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Skilful facilitation is needed to overcome difficult power relationships (photo credit: ILRI/Alfred Ombati)

Skilful facilitation is needed to overcome difficult power relationships (photo credit: ILRI/Alfred Ombati)

Innovation systems thinking is increasingly influencing approaches to sustainable agricultural development in developing world contexts. This represents a shift away from technology transfer towards recognition that agricultural change entails complex interactions among multiple actors and a range of technical, social and institutional factors.

One option for practically applying innovation systems thinking involves the establishment of innovation platforms (IPs). Such platforms are designed to bring together a variety of different stakeholders to exchange knowledge and resources and take action to solve common problems. Yet relatively little is known about how IPs operate in practice, particularly how power dynamics influence platform processes.

This paper focuses on a research-for-development project in the Ethiopian highlands which established three IPs for improved natural resource management. The ‘power cube’ is used to retrospectively analyse the spaces, forms and levels of power within these platforms and the impact on platform processes and resulting interventions. The overall aim is to highlight the importance of power issues in order to better assess the strengths and limitations of IPs as a model for inclusive innovation.

Findings suggest that while IPs may achieve some short-term success in creating spaces for wider participation in decision-making processes, they may be significantly influenced by forms of power which may not always be visible or easily challenged.

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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.

In late 2013, the Nile Basin Development Challenge developed eight key messages. Taken together, these messages form a new paradigm that can help further transform policies and programs and better enable poor smallholder farmers to improve their food security, livelihoods and incomes while conserving the natural resource base.

The eighth  key message from the Nile Basin Development Challenge is to ‘improve markets, value chains and multi-stakeholder processes to enhance benefits and sustainability of interventions’. It proposes to enhance market benefits of soil and water conservation interventions by e.g. planting forages creating bio-mass and feeding livestock, leading to further benefits further down the line.

See the overall digital story ‘An integrated watershed rainwater management paradigm for Ethiopia: Key messages from the NBDC‘.

Download the brief covering the full set of key messages.

Read the full technical report “A new integrated watershed rainwater management paradigm for Ethiopia: Key messages from the Nile Basin Development Challenge, 2009–2013


This digital story was produced to communicate the key messages resulting from the Nile Basin Development Challenge (NBDC). The Nile BDC aimed to improve the livelihoods of farmers in the Ethiopian highlands through land and water management and was funded by the Challenge Program for Water and Food. The eight key messages constitute a ‘new integrated watershed rainwater management paradigm’ and are based on the outputs and outcomes of trans-disciplinary scientific research for development

In late 2013, the Nile Basin Development Challenge developed eight key messages. Taken together, these messages form a new paradigm that can help further transform policies and programs and better enable poor smallholder farmers to improve their food security, livelihoods and incomes while conserving the natural resource base.

The fifth key message from the Nile Basin Development Challenge is to ‘adapt new models, learning and planning tools and improved learning processes to increase the effectiveness of planning, implementation, and capacity building’.  Planners, development agents and farmers, together with researchers, can use a variety of tested tools to plan and implement rain water management solutions, and to develop capacities of all actors along the way. Tools such as Wat-A-Game, hydrological modeling, Cropwat modeling for crop-water productivity, the Nile Goblet tool and feed analysis tools etc. have been all used and tested in the NBDC and are available for anyone.

See the overall digital story ‘An integrated watershed rainwater management paradigm for Ethiopia: Key messages from the NBDC‘.

Download the brief covering the full set of key messages.

Read the full technical report “A new integrated watershed rainwater management paradigm for Ethiopia: Key messages from the Nile Basin Development Challenge, 2009–2013


This digital story was produced to communicate the key messages resulting from the Nile Basin Development Challenge (NBDC). The Nile BDC aimed to improve the livelihoods of farmers in the Ethiopian highlands through land and water management and was funded by the Challenge Program for Water and Food. The eight key messages constitute a ‘new integrated watershed rainwater management paradigm’ and are based on the outputs and outcomes of trans-disciplinary scientific research for development

In late 2013, the Nile Basin Development Challenge developed eight key messages. Taken together, these messages form a new paradigm that can help further transform policies and programs and better enable poor smallholder farmers to improve their food security, livelihoods and incomes while conserving the natural resource base.

