Friday, July 20, 2012

it is just another day for you and me in paradise

Over the last months I have been reporting from my field work for the Nile 3 project. It is time to close this reporting series and to look back on one of the most interesting time I had in Ethiopia.
The field work brought be to some remote place of the Ethiopian Blue Nile, places where no tourist ever ends up, places where Ethiopia unfolds its deepest beauty, magics and love. I am still wondering that one can get paid to do such an interesting work, i would be ready to pay for the such an experience. On the road I met amazing people, farmers, scientists, drivers, assistants, translators, friends. Almost everyone gave her/his best to contribute to the success of field work.
The Nile viewed from the sky
It was a time full of unforgettable and magic moments.

I have met this group of farmers in Shambu who a long time ago gave up waiting for any government or NGO to help them, and decided to take their own fate in hand, making use of the presence of my team to learn more about how to best implement their ideas.
Focus group discussion with the farmers in Shambu

Seeing a farmer answering his mobile phone... realizing that modernity has found its way into very traditional livelihoods. 
The Shambu farmer with his mobile phone

I have seen these women who cannot read and write for the first time in their life try to draw a house and having so much fun doing it, even if the drawing look very childish.

I was sitting in these restaurants after long days of work (and very little showers as there was no running water) trying to guess if today I would get Tibs with Kitfo or rather Kitfo with Tibs :-). I must have eaten at least one sheep and one goat over that field month.

Going through the household questionnaire and discover that I would myself have answered more than 10 times to the question "how many times were you not able to eat the food of your choice because of shortage?" (due to the lack of cheese in Ethiopia) but would have answered 0 times to the question "how many days didn't you eat because of food shortage?"

Seeing hundreds of  farmers walking for many hours with their harvest, baskets, animal walk to the nearest market to exchange some goods (while i was driving the same distance in minutes). It reminded me that probably livelihoods some 200 hundred years ago in Switzerland, when my grand grand mother was young, were probably not so different. And suddenly get a deep respect for those generations in my country who contributed to make my life easier...

I have met these young scientists fighting for their future, being extremely involved and doing a very competent and dedicated job. I never had to fight in this way to get access to education...

I met this exceptionally smart and open group of young Ethiopian men, who love their country as much as they can criticize it. With discussion throughout the night, they made me understand what it means to be a young African man teared between modernity and tradition, between wanting to see the world, to be young urban and aware and at the same time wanting to get served by very traditional wife.

I discovered the content of all Teddy Afro songs, and developed an even deeper respect for this singer that manages to spread messages that go far beyond " i love you" and touches issues like democracy and Ethiopian identity in a changing Ethiopia.
long car rides with the whole team and always with Teddy Afro
Dancing and singing on Teddy Afro songs in the long car rides with very funny drivers... 
slaughtering an oxen
I though I would visit a mushroom farm but ended up with 10 Ethiopian men slaughtering an oxen and getting fed the raw tongue for breakfast... (was maybe not the smartest idea)
the raw meat for breakfast
But what probably has moved me most, is to realize that i am extremely privileged. I have no food shortage, I do not need to walk for hours to get a piece of soap nor I do need to fight for basics... It is just another day for me in paradise. And as you are reading this blog post, realize that you have electricity and internet access and it is just another day for you in paradise. But what makes me so incredibly priviledged is that I got the opportunity to discover this beautiful side of Ethiopia, to meet all these people and understand a little bit better what drives people in this country. And I hope that you could get a glimpse of this through my blog over the last months (just make use of the N3 field report series tag to find all the related posts).

" I had forgotten where i am coming from , but suddenly it came back into my mind and it is turning around in my head. Yes I am African, oh Africa mama..."

A big thanks to all who contributed to make my field trip an unforgettable time.

