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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.

The NBDC sent five representatives including two local innovation platform (IP) members to a special session on ‘engagement platforms’ at the sixth Africa Agricultural Science Week (AASW) organised by the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA), 15-19 July.

The session was organised as a Challenge Program for Water and Food (CPWF) event and featured representatives from the three African basins: Limpopo, Nile and Volta.

Andenet Deresse (instructor at Ambo University) and Dr. Mussie Haile Melekot (professor at Bahir Dar University) represented the Nile Basin Innovation platforms in a talk show hosted by Dr. Lindiwe Majele Sibanda, Chief Executive Officer of the Food Agriculture and Natural Resource Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN).

Watch the video: Harnessing innovations for food security – innovation platforms in Ethiopia’s Nile Basin Development Challenge

With additional support from Zelalem Lema, research officer at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in Addis Ababa, the Nile delegation also shared some lessons and hopes regarding engagement platforms:

  • Incentives are key! It is difficult for IP members to remain motivated but capacity development on research, networking etc. really helps. Unforeseen incentives that appear along the way also strengthen members buy in and IP teams should pay attention to these.
  • Financial incentives give a hint about sustainability. Will IP members still come to the meetings and remain engaged in the process if we stop paying them? We have to ask these questions early on and find out if people are ready to invest in IPs by themselves. This says a lot about the potential sustainability of these platforms.
  • Formalising IPs is a great way to clarify roles and responsibilities and limit problems of participation. The NBDC developed terms of reference and a legal structure which explained who should be part of it, when and how to meet etc. Despite this, membership turnover did hamper progress and some discussions that had been dealt with in the past kept resurfacing.
  • Balancing long term natural resource management with short term value chain benefits: As an overall take home message, the NBDC team learned that a value chain approach brings short term results and perhaps they should use this approach – around fodder interventions for example – to create good impact and incentives for all IP members.

The session also featured presentations by Dr. Alain Vidal (Director of the Challenge Program for Water and Food) and Dr. Olufunke Coffie (Basin Leader for the Volta Basin Development Challenge). After the IP talk show, participants zoomed in on five different topics: how to set up IPs, how to engage with policy (using IPs), how to scale them up, how to deal with power and representation and finally how to ensure they are working?

These group discussions generated additional insights on issues of purpose, engagement, sustainability and impact:

A thorough analysis upfront paves the way for a good engagement process: a strong situation and stakeholder analysis, assessing social networks and alliances in presence, understanding the local cultural context are all helpful to limit marginalisation of certain groups and ensure their proper involvement in engagement platforms.

The sustainability issue is also sensitive but some measures of connecting ongoing IPs with other networks and platforms, organising field tours, farmer field days, exchange visits etc. offer ways to progressively embed an engagement platform in a wider social environment. On the other hand, as these platforms are multi-functional and dynamic, they may cease to exist once they have fulfilled their purpose. Or they may morph into another type of platform that fills other gaps in the wider system.

Finally, measuring the impact of engagement platforms remains a difficult undertaking, all the more so for IPs that focus on natural resource management (with long term tradeoffs and benefits) as opposed to value chain-focused IPs.

The CPWF morning side event built on a series of 12 draft ‘practice briefs‘ on innovation platforms developed with funding by the CGIAR research program on Humidtropics and harnessing experiences and insights from several years of work with such platforms.

Six months before its formal end as a project, the Nile Basin Development Challenge (NBDC) hosted a science meeting to share ongoing and finalised research results.

Bedasa Eba introducing his paper60 participants met on 9 and 10 July 2013 and reviewed presentations organised around four main themes:

  • Livestock and irrigation
  • Water productivity, hydrological and erosion modeling
  • Rainwater, land and water resources management
  • Institutions, adoption and marketing

In addition, 10 posters were also featured in the science meeting, mainly from PhD and MSc students working in the NBDC. Presentations and posters are online.

Key lessons and conclusions emerging were:

  • The research for development approach adopted by the NBDC and other basins in the Challenge Program for Water and Food (CPWF) is valuable but it has not been able to go as far as planned, especially in terms of getting beyond research outputs towards development outcomes. See more about this in the presentation by Doug Merrey.
  • The Development Agents’ (DA) system has been somewhat left behind but have a crucial role to play and could be revitalised by actors like NBDC to involve DA staff in transdisciplinary research projects that can help move research outputs to outcomes.
  • NBDC research tends to focus on individual or household benefits of certain rainwater management interventions but less attention has been given to collective benefits and tradeoffs between upstream and downstream communities. The debate about on-site and off-site benefits and the link with ecosystem services at landscape level remains open.
  • Similarly, competition for water resources puts the stress on a new phenomenon: it is traditionally easier to promote individual technologies rather than collectively managed schemes (with their high transaction costs). However, adding too many individual pumps in the watershed stresses water resources.

The participants also highlighted a series of research gaps that ought to be taken up by future initiatives focusing on land and rainwater management (RWM). These included: appropriate land use planning, strengthening local agencies to deal with RWM and to plan land use, identifying suitable scalable solutions that are appropriate for a given context or focusing on scalable practices and methods or approaches; improving biomass production.

Finally, they noted that NBDC science remains somewhat scattered but the evidence base collected is an important asset to carry into other initiatives that will build on the NBDC legacy.

The presentations and individual papers featured in the NBDC science meeting will be individually featured on this website – watch this space!

Read conversation notes and links to outputs from the meeting

Discover the presentations and the posters shared at the science meeting

Download the meeting proceedings.

