Thursday, December 15, 2011

the economic invisibility of nature

The green economy and how to valuate ecosystem services are concepts that get more and more attention, both in the scientific and political arena. Here is a great TED talk that puts it all in perspective.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Land tenure conflicts in Kenya

On my last day in Nairobi, I just came across this Al Jazeera video on Kenyan pastoralists. It reminded me that despite of Kenya being so much more developed than Ethiopia (Nairobi really feels like the New York of Africa), in drought prone areas the issues are similar.

I guess the story of this Kenyan pastoralist should remind us, that the economic concepts that we usually apply on crop land in the wet tropics (and corresponds to the mainstream economic theory) should not be transferred to the pastoral zone (see post on economics of droughts,
In the Blue Nile basin, land certification, that is giving the (individual) ownership of the land for 20-99 years to a farmer,, resulted in having more farmers starting to invest into soil and water conservation infrastructure (terrace, bund) and planting trees. As a result watersheds are better managed and agricultural productivity increases.
This video shows that transferring this logic to pastoralist zone where land that has traditionally be managed collectively mainly leads to conflicts. Despite of this, I still believe that land in pastoralist zone should be certified quickly at least for the Ethiopian case, where "land grabbers" are queuing for getting the land (
I think there is scope for developing a land tenure system that garantees to pastoralists the access to their land, but does not hamper them to mange it in their traditional way.

Monday, November 28, 2011

the importance of Spatial Analysis and Modelling (from the Water Forum)

Lately i have been travelling a lot. Among others, I participated in the 3rd Water forum held in South Africa and organised by the Challenge Program on Water and Food. The meeting brought together scientists who works on similar projects and issues than me but from 6 different basins. During this conference, with my colleges, I co-organised a session on spatial analysis and modelling. We are convinced that there is lot of scope in understanding better what works were, how water flows and its downstream effects as well as linking bio-physical models to socio-economic models. 
I got the chance to explain the Ethiopian case and why it is so important to be able to model it spatially on the following postcast :
Show all

more about the challenge program on food and water can be found under

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Bahir Dar reporting series : Did you think that you have understood how land tenure influences farmers' decision making?

Land tenure has undoubtedly an influence on farmers' decision to invest on their land. Literature and common sense suggests that if a farmer owns the land and has certainty that he can use the land in future will be more likely to invest in capital or labour intensive technologies such as terraces or wells or plant trees. Also it is suggested that privately own land is better managed than collective land, because a farmer will optimize his own profit and not be able to free ride on the other (also referred to as the tragedy of the common).
untreated gully
I though that I had understood how land tenure is influence farmer's decision making. On my last trip to Adet (near to Bahir Dar), when I interviewed some farmers I discovered that I got it all wrong... 
One farmer rented land, that mean his has only the certainty to use this land for one season. So my theory would say that he would never build a terrace as it is very labor intensive. But this farmer was building it. He explained to me that he was allowed to rent the land only if he would build the terrace. The owner does not have enough labor to build the terrace and gave his land for very low cost to anyone who would invest labor on the land.
I also visited  a gully (erosion) that has been stabilized with an area exclosure (area where the livestock cannot access) with improved fodder, such as grass with long roots and multipurpose trees. It looked very good, the farmers are proud of it, and all see the benefit of this techniques. Despite of this 300m further there was an other gully, without stabilization, every year some centimetre from the field is lost, grass productivity is very low. So my first though was : a smart farmer improved his gully where as the non treated gully is communal land. And here wrong again : the treated gully was on communal land where as the non treated one belonged to a group of farmer privately. 

treated gully
What happened? Farmers are willing to give equal labour to rehabilitate communal land, as they understand that they are collectively responsible for this area. But on the privately owned land, farmers do not manage to coordinate, mainly because their field size are unequal, and so the smaller farmer would have to provide more labour to the bigger farmer, than the bigger farmer to the small one. As no one has money, one cannot pay for labour...
I had always believed that land tenure is a very important driver of farmers' decision making, but my field trip to Adet showed me that labour dynamics are the most important driver, at least in the Adet watershed. 