Here the link official blog post on the NBDC blog about this field work

Saturday, July 14, 2012

A traditional Ethiopian family

During the field campaign of my project, I followed some enumerators and joint the interview. The first farmer, i interviewed was a traditional Ethiopian family. The husband and head of household decided to answer our questions and sat down with us. His wife was working in the field and the two kids very soon ended up sitting next to me. Their oldest son was at school. 
The first thing that stroke me was the fact that he as well as his son wore shoes, whereas the wife and the daughter were barefoot. Also he did not know the age of the children and needed to ask his wife. Both wife and husband are illiterate, the oldest son can read and write. 
This household owns 3,5 timat of land (almost a hectare) on which they grow potatoes, wheat and barley. He also does some crop-sharing on plots of other farmers. He makes compost to improve soil quality, and also uses fertilizers. Also all his land was terraces, and animal movement within the land was limited and partially fed in a cut-and-carry system. He got lot of agricultural advise from the extension services over the past years. Also the district administration gave seeds for farmers on credit, that needs to be reimbursed after the harvesting. The household can live about 11 months from their own production. On Saturday, they go to the market in the nearest town and sell some of their products caring them on the horse or on their head. For buying livestock, cloth and agricultural input the go the a bigger town.
They have seen their neighbor planting apple trees and would like to plan apples too. But they don't have a well or other source of water to irrigate the young apple trees during the dry season. They think that apple is a very profitable business. This is an interesting statement as the oldest tree in the area is 3 year old and none of the apple tree in the area did provide any benefit to anyone. It is an anticipated business and no one really know if there will be a value chain for these apples... 

The wife is part of a women's association which allows her to access information about health and family planning. The association also helps out selected women with a credit, of which she did not benefit.
I asked the girl about her dream, she did not answer as she is not allow to talk. Her father explained to me that she is going to become a doctor and help people to be healthy...
Despite of all the work and difficulty this family is facing on a daily base, they gave me the feeling that they were happy...

Sunday, July 8, 2012

What about a chicken farm?

On my recent field trips to 4 different watersheds in the Blue Nile Basin, two majors practices were the most promissing : fruit tree and poultry. Whereas my last post focused on the fruit trees (, here are some thoughts about poultry farming.

In Shambu watershed and in Maksenit farmers have little amount of chicken (2-3 in Shambu 5-6 in Maksenit) and wished they could increase their chicken production. In both sites the envisage farmers to own between 20-30 chicken each.

In Shambu, the reason for not having more chicken is the cold climate, that makes reproduction difficult. In Maksenit where it is significantly warmer the reason for not having more chicken is the lack of access to medicine to control diseases.

Chicken in Maksenit 
Shambu farmers would like to get an incubator, so that they could get more chicken. But they they that they cannot access an incubator and therefore are stuck where they are. I found on the internet the instruction on how to build a low cost incubator with local material : It looks very easy and even feasible for the Shambu farmers. But does it make sense to build an incubator in an area where electricity cuts are common? there is no way to guarantee constant temperature and therefore all the eggs will die. So after discussing with a friend who understands more, I discovered it might be easier to go for the natural way, it would be sufficient to keep a critical amount of chicken (about 8-10) together, in order to have less egg dying because a chicken decided to get some food for too long. And then increase slowly slowly the amount of chicken in the area.

Stays the disease problem, in which i haven't dug into it yet. But it would be worth looking better in the poultry option for Ethiopia. On my last trip to Kenya I had the chance to visit a chicken farmer who breeds his 200-300 chicken. In that also the way forward in Ethiopia?

200 chicks on a Kenyan farm
Nonetheless, one should never forget to look at market access. In Shambu an alive chicken goes for 80-120 birr, i just bought my frozen chicken 80 birr in the shop next to ILRI in Addis. Shambu chicken are expensive because there are very few chicken locally. But as production increases prices will fall. Bringing chicken to the towns meant to compete with "my chicken" that comes from a commercial chicken farm near Mojo (South of Addis). Will smallholder be able to compete with those low prices? 
A farm with 100 chicken in Kenya
A short look at the Kenyan situation might give some ideas. Smallholders have a hard time with poultry. They all produce when it is easy, then there is enough fodder. This implies that too many chicken come on the market at the same time, price falls and farmer get obliged to sell below production price. It is only a good business when one is able to produce in the more difficult dry times.

No wonder that in Europe, poultry chain in fully integrated. The integration allows to coordinate the chicken production (farmers get contract stipulating how many chicken he needs to grow by when even with which fodder and medicine) and make sure that a sufficient amount of chicken are available, not more not less...

I wonder under which conditions there is room for smallholders in Africa in the poultry sector. But for sure there is a transition time during which poultry might be a good business...

