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.

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

To strengthen the planning and implementation of rainwater management strategies at local level, the NBDC has supported the establishment of Innovation Platforms (IPs) in its three study sites: Jeldu, Diga and Fogera woredas. IPs bring together local stakeholders with an interest in rain water management (RWM) and aim to facilitate a collaborative approach to RWM.

The NBDC innovation platforms aim to build on existing local capacities and knowledge, link woreda level actors with external support and research, to develop new, locally-appropriate solutions to RWM challenges, as well as building the conditions for long-term collaborative relationships.

Devolution of platform facilitation

Backyard fodder development with farmers in Limbichoch village (Photo credit: ILRI)

Backyard fodder development with farmers in Limbichoch village (Photo credit: ILRI)

The NBDC platforms were initially established and facilitated by researchers from the  International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI). After one year of platform activities, due to concerns about platform sustainability, a decision was taken to devolve platform facilitation to local institutions.

Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) were identified to play this role in each of the sites because of their relative flexibility in terms of budget and human resource utilization: HUNDEE- Oromo Grassroots Development Initiative at Jeldu, Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus (EECMY) at Diga and Ethio-Wetlands and Natural Resources Association (EWNRA) at Fogera.

A partnership agreement was signed with each of the NGOs, thereby transferring responsibility for the facilitation of regular IP meetings and management of ‘Innovation Funds’ for the platform pilot interventions.

As part of the agreement, NGO facilitators were required to work closely with IP Technical Group (TG) members to design the pilot interventions, engage in community capacity building and assist with regular IP activities and financial reporting.

Capacity building

NBDC researchers continued to observe the innovation platforms after responsibilities had been devolved and noticed some problems including a lack of understanding about the platform concept among key partners, poor facilitation skills, lack of clarity on the roles of each TG members and lack of capacity to conduct participatory action research with farmers.

As a result, a training event was arranged from 18 to 20 March 2013 at the ILRI campus in Addis Ababa. Five members of the IP technical working groups from each site, as well as representatives from the NGO head office, were invited to attend. The aim of the workshop was to develop a clear understanding of the aims and objectives of the innovation platforms among the key actors, to evaluate the activities undertaken in the previous year, to plan activities for 2013 and to provide training on IP facilitation and action research methodologies. The trainers included an IP member from Jeldu, representing Holeta Agricultural Research Centre, and ILRI Researchers.

In addition to enhancing the skills of local partners, the training was also an opportunity to bring platform members from the three sites together in an environment where they could share their experiences. Participants from each platform were encouraged to reflect on the successes and the challenges they had encountered in order to learn from one another.

On the third day participants went on a field visit to the Jeldu area, which included a visit to a Farmer Research Group established by Holetta Agricultural Research Center. The field day helped the trainees to understand the processes involved in consulting and working together with farmers and to see first-hand the contribution that participatory approaches can make to pilot projects in their respective areas. They also got a chance to visit the research centre’s fodder demonstration sites and improved and local livestock breeds at the breeding center.

Participant responses

Local partners (research centers and universities) at the training (Photo credit: ILRI/Meron Mulatu)

Local partners (research centers and universities) at the training (Photo credit: ILRI/Meron Mulatu)

At the end of the event the participants were given the chance to reflect on the training and give their comments and feedback. All of the participants found the topics of the training interesting and pertinent for both the IP intervention work as well as their day-to-day activities.

They particularly appreciated the training on participatory approaches, and the emphasis on methods and tools for enabling farmers to identify problems and solutions which was new for the majority of the participants.

They also enjoyed visiting the Farmer Research Group established by Holetta. The chance to share experiences with other innovation platform members was valuable and they learned lessons that they will use in the next round of pilot interventions.

The roles of the TG members were clearly developed in a collaborative effort between all of the participants; this was an important step in clearly identifying roles and responsibilities for the ongoing IP activities. Overall the participants expressed their gratitude for the training and requested NBDC researchers to organize similar events focusing on capacity building for the future.