Monday, November 7, 2011

Unconventional way to fight against famine : Insurances

Many of my posts discussed what to do in area with famine. The problem in emergency situation is that it generally takes time to get the finances to start any emergency relief. But smallholders in drought prone zone know very well about the about the risk they are facing and if given the opportunity are more than willing to reduce this risk.
Drought insurance is one answer to this problem : it allows a smallholders to pay a small amount of money, and if she/he becomes a victim of the drought, she/he immediately get compensation which will allow him to adapt.
See more about the Ethiopian drought insurances schemes :
More about the Kenyan schemes

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

is it really about land grabbing?

Aljazeera once again is taking up the topic of land grabbing. I guess my precedent posts cover most of the relevant arguments.
It is the first debate I come across, that is well differentiated and discusses the role of African politics. Countries like Ethiopia suddenly become quite powerful but are not used to make use of this power to come up with smarter contracts with foreign investors.
This is also the first time I hear the "water grabs", which is directly linked with land grab. Indeed, for commercial farming not only fertile soils are needed but also water to grow during the dry season. Many  "land grabbing" contracts also secure water rights to the investor. "Water grabs" is I guess even a more complex topic than land grabbing, as water has downstream impact : a topic worth digging into further...

Have a look at the whole debate :


Friday, October 28, 2011

What's the role of Switzerland in Ethiopia? report from the first Swiss Development Day

The Swiss Ambassador to Ethiopia, Dominik Langenbacher, invited all the Swiss development players to the first Swiss Development day, offering a a great opportunity to network, look for synergies and increase cooperation.
Many NGO involved in education and children were present, but also many NGOs invovled with natural resource management. Also representative from the National Centre of Competence in Research : North-South and University of Bern were present.

Thanks to the Ambassador and probably many other people, and maybe also thanks to the drought and the media sharing terrible images from this part of the world, the Horn of Africa is getting on the top of the Swiss political agenda. Next to the emergency humanitarian support from Switzerland to the region, a proposal to the Swiss parliament to be voted in August 2012 is in preparation. This proposal foresees to make the Horn of Africa a program area. This implies that the Swiss Development Cooperation (SDC), would be running significant projects in this area.

The major focus proposed for the area is agriculture and livelihoods, followed by health and governance. Also two "multilateral topics" for which Switzerland would like to contribute to are : a water initiative and food security. This sounds very promising as good natural resource management and agriculture are nowadays seen as the most contributing to better livelihoods in Ethiopia.

Even if Horn of Africa would not become a program area there is scope for better cooperation between the players, also between the scientific players. The Embassy already announced a meeting with all the scientific players! I hope that this day was the beginning of a better cooperation of the CGIAR (ILRI/IWMI and others) with the Swiss Research and Swiss Development cooperation.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Bahir Dar reporting series : can mushrooms save the world?

Mushrooms are very funny plants, and can potentially save the world. Here is a very inspiring TED talk, that inspired me a lot

I liked the idea that mushrooms can save the world, but issues are very different in Ethiopia where farmers in Ethiopia face food insecurity, and have a lack of proteins  in their diet

When I was walking in the fields, I remembered this inspiring talk... . Mushrooms sound like a miracle solution in Ethiopia too : it is a source of protein and relatively easy to grow... so I dug into it. I met a very interesting lecturer at Bahir Dar University. He started his own company that produces mushrooms spores, and he gives training people to grow mushrooms. He focuses on urban areas, where people grow mushrooms for the big hotels in Bahir Dar.
See the website of the company
Mushrooms, both in Addis and Bahir Dar are very scarce and when available there are very expensive. If one manages to build up a well functioning short supply chain, then it is a very good business that could lift some people out of poverty.
But even without market access, mushroom could complete a diet in a subsistence farm household and contribute to food security. So I am now wondering, what are there ways to bring mushrooms to Ethiopian rural areas as a real pro-poor solution? My former housemate in the Netherlands, grows a lot of mushrooms with very simple techniques. I hope to have some time soon to check what would be needed to adjust these simple techniques to Ethiopian conditions, in which one needs to consider water shortages, as well as a very restricted set of available inputs to grow mushrooms.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Some good explanations on the economics of droughts

