The Nile Basin Development Challenge (NBDC) program established three local Innovation Platforms (LIPs) in Jeldu, Diga and Fogera Woredas and these have been addressing different specific issues around Rainwater Management. Diga is one of seventeen woredas of East Wollega zone of Oromia state, located close to Nekemte, the zonal capital of east Wollega. It features a mixed crop-livestock farming system and is characterized by two agro-ecologies: midland and lowland. Natural vegetation is comparatively widespread, although deforestation and land degradation are increasingly prevalent.

Diga Kebeles base map, Ethiopia

Diga Kebeles base map, Ethiopia

As part of the NBDC research for development interventions, the Diga Innovation Platform (IP) was initiated in July 2011. The platform consisted of key local partners including the Woreda administration, experts from the Bureau of Agriculture, development agents, farmer representatives, researchers from research institutes and the university as well as non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

In March 2012 a meeting was held to identify the main issues/agendas that the IP would work on. Land degradation was identified as a major issue by all stakeholders, as well as termite infestation.

Platform members agreed that the main objectives of the IP were to find ways to address land degradation through improved management of land and water, to tackle termite infestation and rehabilitate the degraded landscape.

Forage development was identified as an entry point to address the prevailing livestock feed shortage, degraded land and severity of termite infestation. Following this meeting a technical team representing various partners’ institution was formed and a local innovation fund was introduced to provide seed money to initiate interventions to address the prioritized issues.

Following identification of forage development as an entry point, backyard, on-farm and communal land forage development was piloted in 2012 at Dapo and Denbi villages of Arjo Kebele following the supply of inputs and provision of training to 40 men and women farmers selected from the two villages.

Farming landscape in Diga (Photo credit: ILRI / Gerba Leta)

Farming landscape in Diga (Photo credit: ILRI / Gerba Leta)

Forage development was demonstrated on about four hectares of land. Various grass species including Rhodes grass (Chloris gayana), Napier grass (Pennistum purpureum) and Chomo grass (Bracharia humidicola), and multipurpose trees such as Sesbania sesban and Leucaena leucocephala were grown.

However, the late supply of inputs severely affected the performance of the fodder for the season. Despite the late planting, the pilot interventions created good ground for sharing the information about the fodder through farmer field days.

Researchers and platform members observed that the interventions had a significant positive influence on both direct and indirect beneficiaries. Community involved in developing bylaws for communal land management and the bylaws got approval from woreda line offices and then fed back to the community. However, the forage development on common land undertaken in the first year was largely unsuccessful due to conflict of interest among the community members. The main reason for lack of consent in Diga case is lack of communal land in reality. The so called communal land was already appropriated by different individuals.

Many lessons were drawn from the first season and good measures were taken to improve IP activities and interventions. In 2013 the central IP facilitation role – previously ensured by researchers from the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) – was devolved to local partners in order to ensure longer-term sustainability of the platform.

An agreement was made with Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus (EECMY) – Development and Social Services Commission (DASSC), as a local NGO, to play a leading role of coordination, managing the innovation fund, facilitation and reporting. Representatives of key institutions were involved as Technical Group members of the IP, in order to support the on-going fodder interventions.

The handing over of facilitation was an important step in enhancing the role and ownership of local partners. This had a positive impact on budget delivery, and as a result Participatory Action Planning exercises, new site selection, input supply and training of farmers were conducted in a timely fashion. In addition the technical group members were offered various capacity buildings opportunities by ILRI/IWMI researchers, notably training on IP facilitation, participatory research approaches, farmer needs assessment, and the Feed Assessment Tool (FEAST). These opportunities have helped the technical team build their facilitation, research, execution and mentoring capacity.

Reflection meeting with community after field visit at Dembi village (Diga) - The local IP's action research site (Photo credit: ILRI / Gerba Leta)

Reflection meeting with community after field visit at Dembi village (Diga) – The local innovation platform’s action research site (photo credit: ILRI/Gerba Leta).

The backstopping services from IWMI/ILRI  researchers also improved the technical group’s’ approaches to training delivery for the farmers. As a result, the farmers’ interest to engage and their implementation capacity have improved immensely. The number of villages increased from 2 to 3, participant farmers rose from 40 to 60 and the size of land allocated to forage development went from 4 hectares to over 11 hectares. Moreover, access to quality seed, and quantity of planting materials and fertilizer also increased.

As a result of the innovation fund and the generous supply of seed from Bako ARC, the IP has also introduced two additional fodder species, Desho grass (Pennisetum pedicellatum) and Desmodium (Desmodium uncinatum) to the district. Desho grass is well developed in the Jeldu site (one of the NBDC sites) and was introduced to Diga through a capacity-building and experience-sharing event organized for IP members from the three NBDC sites at the ILRI campus.

As well as supplying feed for livestock both grasses contribute to the control of soil erosion and to improve soil fertility and are therefore promising resources for the woreda’s future endeavours in livestock production and land management.

Unfortunately over the two years of interventions, attempts to cultivate fodder on communal lands did not succeed. However, on-farm fodder development integrated with soil and water management practices was enthusiastically adopted by participating farmers. They implemented a combination of soil bunds and cut-off drains as part of their fodder plots, in addition to planting multipurpose tree species as buffers and use of Napier grass and other multi-purpose trees to stabilize soil bunds.

The income that farmers have generated from the sale of forage seed (e.g. a farmer called Lata Tuge sold for ETB 1000 in 2012) as well as the ability to store feed for the dry season have had significant effects on farmer livelihoods. In addition, the fodder development has shown some initial impact on land cover which indicates the potential role of fodder in restoring degraded lands.

Another beneficial effect is the mitigation of termite infestation, through the cultivation of termite resistant fodder species. The benefits accrued from these interventions are beyond monetary value and offer a range of incentives which ensure the sustainability of the practices in the longer-term. However, farmers are also looking to the future and requesting further support to improve livestock management, access to market and the processing of livestock products.

These achievements have received appreciation from other farmers, who have been directly and indirectly involved, as well as zonal and woreda officials. The interventions have been commended by local government who recognize that fodder development and soil and water management are priority issues. As a result the Diga IP intervention sites have not only become demonstration sites for farmers and government line offices but also for University students.

During 2013 a series of field days have been organized by the woreda livestock agency and IP members to show-case the interventions to partners. Participants were astonished by the success and praised the IPs contribution. The Woreda Livestock Agency Head said there had been a “remarkable change with little investment” and while addressing the 8th IP meeting the Woreda Administrator added that the interventions were a “surprising outcome”. In addition, the Diga Livestock Resource, Health and Market Agency was prized by East Wollega Zone Administration as the number one office among seventeen districts in working to achieve its annual goal, largely due to the success of the innovation platform.