The fourth key message from the Nile Basin Development Challenge is to ‘create, align and implement incentives for all parties to successfully implement sustainable innovative programs at scale’. Incentives can be positive and negative, formal or informal, tangible or intangible, and they are different whether you are based upstream or downstream. Different incentives will motivate diverse actors differently, but in any case appropriate incentives are critical for community-led implementation of rain water management.

See the overall digital story ‘An integrated watershed rainwater management paradigm for Ethiopia: Key messages from the NBDC‘.

Download the brief covering the full set of key messages.

Read the full technical report “A new integrated watershed rainwater management paradigm for Ethiopia: Key messages from the Nile Basin Development Challenge, 2009–2013


This digital story was produced to communicate the key messages resulting from the Nile Basin Development Challenge (NBDC). The Nile BDC aimed to improve the livelihoods of farmers in the Ethiopian highlands through land and water management and was funded by the Challenge Program for Water and Food. The eight key messages constitute a ‘new integrated watershed rainwater management paradigm’ and are based on the outputs and outcomes of trans-disciplinary scientific research for development

In late 2013, the Nile Basin Development Challenge developed eight key messages. Taken together, these messages form a new paradigm that can help further transform policies and programs and better enable poor smallholder farmers to improve their food security, livelihoods and incomes while conserving the natural resource base.

The second key message from the Nile Basin Development Challenge is to ‘Integrate and share scientific and local knowledge and encourage innovation through learning by doing’. It emphasizes the need to embrace local knowledge as a trusted source of information and expertise. The alliance of scientific analysis and community validation (for instance in farmer field days) helps pay attention to bio-physical and socio-economic aspects and bring about much more robust rainwater management solutions.

See the overall digital story ‘An integrated watershed rainwater management paradigm for Ethiopia: Key messages from the NBDC‘.

Download the brief covering the full set of key messages.

Read the full technical report “A new integrated watershed rainwater management paradigm for Ethiopia: Key messages from the Nile Basin Development Challenge, 2009–2013


This digital story was produced to communicate the key messages resulting from the Nile Basin Development Challenge (NBDC). The Nile BDC aimed to improve the livelihoods of farmers in the Ethiopian highlands through land and water management and was funded by the Challenge Program for Water and Food. The eight key messages constitute a ‘new integrated watershed rainwater management paradigm’ and are based on the outputs and outcomes of trans-disciplinary scientific research for development.

In late 2013, the Nile Basin Development Challenge developed eight key messages. Taken together, these messages form a new paradigm that can help further transform policies and programs and better enable poor smallholder farmers to improve their food security, livelihoods and incomes while conserving the natural resource base.

The first key message from the Nile Basin Development Challenge is to ’empower local communities and develop their leadership capacities to achieve long-term benefits and sustainable outcomes.’ Participatory design and planning on rainwater management interventions ensures key issues are addressed, the right pilot interventions are taking place and provides long term solutions with the commitment of everyone.

See the overall digital story ‘An integrated watershed rainwater management paradigm for Ethiopia: Key messages from the NBDC‘.

Download the brief covering the full set of key messages.

Read the full technical report “A new integrated watershed rainwater management paradigm for Ethiopia: Key messages from the Nile Basin Development Challenge, 2009–2013


This digital story was produced to communicate the key messages resulting from the Nile Basin Development Challenge (NBDC). The Nile BDC aimed to improve the livelihoods of farmers in the Ethiopian highlands through land and water management and was funded by the Challenge Program for Water and Food. The eight key messages constitute a ‘new integrated watershed rainwater management paradigm’ and are based on the outputs and outcomes of trans-disciplinary scientific research for development.