I started this morning with reading the USaid global water newsletter, and found a very interesting article on the the economics of drought.
I think one lesson to retain is, that many farmers living in a crop-livestock mixed system produce food to feed their families and consequently are not affected to much by food price volatility. On the contrary, pastoralists who mostly live in the the drought affected zone, do rely on food markets to access food. They sell livestock to get cash with which they then buy staple food. In time of droughts, livestock prices collapse (excess supply because too many people need to sell) and staple food prices increase (supply shortage), leaving people hungry. Interventions should therefore aim at stabilizing prices, the article shows how the Ethiopian government does this with the productive safety net program.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Bahir Dar reporting series : is water harvesting a solution?

The Ethiopian highland is a high potential area for agriculture, with good annual rainfall and as discussed in a previous post, Ethiopia could potentially feed the world rather than getting food aid. One problem is that rainfall is very unevenly distributed during the year. During the rainy season, flooding and erosion due to over saturated soil are the major challenges faced by farmers. In the dry season, dry spells are the major reason for crop failure. So one of the appealing solution is collect water in the rainy season and use it during the dry spell for supplementary irrigation of crop. These technologies are usually referred to as "water harvesting" technologies and encompasses technologies such as roof water harvesting, small private ponds, communal ponds, cisterns and so on.

At the Bahir Dar workshop the representative of the Sustainable Water Harvesting and Institutional Strenghthening in Amhara (SWISA) has shown a cost benefit analysis that suggests that only bigger and therefore generally communal infrastructure are worthwhile. In addition, he has shown that  most of the existing water harvesting structures are not used for supplementary irrigation, but for drinking water for livestock. This suggests that we should be very careful about out-scaling water harvesting structures, because their use might be very different compared to what literature suggest. As a consequences impacts could be very different that one might assume and feedbacks in the crop-livestock farming system unexpected.

Monday, October 17, 2011

GIS training for Agricultural Research Centers ONLINE

Some months ago, I reported from the GIS training that I developed in very close collaboration with ARARI (Amhara Region Agricultural Research Institute). The training was a great success, mainly because practical trainings are rare in Ethiopia.
The training will be rerun twice in the next six months by the newly created Nile Authority. The whole training manual has been revised, and a trainers' manual has been developed,  so that GIS specialist can take the training over without needing to invest too much time.
But these trainings will never cover the whole GIS demand of the area. In combination, the participants' and the trainers' manual students who cannot joint a training, can discover GIS on their own.
The GIS training assumes that the participant has access to ArcGIS software, and a garmin GPS.
The training can be found under : 

Friday, October 14, 2011

Bahir Dar reporting series : a price information system

Last week, I participated in the stakeholder workshop organized by my project in Bahir Dar. The meeting served presenting preliminary results to partners and stakeholder to discuss and learn.
Whereas I did not learn so much about rainwater as such, through discussions with partners, stakeholder and other people I met during my stay, some issues emerged. Issues I did not think of in this way before. Therefore I will post in the following weeks a Bahir Dar reporting series that shortly raises the issues that emerged and questions their implication for the Ethiopian context.