Beth Cullen and Zelalem Lema

Digital storytelling refers to short films composed of digitized still and moving images, sound and text. This is a highly effective way of presenting compelling stories in an engaging format. Digital stories can be created by people everywhere, on any subject and shared electronically.

In November 2012 ILRI research staff attended a digital story workshop run by UK-based trainers Tracy Pallant and Katrina Kirkwood. The training was organized by Beth Cullen, Kindu Mekonnen and Alan Duncan as part of a joint project between UNEP, ILRI and Wollo University titled “Enhancing communities’ adaptive capacity to climate-change induced water scarcity in drought-prone hotspots of the Blue Nile basin, Ethiopia” working in the Kabe watershed, south Wollo.

The training was attended by UNEP project members Kindu Mekonnen and Derbew Kefyalew. They were joined by Aberra Adie, Zelalem Lemma and Gerba Leta, involved in the Nile Basin Development Challenge (NBDC) project, and Zerihun Sewunet, a member of the ILRI Knowledge Management and Information Services (KMIS) team.

The training focused on identifying suitable stories, interview techniques, audio recording, basic photography skills, audio and visual editing and web-based publication. Participants used digital material collected from the Kabe watershed to document lessons and experiences from the project and spent a day in Jeldu collecting stories from farmers involved with the NBDC innovation platform work.

ILRI staff who received the training will now be able to use digital storytelling techniques to document and communicate research processes as well as outcomes. It is hoped that the use of digital stories will enable ILRI to communicate research work to a range of audiences in an accessible and creative format.

ILRI researchers are also experimenting with the use of digital stories for participatory monitoring and evaluation. Led by Beth Cullen, a post-doctoral scientist specializing in participatory research methods, cameras have been handed out to community members and development agents in three NBDC sites: Diga, Jeldu and Fogera. The aim is to use participatory photography to monitor the progress of pilot interventions planned by local level innovation platforms. ILRI research staff will work with innovation platform members to create digital stories using their photographs and interviews to capture experiences and lessons learned. These stories will be used to share knowledge between the three sites, between local and national actors and between farmers and researchers.

Some example stories produced during the training can be seen here:

Farmers use Desho grass to feed livestock in the Ethiopian dry season:

Growing Desho grass to feed livestock in the Ethiopian Highlands:

See more of these films from ILRI

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.

Farmers from Fogera telling their stories using participatory videoThe Nile Basin Development Challenge (NBDC), funded by the CGIAR Challenge Program for Water and Food (CPWF), is currently working with innovation platforms to improve the resilience of rural livelihoods in the Ethiopian highlands through a landscape approach to rainwater management (RWM).

Rainwater management interventions in Ethiopia have historically been implemented in a top-down fashion and this has led to several challenges to effective implementation, often revolving around issues of participation.

In this basin, we have established three platforms, Diga and Jeldu in Oromiya region and Fogera in Amhara region. The aim of the platforms is to bring a range of stakeholders together to identify technical and institutional challenges around RWM, enhance communication, coordination and knowledge sharing and develop joint action to bring about change.

Stakeholders include local government administration, members of the bureau of agriculture, national research institutes, a local NGO and community leaders. However, more needs to be done to ensure that community views are adequately represented.

In 2011, CPWF awarded a grant through its Innovation Fund to investigate and document the effectiveness of participatory video (PV) as a tool to bring local issues to the attention of planners and implementers of rainwater management interventions in Ethiopia.

The resulting participatory video made by community members from three kebeles in Fogera woreda was recently shown to members of the Fogera Innovation Platform (IP). The video, titled ‘A Rope to Tie a Lion’, captures community views on land and water management and focused on three issues: unrestricted grazing, water stress and government-led soil and water conservation work. See here for more information about the PV process we followed.

The film received a positive response from members of the innovation platform who seemed to gain some insight into community perspectives.

A national researcher stated ‘We have a lot to learn from community members. I have now come to realize that the farming community is capable of identifying problems and indicating solutions’.

