Thursday, May 31, 2012

enhancing market information, really?

Debre Tabor, a typical Ethiopian district town... a main square, some shops selling cloth, food (staple, oil, sugar), soap, some photo printer and some shop selling mobile phones or the newest Teddy Afro CD (with the current hit des yemil seqay that was always on in the car going when I was in the fields) ... 
yes, after asking many people and walking up and down, we manage to find the only stationary shop, and even managed to buy one of the 5 stapler available. Basically, for European standard there is nothing in Debre Tabor.
Suddenly on the main square i see this electronic announcement board, looking like the bus or train departure boards in many European towns... It felt very surreal... nooooooooo this is not possible.

In fact the board announces the Addis market prices of the major agricultural goods in produced in Ethiopia. It is part of enhancing market information to farmers, an initiative discussed at the TED talks in 2007.

Cool idea, real time market information into the Ethiopian bush... Technology really can change how things go in the developing world...
One problem in Ethiopia is truly that farmers do not know the market price of their products. The middle man who buy the agricultural products to bring them to town therefore has the bargaining power and farmers always get very low prices for the products...
But does this surreal electronic board really help the farmers? Debre Tabor is 4 walking hours away from the Zefie watershed, where I did some field work. Very few farmers have indicated that they would go to Debre Tabor, and those who have go there once or twice a year. Most of the farmers have no mobile phones, some of them have a radio. As these farm are not electrified, charging your mobile phone is not possible and listening to radio means that you afforded to buy some batteries. Do these farmers really benefit from this electronic board? or does it just help the middle man to calculate his profit on the way to the farmer?

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Livelihoods strategies in Zefie watershed, some impressions from the farm household survey

In Zefie watershed, 90 farm households have been interviewed for the NBDC project by the Amhara Regional Agricultural Institute (ARARI). The sample was stratified to insure that the three landscape zone (see as well as the female headed households were represented.
As part of our quality control, I have checked all the 90 surveys, and share with you some impressions. Note that these results are preliminary and are not based on any formal statistical analysis.
A female enumerator, interviewing a female household head

Our questionnaire contained a whole bunch of question allowing to assess the level of hunger in the area. The amount of month a household could feed itself from its own production was ranging from 8-12 months. Also diets are very un-diversified, mainly based on wheat, and sometimes supplemented by beans. (Note that the question asked about the food consumption of the last week, as they just have planted potatoes, they do not have any left for food). Interesting is also that most of the households have little livestock and therefore potentially access to animal proteins. But usually animal proteins are sold on market for cash and never consumed by the household. Finally most of the household have indicated that they do not eat the food they want to eat due to food shortage. Only few household mentioned to not eat at all for a day more than 10 times in the last dry season because of food shortages.
geo-referencing the homestead
In most households, one family member migrates for 2-3 months to the city (Humera) for getting some income. The reason for migrating is or land shortage or food insecurity. This income ranges from 500-2000 birr (30-112 dollars) per migration season. There is no household living as daily laborer. We have not met any landless people. We think this is because land is still big enough (older households have up to 5 Timat = 1,25 ha) to be shared with the younger generation. Also the young people stay on their parents farm, resulting in our survey into bigger households on the same land, but no landless people. There is very little on-farm diversification, some of the household sell charcoal or have off-farm employment.
Quality control : the field supervisor checking the just filled questionnaire
A whole bunch of question looked at livestock exchange. Interestingly many farmer indicated that they let other households keep and feed their livestock. The reason indicated by farmers who give away their livestock is labor shortage. Most commonly the benefit of the animal goes to the animal keeper, but the risk of loss (death or theft) is taken by the owner. Most of the farmers give their livestock to family members nearby (5-20 min walking from their homestead) who have more labor capacity. My logic tells me that if some households give let others household located very nearby keep their livestock, there must be approximately the same amount of households that keep livestock for others. Strangely this is not the case in our survey. Two possible explanations for this : first it might be a sampling problem, secondly smallholders do not perceive helping out their relatives/neighbor who have labor shortage for livestock as "keeping livestock for others".
In terms of rainwater management, most farmers have bunds, both stone and soil and most of them somehow manage their gullies, and enclose their farmland. Nonetheless, livestock grazes freely within the farm boundaries. Nonetheless the farmers mention that they use the cut and carry system. They then refer to the fact that they bring weeds and grasses that are growing on the bunds or on the field contours to the livestock. As groundwater is shallow, some of the farmers have shallow wells from which water is lifted with a bucket. Multipurpose trees are not very common in the area, this might change with the tree nursery (see Despite of this the watershed has many acacia trees in the fields and eucalyptus trees to stabilize the gullies and on farm boundaries. Fruit trees, namely apple is very recent and benefits are not yet observed, but there is a lot of hope that this will be a profitable business. River diversion is not really suitable in the area and are not observed.
Talking to farmers in order to understand what cannot be captured by the survey