Today, it is about a price information system for agricultural products

In Ethiopia, some project try to convince farmer to grow new commodities, as for example onions. The first farmers who start to do this can actually make a good profit. So other farmers see this and try to do the same. Some year so many farmers grow the commodity, that the market is over flooded, price collapse and farmer make losses. This is what happened with the onions this year. Last year onion price were high so every one planted onions, the price collapse, and I get a very very hard time to buy carrot in Addis in the shops. Farmers could have diversified, some of them could have planted carrots, tomatoes or salads and all would have made a good living. Following the IPMS project (one of the project that introduced the onions), this situation shows the clear need for a market information system. I am really wondering how you could concretely implement this.
Worldwide agricultural price volatility is problematic and can bring smallholders into difficult situations. Today for worldwide commodities such as wheat maize, future contracts are investigated as a solution to decrease world price volatility. Could this be an option for a smaller scale, and be applied in Ethiopia to avoid too high price volatility for horticultural products?

Saturday, October 1, 2011

school feeding program in Germany?

Recently I had a post about the smart ways to fight famines. One of the option was the school feeding program, as children especially girls would go to school in order to get food. These girls will stay in school longer, will be healthier and will not get married too early. This girl will get less and more healthy children. Looks like a very smart way to address famine. I was very astonished to discover that this smart option is actually also implemented in Europe to support to poorest families. The only difference is, in the developing world it is mainly implemented in the rural world, whereas in Europe it is implemented in cities.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Are the "land grabbers" really so bad?

This week Oxfam released a new report on land grabbing with a huge media echo. Oxfam warn from the land grabbers. A good overview of this report can be found under this link:
I guess a lot said in this report is right, land grabbing is a risk for African country if the contract between the government and the foreign investor is not well done. What Oxfam omits saying is that foreign investment could be a great solution for the "African green revolution" and put an end to food insecurity but only if the contracts are well done. Such a contract should regulate how the foreign investor :

  1. makes sure that a displaced people get a new decent livelihood, by for example working on the commercial farm at a decent wage (let say at least above the poverty line of 2 dollar a day)
  2. insure that workers for the commercial farm have decent working conditions
  3. is allowed to export products, only the productivity gain reached through industrialization of agriculture is allowed to leave the country. This is to not increase food insecurity.
  4. invests into the infrastructure, like the road, airport  but also the local supply chain
  5. monitors environmental pressure and makes sure to not overuse the natural resources
  6. invests into health care and education of the employees and the community surrounding
  7. finally compensates the government for the land 

Where Oxfam is right, is that none of the contract nowadays do regulate all theses points, and therefore the local communities are the looser of deals. But who is to blame? the land grabbers?
Oxfam did a case study in Uganda, where local communities lost their livelihoods because of a timber company as a show case showing how land grabbers do bad. Based on this Aljazeera made a reportage and interviewed both the "land grabber" and Oxfam. It shows that the situation is very complex :
the community deforested the area illegally for growing crop. By doing so the community increases the erosion potential of the whole area, water infiltration reduces and in the mid term soil fertility deceases to a point where no one can leave from agriculture anymore.
So in my opinion, the Ugandan government did a smart move : letting a foreign investor in to afforest the whole area and let this company manage the forest in a sustainable way and sell the timber on international market. The watershed can then be maintained and prevent desertification.
The bad side of the story is, that these people who made a living on the illegally cleared area, have even less than before and are likely to move somewhere else and deforest another place, or just be the next community depending of food aid.
What the Aljazeera reportage shows, is that the land grabber was ready to compensate the community and to find solutions for them. But it is the Ugandan government who refused. As it was illegal landholding, these communities are not entitled for compensation.
Somehow, all the cases of land grabbing I came across in my fields in Ethiopia and through the media elsewhere bring me to the same conclusion. It is always a very complex situation and it is time that the African government understand that they have the negotiation power. It is upon them to come up with the contract.

So instead of pointing at the land grabbers, wouldn't it be smarter to arise awareness of the governments and help them to formulate the better contract? (or is it already to late?)
(if you cannot watch it directly you can find the film under

Monday, September 12, 2011

Africans saving Africa - Witness - Al Jazeera English

For the Ethiopian New Year, here is a very interesting documentary on how an Ethiopian agricultural economist started a project in which farmers rehabilitated their land and turned a desert into agricultural land!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Ethiopian strawberries in your supermarket?

I lately reported a lot from the Amhara region, near to Tana Lake. It is one of the high potential area for agriculture. Most of the crops are rainfed and productivity is low. Dry spells are the major reasons for crop failure. That's one of the reasons, why the Nile Basin Challenge Program is doing research there.
During my stay in Bahir Dar, I discovered that up until then I had missed out one of the major dynamics of the area. I met a rich Nigerian who came to the area for acquiring land in this area for commercial farming. It is just another "land grabber". As this is in still one of my favorite topics, I ended up having a discussion with him.
He acquired land in the dryer parts of the region, but next to a river. He will plant strawberries, and irrigate them with the water from the nearby river. I was pretty puzzled, as strawberries have a relatively short supply chain (need to reach the customer fast). Though Bahir Dar is well connected by road and air within Ethiopia, the infrastructure to reach international market are still lacking.
What i discovered is that the Bahir Dar airport, that is currently in reconstruction, is meant to become "Bahir Dar International Airport", and soon bigger planes will be able to land, including those containing the cooling system to export strawberries abroad. The Nigerian investor mentioned that he has contacts to Dubai and that this will be his first market, but ultimately he wants to reach the European market... It might be a matter of time until you will see the Ethiopian strawberries in supermarkets around the world.

Ethiopia feeding the world? In these famine time an unimaginable vision... but it could be possible. It crucially depends on how commercial farming develops and to what extend the "land grabbers" also think in terms of food security in Ethiopia.

Agricultural productivity is so low in the Ethiopian highlands, though it is located in a high potential areas. If foreign investors bring in the badly needed capital and the infrastructure to increase agricultural productivity, and if only the additional quantity of food produced is exported, then the vision of an well fed Ethiopia feeding the world is possible.

The only question that remains is : are the contracts offered by the Ethiopian government to the foreign investors smart or are they just short term maximizing profit? Do they insure that local population earns above the poverty line? Will local population have a viable livelihood? Do the foreign investor also invest in education and health? Is only the surplus of production exported? Do they insure the sustainability of agriculture (soil fertility and water resources)? Is national food security insured?

Bad or good, it is a matter of time until you will see Ethiopian fresh products in supermarket around the world, hopefully we will not forget to feed the Ethiopian population first.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Famine in the Horn of Africa: Challenges and Opportunities for Mitigating Drought-Induced Food Crises

Today, the CGIAR (consultative group on International Agricultural Research) hold a media briefing over the famine in the Horn of Africa to discuss evidence based intervention in arid areas.

One of the key topic that was addressed is the role of vulnerability of the farmers of the Horn of Africa and how to make this farmer more resilient and able to cope with shocks, such as for example drought. Topic addressed where :
- market access and market information
- information about weather and location of fodder
- improve fodder for livestock
- veterinary services for livestock
- drought tolerant crops
- water storage for crop, livestock and domestic use
- food aid, and information systems to inform about where food surpluses are
- weather insurances

The whole discussion reminds us that there is no such a thing than one simple solution. Every place is different, in location like Somalia with very little rainfall, it does not make sense to talk about irrigation schemes. Livestock provides more food security that crop. Whereas in areas with more rainfall, agro-ecological specific drought resistant crops be made available in affordable small packages can make more sense.

If you got curious, look at the full debate :

Sunday, August 28, 2011

the desperate need for more Geographical Information System

In Ethiopia and many other countries in the world, many agricultural policies are promoted as sort of "blanket" approaches, despite of the fact that agriculture is crucially location specific, driven by soil, rainfall and temperature. One way of getting more location-specific in policies is to be able to manage and analyze data in a spatial way with so called Geographical Information Systems (GIS). The increasing need for GIS is now recognized, at least in my project for which I gave a GIS training a the regional agricultural research institute in Bahir Dar. 
Introduction to GIS given by the trainers from the reseach institute
Participants learning how to use a GPS
Participants puzzled by one of 

Participants were coming from the local research centers, were relatively young and above all enthusiastic about learning how to use this seemingly complicated program called ArcGIS. It was so hard to push people out of the computer room and convince them to go for lunch (this despite of the fact that we had booked the Lake Shore resort, one of the nicest place in town). Every participant felt so privileged to be allowed to learn how to use GIS...
During my stay i also met people from GIZ (the German development cooperation). One of their objective is to delineate watersheds and work in close collaboration with the agricultural bureaus. They also got the task to train 190 people on GIS. 
Finally, I met a student in her second year in land planning. Each program like that in Europe would start with an introduction to GIS, but she did not know what I was talking about.
The view from Lake Shore Resort, a small paradise on earth to forget about GIS for the lunch hour...
At the end of my two week stay in Bahir Dar, i just realized that people start to understand the urgency of understand how location matters and create a huge demand for GIS in the area. A demand is too big to be addressed overnight. But there is an obvious need to make GIS training available and affordable to people. Therefore, the partner I have been working with for the GIS training will continue training more people based the developed training and build up a pool of trainers. In this manner, the training will not depend on me, a foreigner anymore, but fully passes in the hand of local partners and hopefully this initiative will spread GIS knowledge around Ethiopia. 
But one question stays : why are we still teaching ArcGIS which license costs about 1400 dollar per year, when we could teach open source software (free software)? This is mainly because our partners wish to be trained on ArcGIS and probably lack of information about open source software.
I recently met a young man, campaigning for open source GIS teaching open source GIS for almost for free. He is running an NGO to increase GIS knowledge in Africa
In the end, the software does not matter as much as the fact that there is a huge need for understand what spatiality means and how we can come up with more location specific knowledge. Both my training, and the training offered by mapping across borders is just a drop of water on a hot stone... 

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

innovative solutions to fight hunger

In my last post I spoke about what really makes sense to support people that face hunger, but i did not have any concrete example. Here is a great speech with concrete examples of what can work and how.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

donations for the victims of the drought?

Images from the droughts in the Horn of Africa still go rounds the world, whereas I am writing the blog post in the pouring rain in Addis.
Some people have asked me if i would know a small local NGO to which one could donate to support the victim of the droughts. 
I honestly think that immediate emergency help should pass through big well known NGOs. One should never forget that Somalia and its borders to neighboring countries Kenya and Ethiopia are considered as unstable or even war zones. If I understood correctly from the news, only the Red Cross is getting access to Somalia.

But before donating one should think about what makes really sense. Many of the people who are fleeing hunger theses days, come from an areas for which all climate model predict more and more droughts. It is an area which simply does not have the capacity to feed all the people. By saving the children from hunger, don't we just create the army of tomorrow? Isn't it very hypocritical that societies that mostly contributed to climate change do just send food for their good conscience without addressing the problem at its root? Though I do not wish to any child to die from starvation, I do not wish any youngsters to be involved in the "primitive" African wars were people just kill with knives in 10 years from now... 

True solutions lie in finding ways to improve food security to those people whose livelihoods depend on agriculture in marginal areas as well as improving market access and information to bring food from excess regions to deficient regions. Research institute like ILRI or IWMI are trying to understand what really makes a change to people in marginal areas and suggest to donors and NGO what to do. But in the end, we will never know what really works unless we have tried...

