD Ethiopia’s history with officials that have come to power);
  6. Finally, ISSD could not have been successful in its effort on sector transformation without its dedicated and skillful staff.

Ethiopian sesame sector post-harvest value creation and market linkages: Lessons learned from BENEFIT-SBN

In the past 5 years, Sesame Business Network (SBN) has conducted many studies and supported several specific initiatives, with the aim to increase Ethiopia sesame value creation, to establish constructive relations between value chain operators, and to improve the income of farmers and their organisations. The programme faced many challenges that made it difficult to achieve its target of achieving 10% higher farmer income from value addition and market linkages.

A three-page lessons learned paper “Post-harvest value creation: a fundamental challenge for the Ethiopian sesame sector” was prepared in the summer of 2019, highlighting all initiatives of the past 4 years and essential factors that inhibited the sesame sector product and market development. Concerning the current context, the paper concluded that:

  1. farmers can get a relatively high domestic price for raw sesame and are not rewarded for producing quality sesame or investing in value addition activities;
  2. there are no incentives for direct supplier-buyer relations;
  3. sesame is an expensive input for local food processing; and
  4. policies for creating a more enabling business environment are missing (i.e. imported oil is subsided, domestic/local oil is taxed).

As a result, post-harvest value creation is virtually absent and mainly confined to cleaning and artisanal oil production for the local market.

Lessons learned 

  1. In the last 5 years the programme was successful in efforts related to yield improvement for cost price reduction, farmers’ access to input credit, marketing credit for cooperatives to operate on spot markets (taking advantage of the high ECX prices and reducing the risk of traders’ collusion), first cleaning by cooperatives and unions, artisanal oil production for local markets using poorest sesame quality and production and marketing of rotation crops. Initiatives that did not achieve their goal included direct export of unions, trade missions, sesame quality management and grading, storage and conservation, investments in cleaning and oil extraction, development of organic value chains. Under prevailing circumstances, it proved almost impossible to develop feasible business initiatives and product and value chain development proved to be an uphill battle.
  2. Higher value markets (Middle East, Europe, North America, Japan and Korea) have clear requirements for the appearance, aroma, taste, oil content and purity of the product. Currently, buyers from these markets are not interested to directly source sesame from Ethiopian producers, mainly because of quality and food safety problems.
  3. Ethiopia has comparative advantages for producing highly valued white varieties (suitable for bakery industry), tasty varieties (suitable for tahini and halva consumers) and varieties with high oil content. There are also opportunities for value added products such as hulled, toasted, roasted, and grounded sesame, oil, tahini and halva.
  4. The inflated ECX prices are not to the disadvantage of farmers, however without market reform value chains are not developed and Ethiopia is losing its position in the increasingly competitive international sesame market. As of recent, the Government of Ethiopia has set out to control ECX prices, so as to avoid higher than international market prices. This may create a new business context, wherein ECX prices would be aligned with the international market prices. In the short run, this would not be an advantage to the farmers. Conditions for feasible post-harvest value adding activities would however be created: cleaning, storage, tracing and certification, processing, branding and labelling, packaging, wholesale and retail of food products. An important challenge is to develop these activities in a farmer-inclusive manner, e.g. to develop cooperative business activities.
  5. For developing post-harvest value creation and to establish real value chains with collaboration and transactions among different operators, a package of fundamental changes is required, some of which are the following:
    • Provision of export licenses for professional sesame exporters (e.g. unions and cooperatives), who are not allowed to be engaged in import business. This will create a level playing field with current local buyers. An important accompanying measure is to promote alternative hard currency sources for importing companies.
    • Development of a grading system that facilitates improved traceability, quality and food safety, with additional parameters like oil content, seed size and free fatty acid, allowing for market segmentation and price differentiation according to quality.
    • Promotion of direct farmer-trader/company relations and a quality-based marketing system, which starts at field and spot market level. This would be feasible if ECX prices reflect world market prices. Joint investments in cleaning and storage facilities and management would be important in this context, as food safety is a major concern.
    • Tax exemption for locally produced edible oils (sesame, sunflower and others) and promotion of sesame-based consumer goods for the domestic market. In the current situation, imported palm oil is subsidized to make it accessible for the Ethiopian population, while locally produced oils are taxed. This hinders a transformation to Ethiopian production of edible oils.