During the recent NBDC science meeting, associate consultant – and former staff member of the International Water Management Institute – Doug Merrey took stock of a number of interviews carried out to map the Nile Basin’s ‘institutional history‘ (1). The presentation focused on what the NBDC has done to implement a research for development (R4D) approach that brings research activities out of the scientific silo and into communities’ landscapes, as well as the figurative landscape of development outcomes.

In his presentation ‘Is research for development a good investment? Reflections on lessons from NBDC’, Merrey pointed to a number of interesting aspects.

Historically, CGIAR is a collective of research institutes and its scientists have been assessed against the amount of peer-reviewed papers published every year, but the CGIAR reform is pushing CGIAR scientists to ensure their research brings about development outcomes. These scientists are increasingly involved in processes of facilitation of innovation and action-research activities verging on development work.

The question is whether these efforts are worthwhile. Such efforts are long-term, resource-intensive, require strong process skills that CGIAR scientists have not necessarily had to develop and nurture until now. In addition, the NBDC experience shows that R4D means different things to different people. In his presentation, Merrey noted that despite some shortcomings, the NBDC did promote one authentic innovation: to bring together a large and diverse group of partners, which gave more thrust to the collective capacity to innovate.

Merrey concluded with the four main recommendations from the Nile BDC’s experience with R4D:

  • Effective partnerships – empowered demand-side institutions;
  • Strong linkages to existing development investment programs;
  • Long-term commitment by funding agencies as well as scientists;
  • A foundation in excellent science.

As the project comes to an end and folds into the CGIAR Research Program on Water, land and ecosystems, these lessons are increasingly relevant.

Note:

(1) Institutional histories are a documentation and monitoring approach followed throughout the Challenge Program for Water and Food to better understand how the program’s dedicated R4D approach was implemented across the six basins (Andes, Ganges, Limpopo, Mekong, Nile and Volta).

The NBDC recently organized a capacity building workshop (8-10 May 2013) to address feed resource needs identified by local NBDC partners and beneficiaries.

Innovation platforms (IP) established by the Nile Basin Development Challenge Program (NBDC) have identified fodder as an important intervention for soil and water conservation efforts in the Blue Nile Basin. In all three NBDC sites (Diga, Fogera, Jeldu) platforms decided to introduce fodder varieties to improve the supply of livestock feed, control gazing and support current government soil and water conservation interventions.  IP members began piloting fodder interventions during 2012. Improved forages were chosen by experts to suit local agro-ecologies: rhodes grass and elephant grass in Diga, desho grass, elephant grass and tree lucerne in Jeldu and elephant grass, vetch and sesbania in Fogera. Different approaches were applied in each to explore factors influencing the adoption and effectiveness of interventions:

  • Backyard fodder development by individuals at household level;
  • Planting of fodder on SWC structures;
  • Enclosure of communal grazing areas through collective action. In the first year 40 farmers participated in Diga, 96 in Jeldu and 13 in Fogera.

After the first year of pilot interventions the innovation platform members evaluated their activities and identified some gaps in knowledge and skills related to the design of fodder interventions. To assist this process, NBDC researchers organized a capacity building workshop (8-10 May 2013) to train local partners in the use of tools that would enable the assessment of the existing feed situation in their area, current livestock management practices and farmer needs. This was followed by practical fieldwork so that IP members could experience implementing the tools first-hand.

The tools

FEAST training - group picture The Feed Assessment Tool (FEAST) which was developed by ILRI’s Alan Duncan and colleagues is a systematic method to assess local feed resource availability and use. It helps in the design of intervention strategies aiming to optimize feed utilization and animal production. It comprises two parts: PRA part which aids group discussion with groups of farmers and individual questionnaire interview part which captures information at house hold level.

The Farmers’ Need Assessment (FNA) tool is complementary to the FEAST and helps list the possible existing problems/needs and prioritizing by pair-wise ranking.

The combined FEAST and FNA produces complementing information which can be used to identify possible interventions.

The training

FEAST CD training 2 Fifteen innovation platform technical group members from the three NBDC sites attended the three day training at Beshale Hotel in Addis Ababa. These included representatives of local research institutions, universities, NGOs and experts from woreda agricultural offices.

The training was given by Professor Adugna Tolera of Hawassa University who has provided similar training to stakeholders in other ILRI projects, and Ato Adissu Mulugeta, a private consultant who introduced the data entry software. ILRI-NBDC staff (Zelalem Lema, Gerba Leta, Tsehay Regassa and Aberra Adie) assisted the training in facilitating group works and field survey exercises.  Zelalem Lema led the overall facilitation process during the training period. Beth Cullen (ILRI) who coordinated the training event made the opening speech on the first day and emphasized the importance of the training to assist the ongoing action research at the NBDC sites.  Kindu Mekonnen (ILRI) made technical contributions to the FNA format development and other issues discussed during the training.

The first day of the training oriented the participants about the background and contents of the tools, including familiarization with the software. Holeta Agricultural Research Centre facilitated the practical field testing of the tools which included a data collection exercise with farmers in the village of Wolmera Woreda in the Holeta area. During the third day the trainees practiced data entry and reporting using software.

FEAST CD training3 During the reflection session at the end of the training, the participants appreciated the usefulness and user-friendliness of the tools.  Finally, the trainees expressed their ambition to implement the knowledge they acquired during the training and generate baseline information to contribute to the action research at their respective sites. They soon developed an action plan to collect and analyze data and produce a report in order to gather information before the commencement of the cropping season.

The aim will be to build the local research capacity of key IP members and to use the results to tailor the innovation platform pilot fodder interventions to the local needs and situations.

By Aberra Adie, Beth Cullen and Zelalem Lema

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