During my relatively short stay here, i met people from three different NGOs which work made senses to me and was well back up with research. I have not checked any of the project on the ground but at least from a project perspective it makes sense.  First is Menschen für Menschen a German based organisation. The coordinator for Ethiopia is a Swiss who has worked here more than 30 years. Their projects involve farmers also in marginal areas, and their objectives are to improve agriculture in a sustainable way and increase water access. They are also involved in a emergency relief action in Ethiopia. Menschen für Menschen is also involved in linking up with research. There action really makes sense, as they are involved in this country for many years to improve agriculture. You can find all the detail under :
Secondly an NGO that impresses me a lot is IDE, international development entreprise. They are not involved in the emergency relief but they use water an entry point and make use of market forces to create water access. In Ethiopia, this NGO is involved in drilling well and providing a warehouse (= creating a input market access) for all the tools needed for the wells and the pumps (spare parts). IDE is a NGO that is directly partner in implementation in some IWMI (international water management institute) projects
Finally Oxfam (US and Canada) seems to be seriously evolved in improving food security, and one of their intern is now based at IWMI to improve the link between research and development. 

One of the reasons why Ethiopia is not doing as bad as Somalia, is that the Ethiopian government has improved it drought management and implemented safety net programs.
Aid can make a difference to the victims if it is well done. But when you donate, make sure that you donate to  an organisation that will not just run away after the famine, and that is truly involved in improving agricultural based livelihoods, namely by promoting sustainable agriculture or improved water access over the long term. The three organisations mentioned above made sense to me and are working in Ethiopia for a long time, but I am sure that there are others, also in Kenya.
 So if you are thinking about donate, do it, but never stop questioning!

Saturday, July 30, 2011

rights of Ethiopian pastoralists?

Today i just fell on this article from the Montreal gazette :

Ethiopia's leasing of arable land adding to crisis: report

I learnt very interesting things, as for example that pastoralists have the right to not be displaced from their own land and must be consulted when land is taken over. By chance, during a workshop last week, I was discussing the land certification process for the Amhara region with one of the experts. Land certification in Ethiopia is a process which regulate a sort of private ownership on land (guaranteed used of the land for a maximum of 99 years) . Amhara region is going pretty well compared to other region, and has certified all its highly productive crop land and is in process of creating a cadaster.
But the expert I talked to, was coming back from the lowlands in the Benishangul region and Amhara (area near to the Sudanese boarder). It seems that it is the only area where the certification process is not finished for the Amhara region. Interesting, as this implies that these people cannot prove ownership on their land, and therefore cannot enforce their rights. It seems that some farmers have a very hard time in getting their land certified, while other farmers signed a paper that they would leave their land, if needed. Also rumors indicate that some of this land is on the list for foreign investors (or "land grabber")...

Thursday, July 28, 2011

When Swiss farmers become fishermen

Fishery is often seen as an interesting option for farm diversification, especially in developing countries. Indeed, a pond with fish is new source of healthy protein for the farmer and allows to store water for the dry season.

But now, also Swiss farmers have discovered fishery as an interesting option for income diversification. The recent report in the Swiss news shows that some farmers instead of their pigs, are breeding salmon.

Farmers keep the fish on farms only during growing time, when the salmon needs warm water and sell them to the traditional fish industry for the finishing in cold water. Following the report, this is much more efficient and environmentally friendly than making use of the traditional fishery infrastructure, because farmers can make use of synergies. The energy needed to keep the water warm can be made with biogas (livestock) and the waste can be re-used on farm.

Farmers who become fishermen : a model to follow-up.
Watch the report from the Swiss news here :

10vor10 vom 26.07.2011

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Droughts in Ethiopia

Last week, I joined one of our team into the fields in Woreta, near to Tana lake. The surroundings of Tana lake belong to the high potential locations for agriculture. During the current long rainy season (my flight was unable to land in Bahir Dar due to heavy storm) farmers are fighting with excess water. Drainage systems and rice cultivation on non-permeable soils are the answers to these heavy rains. In some places maize was flooded and house almost under water.

Flooding near Woreta

The green watershed about 10 km from Woreta
The rice fields in the Woreta plain

After one week in the field with no access to internet and other news, it is pretty shocking have all my friends worried because they have seen pictures of drought and starvation in news :

Interestingly enough, the news was not shared in the few English newspaper of Ethiopia, and as usual some internet pages were blocked. In Addis, it is business as usual, food shortages have not increased.