The Nile Basin Development Challenge (NBDC) Program of the Challenge Program on Water and Food (CPWF) has been working in three woredas (districts) in Ethiopia – Jeldu, Diga and Fogera.

Each of the project established an innovation platform (IP) in which lessons and knowledge are shared and joint approaches towards problem identification and solutions are sought.

The Jeldu IP was established in September 2011 with 25 members representing farmers, district level institutions including the Office of Agriculture, Livestock Agency, Women’s Affairs, Office of Environmental Protection and Land Administration, Cooperatives Promotion and the Office of Water, Mining and Energy, and research and development partners such as Ambo University, Holetta Research Center, RiPPLE (Research-inspired Policy and Practice Learning in Ethiopia), the German development cooperation program on sustainable land management (GIZ-SLM), the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and the International Water Management Institute (IWMI).

Innovation platform meeting at Jeldu district administration office (Photo credit: ILRI/Adie)

Innovation platform meeting at Jeldu district administration office (Photo credit: ILRI/Aberra Adie)

More institutions joined the platform in the course of its operation including a local NGO called HUNDEE which later took on the responsibility of facilitating the IP.

The IP conducted a total of seven meetings from September 2011 up to December 2013. Earlier meetings focused on identifying challenges and opportunities of rainwater management interventions along with the key priority issues of land and water management in the district. Later meetings were used for sharing of lessons and experiences around the action research and beyond.

Community engagement exercises

Despite some representation of farmers in the IP at the district level, the NBDC team early on felt that a more representative community members were required to decide on priority issues while ensuring effective participation of the community. Subsequently community members from Kolugelan, Sirity and Chilanko kebeles representing different gender, age, wealth, and education levels were invited to participate in platform discussions. After thorough discussion among IP members and the community, it was agreed that soil erosion was the most serious problem in the area.

Community engagement exercise with men and women groups at Jeldu (Photo credit: ILRI/Adie)

Community engagement exercise with men and women groups at Jeldu (Photo credit: ILRI/Aberra Adie)

Action research

The CPWF innovation fund granted USD 6,000 to conduct action research around the identified problem by the IP and the community. Platform members were requested to write a research proposal. A series of discussions were made in IP meetings and community dialogues to point out possible solution options to alleviate soil erosion problems. Primary and secondary factors contributing to soil erosion and its effects at different levels were discussed with deforestation and overgrazing of land by livestock and feed shortage identified as major contributing factors to soil erosion.The IP group identified fodder development as a feasible intervention that could also support the physical soil and water conservation campaign of the government. Following this,  technical group (TG) members of the platform (with experts and researchers from Holetta research center, Ambo University, HUNDEE, Livestock Agency and Office of Agriculture) carried out action research on fodder development.

Fodder Development Intervention – 2012

Kologelan Kebele was chosen as a first pilot intervention for its strategic representation of other kebeles in the woreda. Initially about 32 farmers registered to take part in the fodder intervention. But eventually more and more farmers showed interest when they saw their friends planting forages in their plots. Participating farmers became 96, even though project follow up only focused on the initially registered 32 farmers. The emphasis was on forage options that are already in the system, instead of introducing a brand new material to the farming system.

Desho and Wodajo

Desho grass (Pennisetum pedicellatum ), was initially introduced by Wodajo, a farmer in Chilanko kebele. Wodajo brought some splits of the grass when he went to Southern Ethiopia for an experience sharing visit sponsored by the government. He planted the grass at his backyard and the grass performed so well that it attracted the attention of his fellow farmers and the government’s extension workers. Wodajo then started making money from the sales of the splits. In one year, he sold the grass for over Birr 40,000. Wodajo and Desho became very popular in the woreda. In fact Wodajo currently owns a wood workshop in Gojo town as a result of the capital he made from consecutive sales of the Desho grass. This has played a huge motivational role in the community for the adoption of Desho grass.

