Fogera Woreda is one of the three “Research for Development” intervention sites for the Nile Basin Development Challenge (NBDC) project. A local Innovation Platform (IP) was established to bring different stakeholders together for knowledge sharing, joint planning and implementation of development intervention.

The IP was used as an instrument to identify and prioritize major Natural resource Management (NRM) challenges through a participatory multi-stakeholder process. Free grazing emerged as a key NRM challenge and fodder development interventions were proposed as an entry point to tackle the problem of land degradation and animal feed shortage in the area.

In 2012 the fodder intervention was piloted at Gebere-Gesa village, in Wej-Awramba Kebele, after a baseline assessment was carried out by IP Technical Group (TG) members. In the village a total of 20 farmers were involved in the fodder development intervention. Farmers sowed and planted improved fodder species on the communal grazing land and backyard to deal with the problem. Different fodder species mainly Sesbania, Vetivar, Elephant grass, Cow pea and Pigeon Pea were introduced. All of the farmers showed interest in the intervention as they have serious livestock feed shortage and have witnessed how their communal land biomass production is decreasing over the years.

Even though the intervention went well initially and the IP was successful in introducing the fodder, it was not able to proceed as planned on the communal grazing land as farmers started uprooting the plants. The community was fearful of losing the communal grazing land which is also a place for important social events and religious festivals. Farmers had recently experienced government-led NRM interventions where degraded steep slopes were enclosed for rehabilitation, to be only used for bee keeping by the village youth. Farmers were not happy as they thought it limited their access to the resources and ruled out their sense of ownership.

When the new fodder intervention on the communal grazing land was brought by TG members, they thought the government might be “planning” again to claim their communal land despite the challenges they are facing. Being relatively new to community engagement the members of the IP technical group were not able to introduce an adequate and carefully facilitated process to build trust and ensure an effective dialogue. According to a Woreda expert, lack of follow up and consultation has boosted farmers’ skepticism about new interventions. This time Gebere Gesa farmers are trying the fodder development in their backyards and are willing to scale it up if they have better access to fodder seed and seedlings.

A new start
Thus, IP members shifted their intervention site to Gunguf Village where previous fodder development activities had started on communal grazing land (size of 1.5 ha) owned by 13 farmers with support from a development agent. This intervention was successful as the farmers already agreed among themselves and were ready to accept the intervention plan with full confidence. These farmers were relatively better suited for the intervention than the farmers in Gebere-Gesa, since they had large-sized communal grazing land and each farmer also owned private grazing land.

The TG members have been backstopping the farmers with training and input supply from the Innovation Fund of the Challenge Program for Water and Food to start over-sowing different improved fodder species in the communal land and backyards. Farmers developed bylaws to protect the communal land and were able to harvest a good amount of fodder and shared it equally among themselves.

This intervention also addressed equity issue among the farmers: Birke is heading a household without livestock but she has benefited from the sales of fodder that she shared from the communal land. Farmers were happy to continue developing fodder for the seasons to come and decided to allocate land for the establishment of a nursery site to increase the supply of improved fodder species seeds in their vicinity.

In 2013 the IP agreed to continue supporting the Gunguf farmers and added a new site called Chebi village. An estimated 200 m2 forage nursery site was established in Gunguf to be used as a seed/seedling source. This time,  58 farmers from both villages were involved in the fodder development intervention. Drawing upon lessons from Gebere Gesa the IP members saw to a better consultation process with farmers, whereby a portion of the communal grazing land was used for the intervention leaving the rest for important social events.

Good and promising results
In Gunguf, farmers witnessed the benefits of the intervention. Yeshi, a female farmer, explained how the new fodder intervention had helped improve her daily milk production from 1 liter to 2.5 liters per cow. All households in the village are now feeding their animals using cut-and-carry fodder from their communal land and backyards.

Most farmers in Gunguf are now stall-feeding their livestock in the dry season and only let them out in June, when all stored feed is depleted. A few farmers even traded their crop land for fodder and leased plots from other nearby farmers to cultivate food crops. Stall-feeding has another advantage for them: the farmers are now able to send their children to school, while before they would have spent their time on the field with the animals.

Training was given in 2012 on forage development and urea treatment and an experience visit was organized at Gunguf where farmers from eight Kebeles participated and shared lessons learned from the Gunguf experience. Woreda experts have a positive attitude vis-à-vis the NBDC intervention where integrated rainwater management approaches are combined options.

This intervention gave farmers access to enough alternative animal feed sources while at the same time helping to rehabilitate the natural resource base. For a researcher from Bahir Dar University, this was one of the main reasons why previous fodder intervention focusing only on rehabilitation of communal grazing land failed.