The big discrepancy between North and South in Ethiopia can be explained by the diversity of Ethiopia in terms of elevation and rainfall. The Ethiopian highland in the North around Tana lake belongs to the humid tropic and is source of the Blue Nile. This area has water excess rather than water shortage these days. The South and lowlands on the contrary experience droughts. The map below (taken from the Ethiopian rural economy atlas from IFPRI) shows annual rainfall and clearly shows much lower rainfall in the South near to the Somali border compared to the Tana lake (blue feature in the North) area.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The return of the sunflower?

On my recent trip to Bako agricultural research center (between Ambo and Nekemte in the West of Ethiopia), I met an Indian farmer who was farming about 2000 ha of land in the area. His company can be seen as one of the "land grabbers" from my previous post.
He has explained to me that two businesses are promising in Ethiopia : sugar and oil (by the way the two goods that where impossible to purchase in Addis for many weeks).
The Indian company has two different plans. The first is to expand the sugar cane production and to build an own processing factory. Secondly, it wants to increase the oil seed production. Currently, mainly sesame and niger (neug) are planted in Ethiopia. Especially, the neug is very labor intensive as it needs to be harvested by hand. It is therefore difficult to increase productivity. Therefore, the Indian farmer would like to grow sunflowers, which harvesting can be mechanized. I liked the idea a lot, and talk to a CGIAR scientist about it. He explained that sunflowers disappeared from the Ethiopian highlands because of a specific root disease. To make sunflowers a success story, it is important to invest into research to find a suitable varieties for that location. Maybe this is the future task of the the agricultural research center that currently focuses more on sorghum and maize.

Land grabbing or not, this company invests both in processing factory within the country as well as agricultural innovation to increase agricultural productivity...

Monday, May 30, 2011

On "Land grabbing in Ethiopia"

Land grabbing has become a important topic in Africa. It seems that big foreign investors from India or Saudi Arabia are can rent land for one dollar a year per hectare in Ethiopia and start commercial farming. Is it good or bad? I guess there is no clear answer to that. A good overview is given by this week's Ethiopian reporter :

I guess there are two crucial issues that are not mentioned in the article. Firstly, how much of the produced food stays on the local Ethiopian market? Secondly, to what extend are the natural resources over used?

My recent field trip to the Rift Valley gave me the chance to visit some commercial farms (around Mojo). The first farm was an horticulture farm owned by a rich Saudi Arabian and produces mainly salad, cabbage and other vegetables. About 60% of the production goes to the middle east. Viable or not? It depends, if the small holders cultivating the land before was less than the 40% of the food that is kept on Ethiopian market, then yes otherwise no!

The second farm was a rose producing farm delivering the flower auction in the Netherlands. It is owned by 12 Ethiopian investors. This farm makes use of ground water, accessed by a very productive well. Given the current stage of development of the whole basin, it is likely that the water use of the whole
region is below the recharge level. So no threat for the ground water yet. But what will it be when the whole region will be developed? Viable or not? It will strongly depend on the Ethiopian government to truly implement its ground water policy and truly monitor water extraction.

Roses are not food, and therefore do not contribute to food security in a country where 2.8 million people depend on food aid. But it creates employment. Employees from both the horticulture farm and from the rose farm earn 15 birrs a day, that is less than a dollar a day. I bough a pack of strawberry from a strawberry farm in the same area for 20 birrs...

So here again, is foreign investment viable in the area? If the smallholders in the area earn more than a dollar a day, then it is not viable. As the area is pretty fertile with access to ground water, it is likely that smart smallholders earn more... but this year, the onion price collapse... so the smallholders that planted only onions are likely to have very little income...

So before saying if "land grabbing" is good or bad, one needs to look at the specific situation of each area!