The farmers at Kolugelan were also interested to plant this grass at their backyards and on soil bands for livestock feed and soil water conservation (SWC). All 96 farmers planted Desho grass (some in backyards, some on soil bands, some both ways). Farmers were also provided with Tree Lucerne (Chamaecytisus Palmensis), and Napier grass (Pennisetum purpureum).

Fodder Development Intervention in 2013

In 2013, the IP expanding the intervention to a larger number of farmers in Kolugelan kebele using an additional USD 10,000. Sixty-five new farmers were registered for fodder intervention though, once again, more farmers joined and a total of 141 additional farmers were issued Desho planting materials. More ‘Wodajos’ appeared among the farmers who planted Desho in 2012. They became sources of planting material for the intervention in 2013. Some of them sold Desho planting material for up to Birr 10,000 to their fellow farmers. Establishing Desho in backyards and on soil bands thus became much clearer in the second year of intervention. During the field day organized by the IP, farmers from neighboring kebeles appreciated the performance of Desho on soil bands and backyards during the dry season.

Farmer explaning his experience with Desho grass to field day visitors at Kolugelan, Jeldu (Photo credit: ILRI/Adie)

Farmer explaning his experience with Desho grass to field day visitors at Kolugelan (Photo credit: ILRI/Aberra Adie)

Capacity development

ILRI staff trained IP technical group members on platform facilitation and participatory research methods, which helped them while undertaking the action research. After the training, HUNDEE, the local NGO assumed the total responsibility of facilitating the IP and overseeing the action research process, including handling of financial matters. This helped NBDC staff to take a backstopping role from some distance. IP members who took part in training events and workshops witnessed their exposure to wider networks adding value to their personal careers and they enjoyed tremendous lessons from one another.

Practical training to farmers about forage management at Kolugelan, Jeldu (Photo credit: ILRI/Adie)

Practical training to farmers about forage management at Kolugelan, Jeldu (Photo credit: ILRI/Aberra Adie)

In both 2012 and 2013, farmers were trained in establishment/management and utilization of feeds to their livestock. The training in the second year included management and utilization of existing/ traditional feed resources along with improved forages.

Achievements and challenges

Farmers during the last field day and stakeholders in the IP closing event which took place on December 31, 2013 evaluated and strongly commended the project’s achievements. They testified that the project has been able to bring them together around a common agenda and that they learned much from the process  itself as well as from one another in the IP and action research process.

They also appreciated the efficient use of resources:

With limited amount of money it has been possible to achieve much – community member

It is the day of celebration of our achievements and looking forward to continued efforts, not closing day – Ato Zegeye, HUNDEE general manager.

The technical group members of the IP witnessed that their skills in conducting participatory research as a team have increased with their involvement in the action research.  Nevertheless, some of the challenges faced by the IP, especially the technical group members include: less acknowledgement and appreciation of their work with the IP by their respective supervisors; occasional conflicts; time management issues as they have their own assignments from their offices, etc.

What next?

This has been a recurring question of both farmers and IP members. Options put on the table include:

  • Farmers request improved cattle breeds for dairy. They want to produce more milk for family and market.
  • They also envision small scale milk processors for production of butter and cheese.
  • Some consider fattening of beef and sheep.
  • Holetta research center heralded the new initiative around Jeldu to apply hormonal synchronization to introduce artificial insemination services.
  • Both farmers and IP members are optimistic about the Ginchi – Gindeberet road which crosses Jeldu (Gojo town) to be asphalted in the near future to facilitate product marketing for a better price.
  • Adding more fodder options, especially legumes, has been raised during the discussions with IP members.
  • Government partners are planning to take Desho Grass to wider distribution in the woreda as part of the watershed development strategy.
  • ILRI/IWMI envisions more activities in the site with CGIAR Research Programs such as Water Land and Ecosystems and Humidtropics.

For all, the message is – ‘strike the iron when it is hot!’