A member of the woreda administration said ‘Today I have come to realize that farmers can play a role in solving their problems by participating actively. It is advisable to keep involving farmers in discussions, they should participate in all stages, from planning and preparation to implementation’.

Many of the IP members expressed surprise at farmers’ ability to handle video technology. One stakeholder said ‘I never imagined that they had the capacity to acquaint themselves with technology so fast. I am amazed to see farmers handle the cameras with such competence’. However, the novelty of seeing a video produced by farmers may have overshadowed the messages being expressed. The extent to which IP members really listened to the content is uncertain, but it has been a useful first step towards increasing community voice within the platform. Members of the Fogera NBDC Innovation Platform watch a participatory video made by community members

In discussions following the screening, IP members decided to pilot area enclosures and back-yard fodder development to address the issue of ‘unrestricted grazing’. Restricting the movement of livestock was prioritized because livestock are considered to contribute to land degradation and impact negatively on the soil and water conservation measures currently being implemented by the government. However, if restricting grazing is to be feasible, alternative sources of fodder must be provided.

A specific micro-watershed was selected by the platform with the aim of enclosing part of a communal grazing area to grow fodder that can be cut and carried to surrounding homesteads. Sufficient amounts of fodder cannot be produced from the selected area alone, therefore farmers will be provided with additional fodder plants which they can plant at their homesteads. The hope is that these interventions will enable farmers to gradually move towards keeping their livestock at home rather than allowing them to graze freely and so contribute to better land and water management. IP members also believe that better feeding and livestock management strategies will improve the livelihoods of community members.

However, as the video demonstrates, restricting grazing is a controversial issue that will be hard to tackle due to differences in perspectives between farmers and decision makers. Community members have expressed a number of concerns. For example, those without livestock will no longer be able to collect dung for fuel from communal grazing areas; if cattle are no longer gathered in communal areas, breeding will be difficult; keeping livestock at home without sufficient fodder will require additional time and labour to search for feed; and those with less land worry they will be unable to provide for their livestock’s fodder needs.

These are valid concerns which will need to be considered if the interventions are to be successful. During the PV exercise local development agents were informally consulted in order to gauge why they think community members are reluctant to limit livestock movements. Many seemed bewildered and cited farmer ‘lack of awareness’ as a reason, but did not convey any of the reasons captured during the PV process. It is not certain what attempts, if any, have been made by development agents to understand these issues from the farmers’ point of view.

Even though the PV process has enabled community members to voice their views to the platform, this does not guarantee that these views, and the diverse livelihood strategies and needs of community members, will be taken into account when developing and implementing the proposed interventions. Community members in the selected intervention area were not involved in the participatory video work so have not yet been sufficiently engaged and may not be aware of the innovation platform aims and activities. The platform members themselves will be responsible for working with them and although many talk convincingly about the need to include community members it is apparent that there is considerable variation in interpretations of what ‘participation’ means in reality.

While tools such as PV can help to establish lines of communication between farmers and decision makers and prompt a degree of reflection, which is particularly important in areas where farmers are often perceived as ‘backwards’ by higher level actors, this is not enough. There still needs to be attitudinal change on the part of higher level actors and a willingness to listen to farmers’ views; broader changes in the culture of decision making among higher level stakeholders, particularly more flexibility in the planning and implementation of policy at local level; and an openness by community members to engage, although this requires trust to be established. None of this is easy to accomplish.

In this particular situation, continuous engagement is required to build on the PV work and achieve more meaningful change. The video will be screened to the targeted community members to try and build trust and understanding of the innovation platform process. The next steps will bridge gaps between IP members and community members through practical engagement. This will include providing training and capacity building to platform members to further foster participatory approaches and encourage reflection on both the process and outcomes so far in order to consolidate learning.

Watch the community’s video here:

ILRI’s Beth Cullen was recently interviewed by the USAID Feed the Future Agrilinks web site about innovation platforms and participatory video.

Read the interview

Watch the video: