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.

Fogera District is endowed with diverse natural resources. It has huge potential water sources which are suitable for irrigation during the dry season for the production of horticultural crops mainly vegetables. However, there is a great market problem in the area associated with the nature of horticultural crops such as perishability and seasonality in production. Moreover, the area is characterized by the existence of strong brokerage activity with their economic role not known.

The main objective of this study was to analyse the economic roles played by the brokerage institutions in smallholder market linkages to market outlets in horticultural marketing and determinants of decisions on whether to use brokerage institutions or not under imperfect market condition in Fogera District, in northwestern Amhara Region particularly focusing on onion and tomato.

The result of the study showed that the brokerage institutions are characterized as urban, peri-urban and farmer brokers. There was significant brokerage activity only for onion marketing and in the case of tomato marketing the brokers act as rural assemblers. Most of the horticultural trading in the area is undertaken by credit and thrust based and in this arena brokerage institutions are playing most important role by linking smallholder farmers to market outlets.

The result of the study also revealed that smallholder farmers using brokerage institutions have got 4393.62 ETB higher net income and 13.55% of greater marketed surplus than those smallholders who do not use. Generally, the brokerage institutions are playing a significant role in forming market linkages between smallholders and wholesalers under imperfect market conditions with their limitations.

Therefore, the study highly recommends the formalization of the brokerage institutions through licensing, training and continuous follow up in the district considering the experience of ECX.

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This paper was first presented at the Nile Basin Development Challenge Science meeting. The NBDC Science meeting was held on 9 and 10 July 2013 at the ILRI-Ethiopia campus, with the objectives to exchange experiences and research results across NBDC scientists involved in the NBDC projects and to discuss challenges and possible solutions.

Community members from Gebugesa village using grazing land for social gathering

As part of the Nile Basin Development Challenge, local Innovation Platforms (IP) have been formed in three sites in the Blue Nile Basin of Ethiopia to improve approaches to rain water management. It is hoped that local level platforms will enable actors to exchange knowledge, promote innovation capacity and participate in joint action. To date, platform members have worked together, facilitated by ILRI/IWMI researchers, to identify common rainwater management (RWM) issues and to design pilot interventions to address these issues. Care has been taken to ensure that the selected issues represent community concerns as well as the challenges prioritized by decision makers.

Emerging from the discussions, soil erosion was identified as a major problem in Jeldu and Diga, while unrestricted livestock grazing was ranked as a priority in Fogera. A combination of backyard forage development and improved management of communal grazing lands were identified as strategies to address problems of feed shortage and soil degradation in all three sites. Action research sites were then established to pilot these interventions and generate greater understanding of the challenges faced by both farmers and decision makers during the planning and implementation of such interventions.

In August 2012, members of the Fogera Innovation Platform began working with community members in Gebugesa village within the Mizwa river catchment area. Gebugesa village has 21 households which depend on a nearby communal grazing area to meet their fodder needs. IP members decided to target this area with interventions to improve pasture quality and quantity in an attempt to encourage community members to decrease the practice of unrestricted grazing.

A 3.5 hectare area was designated for enclosure and improved fodder plants were introduced. IP members designated a technical group to be responsible for site selection, community engagement and awareness creation and the acquisition of fodder plants.

Shortly after activities began it was reported that farmers had uprooted the fodder plants they themselves had planted. Members of the technical group reported the problem to researchers from ILRI/IWMI who then visited the site in order to facilitate a consultation process with farmers and IP members. The subsequent discussions generated valuable lessons.

Community members from Gebugesa village acknowledged problems with severe feed shortages. Although there are diverse animal feed sources available in the area, namely crop residues, grazing land and woodland, amounts are not sufficient to meet local demand. Although this is a recognized problem, community members were resistant to enclosing communal grazing land for a variety of reasons, none of which were considered by the platform members when designing the interventions. The designated grazing area is an open space accessible by the households living around it. This space is used for a variety of community gatherings, including weddings and funerals, and as such plays an important role in bringing people together and in the maintenance of key social networks.

The grazing area is also used in a variety of ways by different community members. Communal grazing areas are particularly important for households without livestock who rely on these areas for dung collection. Due to the lack of alternative fuel sources, dung makes a vital contribution to local livelihoods. Enclosing grazing areas and keeping livestock at home denies vulnerable members of the community access to this resource. Women also expressed concerns about the impact that these changes could have on their children’s safety. In rural areas of Ethiopia it is often the responsibility of children to look after livestock. Women felt that their children would be safer managing livestock on nearby grazing lands as it is easy for them to follow their movements whilst they are engaged in other farm activities. Many women from the community were therefore reluctant to engage with the proposed interventions.

Community members from Limbichoch village discuss enclosure of grazing land with ILRI researcher

Lack of understanding about the multiple functions that these communal areas serve ultimately undermined the efforts made by the platform members. This serves to highlight a fundamental disconnect between the perspectives of community members and decision makers who are often removed from the day-to-day realities of rural life, and emphasizes the need for greater community participation in the design and implementation of such interventions.

It should also be highlighted that the grazing enclosure and associated fodder development interventions initiated by the innovation platform had never been attempted in this particular area. Due to the precarious nature of many subsistence farmer livelihoods and the subsequent focus on food security, farmers are often suspicious about new technologies or innovations unless they see concrete evidence of their impact. This is understandable as any change to tried-and-tested traditional practices and land management strategies entails a degree of risk for farmers.

With this in mind, platform members planned to engage farmers in experience sharing visits to areas where alternative management of grazing areas have successfully been introduced. However, due to a number of constraints this was not achieved and as a result farmers lost confidence in the initiative. A number of farmers also expressed a fear that the platform interventions were part of a hidden agenda to take land for a government afforestation program.

Although the pilot interventions initiated in Gebugesa village were largely unsuccessful the lessons generated have been invaluable for those involved. NBDC researchers working with the platform members were aware of the differences in perspectives between farmers and local experts and administrators. Apprehension about the lack of community voice in the Fogera platform led to a period of community engagement involving the use of participatory video. Videos made by community members expressing some of the issues highlighted above were screened to members of the innovation platform but did not seem to inform the design of the pilot interventions. This is in many ways unsurprising since certain attitudes and ways of interacting are so firmly entrenched that alternatives cannot simply be told but must be experienced by the actors concerned in order for meaningful change to take place.

Backyard fodder development with farmers in Limbichoch village

Following the problems with the Gebugesa intervention site, NBDC researchers have worked with members of the innovation platform to review their efforts and synthesize the lessons learned. After discussions with Gebugesa community members the decision was taken to establish a second site in a neighbouring area.

Although this was in many ways disappointing it was essential that the wishes of community members were respected. Work began in July to establish a second site in Limbichoch village. This time there was a more concerted effort to involve the community in selecting the intervention area. Since then a 3.75 hectare area has been enclosed and selected community members have begun backyard fodder development, initial reactions have been positive.

NBDC researchers and IP members are working hard to ensure that bylaws are drafted with community members in the second site to encourage a sense of ownership and to ensure that the interventions take into account community concerns and meet the needs of different social groups.

Farmers and IP members planting improved forage on grazing land in Limbichoch village

Work is also being done to share lessons between farmers in the two sites. This will be important for the success of these interventions at a larger scale.

Participating farmers are also being given training on how to maintain the enclosed area, how to integrate improved forage plants, and techniques for collectively managing and utilizing the fodder produced.

It is hoped that this training will be incorporated with farmers’ traditional knowledge and practices, leading to strengthened capacity, improved livestock productivity and in the long term better land and water management.