Reasons for non-adoption of rainwater management practices are land shortage, lack of market access (for improved breeds or varieties) and sometimes lack of capital.
In the discussion with the farmers, after filling the survey have mentioned the limitation of improving productivity of crop production and therefore wish to be able to access improved livestock breeds and improve livestock productivity.
the joint ARARI-IWMI/ILRI supervision team

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Understanding landscape dynamics : the Zefie watershed (near Debre Tabor)

For the project I am working on, namely the Nile Basin Challenge Program (, project n3, we have the task to understand why farmers do not adopt some rainwater management strategies despite of their potential benefits. Under rainwater management strategies, we understand a combination of rainwater management practices that increases water infiltration in the upland a landscape, soil and water conservation in the midland and that increase water productivity in the lowlands. Rainwater management practice has to be understood in very broad terms and include beyond water harvesting a whole range of practices affecting crops, livestock and trees.
A typical house in Zefie watershed
In order to understand adoption and non adoption of rainwater management strategies, we take a multi-scale approach. To capture the farm scale, we  interview 600 farmers in 7 different watersheds of the Ethiopian Blue Nile, making sure that we cover the high, mid and lowland of each landscape. In the 4 watersheds that have to yet been studied by other projects, we also run focus group discussion to capture the landscape scale. We bring together key informant from the community and ask them to imagine the best possible rainwater management strategy for their watershed. Then we will discuss with them what hampers the implementation of that strategy.
I will use this blog to share with you the most astonishing, the most impressing or the most informative stories or lesson learnt from the fields, in the form of a field report series.

This week I visited the Zefie watershed in Amhara region (Northern Ethiopia) near Debre Tabor. It is a relatively small watershed of about 350 ha with an important slope, allowing to cover the different zones of the landscape in a relatively short distance.

View Larger Map
It is shaped by a bi-modal rainy season allowing to harvest twice a year. The major crops planted are potatoes, wheat, barley and to a smaller extend legumes. All this crops are rain fed, with some very little exceptions
Ground water levels are high, allowing some of the farmers to have hand dug shallow wells, where water is accessible within 3-10m. As the ground water is relatively salty, it is mainly therefore used for supplemental irrigation and for watering the 4 squared meter of pepper production (both for home consumption and selling). Drinking water is usually carried from the stream.
Midland of the Zefie watershed

The watershed is well managed also thanks to the intervention of the NGO Tana Beles (  and GIZ. In the midland, almost the whole area has bunds. As the soil is very shallow and stony, the midlands are mainly shaped by stone bunds and terraces. On flatter areas with deeper soils, a lot of recent soil bunds can be observed. Farmers intend to plant some grasses and trees on these bunds in a near future. In the highlands, some farmers have started to plant apple trees. The oldest apple tree is 3 years old and gave its first apples this year. As planting apple tree require irrigation at least until the tree roots grow deep, only farmers with a well have adopted this practice mainly around the soil bunds. In the lowlands, some farmer have agriculture, but it is mostly communal grazing land.