Contractual agreement boosts early generation seed supply in Amhara region: Lessons Learned from BENEFIT-ISSD Amhara Unit

One of the biggest challenges in raising the performance of the seed sector in Ethiopia is the current short supply of quality Early Generation Seed (EGS) of preferred varieties. EGS includes three different classes of seed, namely breeder, pre-basic and basic, that are used as the starting material from which certified seed is produced. Hence, by a different nomenclature, EGS is referred to as foundation seed.

Up until very recently, research centres were responsible to produce all four classes of seed, including certified seed in selected cases, with minimal interest from commercial enterprises. Both public and private certified seed producers, with the exception of Corteva Agriscience (which recently acquired Pioneer Hi-Bred), have historically limited their focus to certified seed only. Confounding the problem was the fact that researchers were expected to develop and release new varieties; maintain already released varieties; and research, develop and popularize other technologies that lead to crop improvement.

Due to this division of labour, weak integration, lack of coordination, unclear responsibility, minimal information on EGS quantity and variety demand, and coordinated planning, supply of EGS has been inadequate. Often, a mismatch between the supply of EGS by researchers and the demands of farmers was observed, and either too much or too little EGS of a given variety was supplied at great cost or missed opportunity. At times, request for basic seed would take up to two years to get sufficient quantities and seed producers struggle in responding to the needs of farmers.

Since 2017, BENEFIT ISSD Amhara Unit has been facilitating dialogues among different parties, to improve the linkage and coordination between researchers, early generation seed producers and farmers for sufficient and efficient supply of quality EGS. The effort resulted in an agreement to extend the responsibilities of certified seed producers to incorporate basic seed production, and focus the orientation of researchers on breeder and pre-basic seed multiplication exclusively.

The signing of a contractual agreement between certified seed producers and buyers (regulatory authority, Agricultural Transformation Agency (ATA), public seed enterprises, private seed producers, research institutions, unions); singed in the presence of Amhara Bureau of Agriculture (BoA) resulted in

  1. A seed unit with dedicated team of researchers, established within the Amhara Regional Agricultural Research Institute (ARARI) responsible for forecasting EGS demand and translating it into production plans for centres under its management.
  2. Forecasts started to be conducted by expert groups uniting researchers, early generation seed producers including Amhara Seed Enterprise (ASE) and selected private seed producers and seed unions.
  3. Specific agreements were reached on who produces what for whom, by in large shifting the orientation of researchers towards breeder and pre-basic seed exclusively and certified seed producers towards basic seed production. Bilaterally, contracts were signed between both parties defining the specific terms of EGS procurement, including quantity, date of delivery and payment.

Lessons learned

  1. ISSD Ethiopia Amhara Unit effort in facilitating the discussions on contractual agreements led to (re) organized forecasting, joint planning and procurement, and inclusion of relevant actors to improve reliability of forecasts and generate consensus and trust.
  2. Contractual agreements monitored and mediated by BoA gave clarity, created a legal ground that can be enforced by both parties. In all cases, the BoA serves as a witness to and mediator of contractual agreements between seed producers and buyer. Overall, the system reduced the burden of BoA in managing EGS supply in the region.
  3. The seed unit within ARARI created capacity for managing the process, while the involvement of both the regional seed core group and Bureau of Agriculture (BoA) enhance accountability.
  4. To ensure success, it is relevant to give special attention to enforcing contracts, as deviations from and defaults on agreements were common. And it should be noted that actors are usually reluctant to commit to contractual agreements without external facilitation and pressure.
  5. There is still the issue of land shortage that is limiting EGS production and need attention.

 

 

BENEFIT-REALISE Lessons learned: ‘One Timad (0.25ha) package for PSNP households’, a way for food self-sufficiency and resilience building

BENEFIT-REALISE baseline study in the PSNP woredas indicated that productivity of wheat is about 1.6 tons/ha which is a fourth of the potential yield of improved wheat technologies released by the research system. And one of the challenges faced by PSNP households is the costly and unaffordable standardized extension package for wheat designed for 0.5 ha of land. In response the programme developed a wheat extension package for one timad (0.25 hectare) at a cost of 1000 birr (30 USD).