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Fruit trees: hopes, illusions and disillusions

For a well functioning watersheds that provides all the necessary ecosystem services, there should be forests on the upslope of the watersheds. But in the Ethiopian Blue Nile context, these areas have been deforested and cultivated, mainly due to increasing population densities.

The infiltration properties of the upslope has changed : less water infiltrates, there is more run-off and therefore more erosion and ground water does not recharge. The lack of trees on the slope can explain to a large extend why watersheds are getting dryer.
a typical Ethiopian landscape with only very little forest

Motivating farmers on the upslopes to plant trees is difficult as there are only very little benefit from the trees for the farmers who plants them, but there are benefits for downstream farmers. Basically there are two options to approach the problem. Or one develops a benefit sharing mechanism where the downstream farmer compensate the farmers upstream for loosing its crop land for trees, which is very difficult in the Ethiopian context, or one finds solutions that are profitable for the upstream farmers.
Apple in Laku watershed (Shambu)
Some trees at least in the mid terms can give benefits to upstream farmers. This is the case of the multipurpose trees and for fruit trees.

Multipurpose trees can provide high quality fodder during the dry season (when there is shortage of fodder) allowing upstream farmers to intensify there livestock production. (for more information see :
The second option is fruit trees, like apple and peaches in the highlands or mango and papaya in the lowlands. These are interesting options because fruits allows farmer to diversify their diets as well as their income.
This second option has been recognized by NGOs and has been pushed in different locations in Ethiopia, and farmers are more and more aware of fruit trees as a diversfication option.

During the field work in the four watersheds ( , all the farmers wanted to have some fruit trees, some had it and could harvest, some just planted trees and cannot harvest yet, others only wished they could access seedlings.

Let's look at these different stages, hopes, illusions and disillusions in each of the fruit tree implementations stages.
In the Gorosole watershed (Ambo), farmers do not have fruit trees but have heart of it. They would like to have apples and peaches because they believe it could be a new source of income. Unfortunately they don't know how to access seedlings nor have sufficient knowledge to grow the trees.
The apple tree planted this year in Zefie watershed
In Zefie watershed, some farmers started to plant apple tree three years ago. The strategy is to plant the trees on the soil bunds to not loose crop land. Also every year they plant some additional seedling.
The 3 years old apple tree in Zefie (does not give apples yet)
None of the farmers has yet harvested any apple in Zefie. Nonetheless, more and more apples tree are planted and more farmers are considering of planting apples because they believe that they can sell apples and diversify their income.
Papaya trees in Maksenit watershed
In Maksenit watershed, apples are not an option as it is low lands. Some farmers have planted papaya trees in so called "home gardens". Very few households have access to water during the dry season to get the papayas growing. Those who have it mainly consume the papaya themselves. Income in this area mainly comes from garlic wich is a good business ( and therefore do not really need papaya to get more cash.

Finally Shambu watershed produces apples. Seedlings have been introduced 10 years ago by an NGO and some farmers today have an apple orchard on their farms. The farmer i have talked to runs his own apple tree nursery and sells some of the seedling to other farmers in the area. Each year he extends his orchards with new trees. In this way he can level his loss of land. He can get incomes from older apple trees, and therefore can afford to loose some cropland for new apple trees that will take 5-7 years to give apple.
the apple orchard in Shambu
He has apple but finds it very difficult to sell them. The lack of market linkage is the main reason why he cannot make the expected benefits from apple. Therefore he is also trying to intensify his livestock production as well as in poultry production.
Whereas for many farmers who do not yet harvest yet, fruits are a symbol of hope. But the reality in Shambu shows that it is actually an illusion. The only farmer that really could harvest apples was disillusioned.
the apple tree nursery 
Fruit trees are a promising option  to restore ecosystem services in watersheds, but are only likely to work if farmers are linked to markets when they can start harvesting. Not later than yesterday i bought some apples for 50 birr per kilo (about 2.5 dollars a kg). It might not sounds too much to you, but for comparison 1 kg tomatoes is about 12 birrs, onions about 8 birrs, improved (huge and juicy) mangos 25 birrs. There is definitely huge potential for apples, it is a matter of unlocking the potential and linking farmers to markets.