Article contributed by Aberra Adie

The Nile Basin Development Challenge (NBDC) is coming to an end in late 2013, as will all Basin challenges of the Challenge Program for Water and Food (with the exception of the Ganges basin for another year). The Nile Challenge has generated many rich experiences that we hope will be taken up by CGIAR research programs (such as ‘Water Lands and Ecosystems‘ and ‘Integrated Systems for the humid tropics’).

The NBDC team organized a double event on 14 and 15 November to facilitate the transition to new programs:

  • A dinner for very important persons (VIP) organized on 14 November to discuss the eight key messages developed by NBDC.
  • A ‘Knowledge Watershed’ event at the ILRI campus on 15 November to look at past achievements, current observations and practices and possible next steps.

The VIP dinner was organized with 30 experts in land and water management in Ethiopia, including the State Ministers for agriculture, energy, water resources, and representatives from the World Bank, the Ethiopian Institute for Agricultural Research etc. The dinner was squeezed between presentations of the eight key messages. The messages were presented in two batches of very short and compelling presentations, interspersed with the different courses of the dinner. The invited guests provided some insights about the key messages and were networked ‘in a different way’. An experience appreciated publicly by one of the state ministers and likely to be followed again for other programs.

Amanda Harding moderating the high level panel closing the Knowledge Watershed (Photo credit: Ewen Le Borgne / ILRI)

Amanda Harding moderating the high level panel closing the Knowledge Watershed (Photo credit: Ewen Le Borgne / ILRI)

The Knowledge watershed was run the next day as a sort of share fair with about 80 participants spanning partner organisations and important actors in land and water management. An initial open mic session invited all participants to share what they considered major achievements of the NBDC. Then the eight key messages were presented and discussed around ‘scale stands’ representing the local (woreda/district), regional (sub-national) and national levels.

The Knowledge Watershed ended with a talk show inviting participants representing partners at woreda, basin authority and federal level to discuss next steps and what would happen ideally if a ‘new NBDC’ was to take place. The final cocktails allowed further networking and public thanking for all the actors that contributed to NBDC in the past years.

More information about these final NBDC events at: http://nilebdc.wikispaces.com/reflection5

The change starts from those who are affected by the problem being around the table with those who want to experiment research and deliver options for development, sitting as equal partners. (Dr. Lindiwe Majele Sibanda)

Science alone cannot help Africa feed itself. That was a strong message from Lindiwe Majele Sibanda, Chief Executive Officer of the Food Agriculture and Natural Resource Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN) at the recent Africa Agricultural Science Week (AASW) organised by the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA), 15-19 July, 2013.

In a special session organized by the Challenge Program for Water and Food, Dr. Sibanda and other key resource persons lauded engagement platforms for the efforts they make to bring together local farmers, scientists and others to collaboratively unearth innovative solutions to the challenge of food security, in Africa and the rest of the world.

 

“I think that’s what the innovation platforms have brought: a new way of doing business, where you don’t stop at project level but you move vertically to inform change at a higher level: district, national and regional level”.

The FANRPAN CEO stressed that innovation platforms have an essential function in “equipping actors to be drivers of change” through research evidence.

Her words were echoed by innovation platform members from the Nile Basin Development Challenge (NBDC) in Ethiopia:  Mussie Melekot (Bahir Dar University) and Andenet Deresse (Ambo University emphasized the role of innovation platforms in helping local farmers and other actors develop joint strategies for natural resource management.

In Ethiopia, after extensive consultation and joint assessment with local actors, innovation platforms members prioritized soil fertility, land degradation and free grazing as the main issues to address. But innovation platforms do not stop at the level of problem identification: “We are planting improved forage on the communal grazing areas; we are also developing different strategies for planting around the backyard; we are also treating crop residues…”

More from the Nile BDC at the AASW event

More about innovation platforms – a key part of the research for development approach adopted by the Nile BDC.

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