The one timad package was designed with three objectives in mind: (i) to downscale the package size of seed and fertilizer that match the need and capacity of PSNP households; (ii) to provide PSNP farmers access to improved practices through an interest free credit arrangement; and (iii) to minimize risk for farmers in taking up new technologies by introducing proven technologies at the right (small) scale, with adequate hands-on training and follow-up. The pilot also aims the show the need to customize extension packages that meets the need of PSNP farmers with small landholdings.

A total of 60 PSNP client households were selected from Tach Gayint and Enebise Sarmidir woredas to use improved wheat varieties, namely Tay and Qaqaba, with the recommended seed and fertilizer rate and improved agronomic practices on their 0.25ha of land. Small packages (13.5-15 kg) of NPSB fertilizer NPSB and small (12.5) packages of UREA were prepared according to the recommendations, and distributed on credit with cash repayment arrangements.

Yield gain and return on investment

Compared to the baseline and the kebele average productivity of 1.65 t/ha, the pilot in Tach Gayint woreda resulted in a yield of 3.5 t/ha, which is 118.75% increase in productivity of wheat when using compost together with the 1000-birr wheat technology package. It resulted in a yield of 2.53 t/ha, a 58.31% increase, using the 1000-birr package only (without compost). In Enebise Sarmidir woreda, the 1000-birr wheat technology package has resulted in 2.89 t/ha yield, 81.25% yield increase. The small 1000-birr package applied together with compost had the highest return on investment.

Return on investment

In Tach Gayint woreda farmers invested ETB 1662.78 and ETB 1750.66 in Enebise Sarmidir woreda for seed and fertilizer respectively to cover 0.25ha of land. For fertilizer application and planting in a row they used additional labour of two man-day and those who applied compost used an additional two man-day for transporting. The highest Net Return (NR) was obtained with a small package applied with compost followed by the package applied without compost.

Lessons learned

  1.  The small 1000 birr package of improved wheat technology proved to benefit PSNP farmers and similar interventions may result in higher return. The pilot was successful in encouraging farmers to use the recommended seed and fertilizer since it is less costly and the in-kind credit arrangement and suitable repayment period made it possible. The combined push of technology with the necessary hands-on training and follow up enhanced the confidence of the PSNP farmers. In addition, the yield increase on their 0.25ha assured calorie self-sufficiency.
  2. Initially the one timad package was designed for 1000 Birr investment considering that the inorganic fertilizer in the package would be supplemented by application of farm compost. But because of the late approval of the pilot, only 5 farmers in Tach Gayient prepared the farm compost. Hence, the farmers mostly applied inorganic fertilizers.
  3. Initially, there was low interest of stakeholders and participants which delayed process of obtaining legal approval for the down-scaled packaging of fertilizer and seed required.

 

 

 

Weather forecast for improved sesame farm management and yield loss reduction: Lessons learned from BENEFIT-SBN

Farmers in sesame production zone in Northwest Ethiopia have to deal with (increasingly) unpredictable weather conditions. And lack of weather forecast has been one of the major reasons for severe yield and post-harvest losses. Now, thanks to a pilot project, jointly run by National Metrological Agency (NMA), CommonSense and BENEFIT-SBN, they are able to reduce their risk of crop failure from heavy rainfalls or recurring dry spells by using accurate weather information via Short Message Service (SMS).

During the 2017 and 2018 cropping seasons, location-specific weather forecasting service was provided through weekly SMS messages informed more than 3,000 farmers and agriculture professionals about expected weather conditions. The farmers living area and production zones GPS coordinates were taken and the SMS was sent to registered farmers and professionals from 8338 number. It contained the next three days expectations in rainfall, temperature and wind, and was sent in local languages. ‘Training of trainers’ (ToT) training was organized to woreda and kebele agricultural experts and teachers (to incorporate in their daily lesson plan) on the meaning and interpretation of the forecast.

With the help of this weather information, sesame farmers and agricultural professionals were able to better plan their farm activities, to mitigate risks and increase resilience. They are making better decision regarding land preparation, planting, weeding, harvesting and related labour needs, and decide on post-harvest management activities to reduce yield losses. At the same time, weather forecasts were improved and fine-tuned, based on accuracy checking of forecasts and feedback from farmers.

Assessment conducted on delivery, understandability, accuracy and usefulness of the weather forecast SMS service pilot showed that such services can help develop sustainable and economically viable sesame value chain, improve sesame and rotation crops production and quality and reduce losses and risks. Field survey results confirmed that the weather forecast SMS service has significant effect on the performance of farmers’ farm activities, especially to avert risks related to weather conditions.

In addition to supporting farmers decision-making using weather information and agro-meteorology forecasts, the pilot institutional objectives were to evaluate the accuracy of the ECMWF model, to cross-fertilize the NMA and ECMWF models and to improve NMA services, both in terms of forecast reliability and reach to farmers. The weather forecasting service provided is based on the European Centre for Medium range Weather Forecast (ECMWF) model.

Key lessons learned and practical / institutional recommendations

1. It is important to deliver practical training and provide close follow-up to cascading training to agricultural professionals and farmers to ensure that the weather information in the SMS message is clearly understood. Even though the number has improved over the years, the assessment showed 13% of the sample farmers did not fully understand the text message properly.

2. Weather forecasts have to be in the local language. The date and period of the forecast, as well as the location for which it applies have to be clearly indicated.

3. To reach illiterate farmers (40% in the sesame zone), involvement of family members enrolled in education is important. Collaboration with schools and teachers providing and explaining weather information during lessons could improve the reach and understanding of weather forecast services.

4. Weather forecasting should start at the end of the dry season and continue until all crops are harvested and bagged, so that farmers benefit from weather information for all farming operations.

5. If possible, inclusion of seasonal forecasts can contribute to a better long term agricultural plan.

6. The provision of weather information has to be accompanied by the training on how to use it for farm management decisions. Weather forecast messages could be followed by messages indicating options for adapted farm management. This would require collaboration of the meteorological agency with agricultural research and extension. A call service that farmers could use for extra explanations would make the activity even more relevant. For example, using weather forecasts to protect cereals from rainfall damage by using plastic sheets for sesame stacking and drying. And for cereals, putting wood on top of sorghum and millet piles to protect them from the wind.

7. The only way for achieving sustainable results is through collaboration with institutions mandated for weather forecasting services, and ensuring continuous financing of weather forecast systems. Much attention has to be given to the testing of models with continuous feedback from the end users, and to modalities to reach out to (different categories) of farmers. Although a pilot may be largely based on project funding, modalities for sustainable funding are of fundamental importance. In the sesame zone, farmers, who have experienced the service, are ready to pay for the weather information. In the case of commercial commodities, like sesame, a levy system could also be an option. In addition, although the NMA was involved in the pilot and institutional objectives were clearly formulated, NMA recently decided that weather forecasts in Ethiopia should be based on the NMA model, even though the ECMWF model proved to be able to deliver precise, location-specific forecasts. This created an impasse, causing the interruption of services to farmers in the current season (2019).

Testimony

SBN weather forecast picMr. Gurshaw Yilma, a 33 year old sesame farmer who lives in Tegede woreda, North Gondar zone, Amhara region, has been using weather forecast text messages to plan his farm activities. Rainfall forecasts are most important to him. He said “The SMS message I received alerted me to do harvesting and threshing earlier as rain was expected. I usually have two permanent laborers who normally perform the threshing activity. This year, after I received the SMS that indicated a high chance of rain earlier than usual, I decided to hire six additional labours to finish the harvesting, stalked and threshing before the rain. I was able to reduce the risk of post-harvest losses (seed falling from the capsule) that could have happened because of unexpected heavy rain.”

In addition to this, following SMS message indicating very high chance of rain, Mr. Gurshaw covered his pile his harvested millet with a plastic sheets to prevent damage and his harvested forage that was left in the field to dry, to protect his animals from fungal disease.