The government gave some of this grazing land to the NGO Tana Beles, that has set up a tree nursery near to the perennial river. The nursery employs 3 persons to grow the tree seedlings that are irrigated manually (walking to the river with a jericane). They grow mainly multi-purpose trees, namely Saligna tree, Lucerne tree and Sesbania. These seedlings can be picked up by the farmers for free. This must be a very recent initiative as a quick look in our farm surveys suggest only very few of the interviewed farmers has multi-purpose trees, and no one mentioned the nursery.
Gullies shape the landscape from the upland to the lowland. They often also mark the farm boundaries. As they are often privately owned, they are often managed. The most common way of stabilization is planning eucalyptus trees into the gullies, sometimes also some grasses. Also area enclosure, that is putting fences (mainly with eucalyptus leaves), can be observed on farm boundaries that are not gullies. This allows farmers to protect their private land from free grazing livestock. Often their own livestock is grazing freely within the farm boundaries.
The chart hanging in the agricultural development worker's office showing the last year achievements for the area, Zefie watershed is presented in the first column 

From the agricultural development worker we discovered that there is a marketing cooperative that helps farmers to bring their potatoes to the market. It seems that the cooperative collects the potatoes from different farmers and then sell them in one transaction to a middleman that then transports them to the big cities. It seems that this cooperative is open to anyone in the watershed. In a quick review in the farm household survey, no farmer has mentioned this cooperative… another mystery of the Ethiopian highlands…
Also the way from Debre Tabor to Zefie is very interesting. One can see very large grazing land with huge gullies, that are well controlled with stone check dam, build by GIZ (I was told).
Stone check-dams build by GIZ

Also on the way, lies Addis Alem where can find the seed multiplication and marketing cooperative. This cooperative holds two impoved potatoe seeds, which are sold to farmers for reproduction. It seems that this cooperative is mainly run by the govement and supported by Oxfam and the European union. I could not really figure out from the people living around it, it it really makes a change to them or if it is the cooperative about which we heart from the agricultural development worker. The language and cultural barrier was to big to really figure out how it works.
Sign indicating the seed and marketing cooperative
It is a very interesting area, and i am looking forward to see what the farm household surveys and the focus group discussion are going to teach us about the landscape dynamics of this watershed...

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Value chains in Ethiopia : Bill Gates' vision

Here is a movies from Bill Gates about agriculture and health in Ethiopia. It give a great overview of the current situation in Ethiopia.

This movie shows the importance of creating market access for smallholders. Market access does not mean to just be able to sell a product. It implies looking at the whole production chain, making sure that the farmers can access seeds and sell their product later on. The movie shows what it means to develop a value chain and points out some success stories in Ethiopia.

Also see the photo gallery from Bill Gate 

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Closing the Mauritius reporting series : lessons learnt from the conference on water management in Africa (Mauritius reporting series)

The conference on water in Mauritius I have been reporting about over the last weeks, was a big success. Every one could learn a lot from others. But the most important in the encounter with all these different people, learning who they are, what they work on, what their major challenges are. Also conference came up with a list of recommendations for policy maker, that is currently still under revision (i will share the final recommendations when they will be available).

Find here Dr Michael Atchia ( from Mauritius a co-organizer of the conference about his take home message and explaining more about the recommendations.

Here Zelina Mula from the academy of science of South Africa about her experience at the conference :

And there some voices of female researchers about why water is so important in the African context and what their take home message from the conference is.
Professor Stella Inya-Agha, Nigeria

Professor Josephine Ngaira, Kenya

Rasha Adam (Phd candidate), Kenya/Soudan

This finishes the Mauritius reporting series. It was a great conference in one of the most beautiful locations in the world. I would like to thank the organizers and the funders for giving me opportunity to join, learn and enjoy...