Mechanization, a key input to transform the sesame sub-sector: Lessons learned from BENEFIT-SBN

Sesame production in North West Ethiopia mostly depends on human labour. Recently, due to shortage and high costs of labour, you observed a high level of farmers’ interest in mechanization. Mechanisation is proven to increase overall productivity and reduce cost of production representing a value of millions of dollars. It contributes to improved timeliness and quality of field activities that can improve soil, water, pest and weed management.

Even though the sesame zone is very suitable for mechanization, adoption of tested mechanization options is limited due to several reasons:

  1. limited knowledge on how mechanization contributes to productivity improvement;
  2. skill limitations in operating and maintaining machineries;
  3. lack of loan facilities for different farmer groups and absence of lease financing mechanism;
  4. under-developed machinery supply chain, with limitations of after sales services and spare parts; and
  5. under-used potential of machinery rental services.

Lessons learned 

  1. Even though tailored mechanisation recommendations for different farm categories are available, getting access to appropriate tractors is a key challenge. Several machines for small, medium and commercial farms were tested for efficient sesame seed sowing, weeding and harvesting. However, adaptations and further testing are required. In line with this, it is relevant to support innovation centers for continuous technology development, testing, selection and promotion of machineries and implements like ploughs, planters, cultivators, harvesters and ripper binders that are durable, efficient, easy to operate and maintain.
  2. While there has been a lot of effort and interest in machinery testing (the hardware), less attention was given to the financing of mechanization and business model development (the software). Recently, the Government of Ethiopia started to allow tax-free purchase of machineries for farmers, cooperatives and unions, which removes an important financial barrier for mechanizing the sector. In addition we need to encourage and implement lease financing for sesame farmers and cooperatives, with active role and dedicated sesame sector mechanization lease financing budgets from Development Bank of Ethiopia (DBE) and other financing companies (Walya and Kaza). In the short-term we need to support advanced cooperatives eligible for lease financing to exploit the tax exemption privilege and acquire a mechanisation package (tractor, row planter and trailer).
  3. Furthermore, mechanization efforts do not give sufficient attention to the preparation of skilled labour to professionally operate and maintain tractors and equipment. The same holds true for repair and replacement facilities, especially in the remote rural areas. Due to poor performance of locally made animal drawn planters, mechanized row planting for smallholders remains a challenge (and an opportunity for manufacturers). Mechanisation can also contribute to professional job creation (labourers, machinery operators, workshops providing maintenance service, rental service providers, …).
  4. It is relevant to create conducive working environments for qualified and equipped private enterprises, cooperatives and organized youth groups to engage in providing agricultural machinery rental service to farmers. This can be done through developing viable business models and provision of training on efficient service provision, business and client management.
  5. Periodically revise economic policies, looking at loan products and interest rates, as well as legal and regulatory frameworks.

Click here to look at examples of sesame mechanization options tested

 

 

 

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.

Lessons learned

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

 

Lessons Learned: Enhancing the Ethiopian spices export, BENEFIT-ENTAG

The Ethiopian spices sub-sector has been characterized by use of poor yielding varieties, traditional production technologies and agronomic practices, with a lengthy value chain, adulteration, improper post-harvest handling, and high market volatility. Subsequently the export of Ethiopian spices never passed USD$2.6 million in value.

To enhance the Ethiopian export trade and private sector development the BENEFIT-ENTAG programme has been working on addressing market constraints of the spice sectors through creating better market linkages, technical and financial support to innovations, capacity building activities, and platform meetings.

In 2019, BENEFIT-ENTAG helped 14 private companies and two unions, introducing modern spices production technologies and out-grower scheme business models. The programme’s effort in strengthening market linkages focused on working with buyers based in United Arab Emirates and India resulting in more than one million USD export of Ethiopian spices. ENTAG facilitated a contract volume of 1617MT of Turmeric, Rosemary and Ajwain seed worth $1.075 million among three Ethiopian exporters and three foreign buyers based in India and United Arab Emirates. A business network has been established among 14 Ethiopian private companies, two unions, international spice and herbs buyers and technology suppliers.

Lessons Learned

  1. Inclusive trade support with technical capacity building training on production and marketing, trade missions, both forward and backward integration, and active involvement of private and government actors across the whole value chain were key success factors.
  2. The increasing credibility of BENEFIT-ENTAG and its effort to work in parallel with key stakeholders at regional and federal levels, such as Ethiopian Coffee, Tea and Spices Agency, Ethiopian exporters, commercial investors, traders, development agents, model farmers, cooperative and union leaders, was fundamental to create familiarity and build trust resulting in efficient and effective communication and follow-ups.
  3. Major challenges encountered included limited technical support in export contract facilitation and backward integration, need for export procedure and technical manuals to minimize contract defaults, and the need to work on disease outbreak and adulteration practice (ginger disease) that corrupts the quality of products caused reduction of export volume.

 

Provision of low interest and collateral-free credit strengthening Seed Producer Cooperatives’ financial system: Lessons learned from ISSD Ethiopia

Despite its rising number of members and increasing seed production, Koticha Kuyu Seed Producer Cooperative (SPC) faced significant challenges that were affecting its sustainable development – especially in raising the necessary working capital needed to expand their business and benefit its members. Most members were not capable or willing to increase their contribution in the business and financial institutions are not prepared to offer affordable financial credit.

In response to this challenge, ISSD Ethiopia and the Regional Cooperative Promotion Agency (RCPA) of Oromia analyzed the situation of Koticha Kuyu SPC and facilitated the establishment of a Rural Saving and Credit Cooperative (RuSACCo). The aim was to mitigate members’ personal financial constraints through the provision of low interest and collateral-free loans to secure the timely procurement of seed through the provision of input vouchers. The effort resulted in the establishment of Gamachu RuSACCo in 2015.

Koticha Kuyu SPC is located in Lokloka Abe kebele in West Shewa zone, approximately 70km west of Addis Ababa. The SPC was founded in 2013 with 41 members including four women and initial capital of ETB 19,000. Today, the total number of members has reached 59, 12 of whom are women, and their capital has more than doubled. The area under seed production in 2018 was 92.5 ha, which yielded an estimated 1,843 quintal of quality seed.

Since 2015, Gamachu RuSACCo provided ETB 166,700 (~ € 4,765) loan to 93 individual with an interest rate of 5% or less. In 2018, the scheme took off, where 46 SPC members borrowed ETB 131,900 for very low interest rate of 1%. The SPC current savings has reached ETB 230,000. Gamachu RuSACCo has enacted two forms of saving in its cooperative bylaw. The first is a mandatory saving of each member, which was increased from ETB 50 to ETB 100 per month, and the second allows for voluntary monthly savings of whatever is affordable for members. Today, over a fifth of the cooperative’s members contribute ETB 200, more than the mandatory amount of ETB 100 per month.

Lessons Learned

  1. Efficient Rural Saving and Credit Cooperative (RuSACCo) significantly reduce SPC’s financial constraints contributing to their sustainable development. The Koticha Kuyu SPC currently has more than 200,000ETB to run its business efficiently.
  2. Time and continuous support is needed to build trust and show evidence on the benefit of RUSACCos to members. In the case of Koticha Kuyu SPC, it took three years to generate the proof of concept needed to convince members to save. While enacting bylaw that stipulates mandatory savings of members was important, voluntary savings from the members’ belief in the value of the scheme are even more powerful. For example, Ato Mulugeta Bekele, member of Gamachu RuSACCo, not only met the mandatory required savings for 2018/19 but made a voluntary contribution of ETB 5340 to his personal savings account. In addition, over time, due to the increasing drop in interest rate (as low as 1%), there is a significant increase in loan frequency and size.
  3. A well-coordinated effort (Koticha Kuyu SPC, Oromia RCPA and ISSD Ethiopia) is relevant to build capacity and provide necessary support through regular monitoring to create an efficient and effective delivery of saving and credit services.

Lessons learned: BENEFIT-SBN promotion of rotation crops in the sesame dominated production and market systems

Background

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.

Lessons Learned

  1. 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. 
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.

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.