Oct 012012
 

This very brief photofilm (1:41 minutes) shares the story of Misku Abafaris, a woman farmer in Ethiopia, who was interviewed in 2010 about the changes in her life as a result of interventions by an ILRI-led Improving Productivity and Market Success of Ethiopian Farmers (IPMS) project. Since 2006, ILRI has been working closely with Ethiopia’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development to improve farmers’ livelihoods.

When asked what life was like a decade ago, Misku Abafaris immediately says: ‘In those days I was never exposed to any new ideas, any new approaches.’ Then, after more consideration, the 40-year old mother of six turns to practical matters. ‘I used to spend most of my time caring for my children and preparing food. And I’d look after our cow and help my husband when the crops needed weeding.’

In short, her daily routine in Gudeta, a small village some 30 minutes’ walk from a tarmac road, was little different from that of earlier generations of women in Ethiopia’s Oromiya Region. There were good years, when the coffee harvest was plentiful, and bad years, when the coffee failed or drought shrivelled their food crops.

Five of Misku’s children still live at home, chickens still wander in and out of their mud-walled, tin-roofed dwelling, and it’s still a long walk to the nearest well to get drinking water. But new ideas and new approaches, so lacking in the past, have recently helped to transform their lives. Their most obvious manifestation can be seen in the fields below the village, where half a dozen handsome sheep are being fattened for the market.

‘With the profits I’ve made from my sheep, I’ve been able to buy a Boran heifer, which will yield much more milk than our local breed of cow’, says Misku, ‘and last year, when we didn’t get a coffee harvest, we still made enough money from the sheep to pay all our household expenses.’ She’s particularly proud of the fact that her sheep-fattening business has paid for her eldest daughter, now 21 years old, to live and study in the nearby town of Agora.

Misku’s forgotten to tell you about the chairs we’re sitting on’, says Abafaris Abamaliky, her husband. ‘It was the money from the sheep that paid for the timber and the carpentry. And it paid for the wooden box where I now keep my clothes and my private things.’ The pride he takes in his wife’s achievement is plain to see.

The power of knowledge
Misku and her husband are among tens of thousands of farmers to benefit from a project which has helped them to improve the productivity of their livestock and crops and—crucially—market their produce more effectively. Funded by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and managed by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) on behalf of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, the Improving Productivity and Market Success of Ethiopian Farmers (IPMS) project was launched in 2006.

Goma, where Misku and her family live, is one of 10 districts where the project operates. The early stages involved the identification of crops and livestock which could benefit from activities to improve production and marketing. This followed lengthy consultations with farmers and local government staff. In Goma the focus has been on improving ‘value chains’—linking production, the supply of farm inputs and the markets—for coffee, poultry, honey, fruit and sheep.

‘Many farmers were keen to develop sheep fattening, but they didn’t have the knowledge or skills to improve production’, explains Yisehak Baredo, the project’s research and development officer in Goma. ‘Their sheep were in poor health, and it took them up to a year to fatten them.’ Misku’s experience was typical: she used to keep just one sheep, whose only food supplement was kitchen scraps, and she made hardly any money fattening its lambs.

In 2008, the project provided training on sheep fattening for Misku and 119 other farmers. They learned, among other things, about the importance of providing their animals with protein-rich food supplements and how to keep them in good health. Such was the success of the first training program that the project repeated the exercise for 92 farmers a year later.

None of this would have been possible without access to credit, which was provided through a local microfinance institution. Talk to any of the farmers who benefited and they’ll tell you in great detail precisely how they spent their first loans.

Misku borrowed 1500 birr (USD115). With this she bought five young sheep, a supply of cotton-seed meal, life insurance for herself and insurance for her five sheep, and de-wormers and other veterinary medicines. Three months later, she sold the fattened sheep and paid back the loan, leaving her a net profit of 1200 birr (USD90)—a considerable sum of money in one of the poorest countries in the world. Subsequent fattening cycles have provided her with similar profit margins.

So is her story unusual? Yes and no. Yes, in the sense that she is a strong and respected leader, and the group of 30 smallholders which she chairs was immediately able to repay its loans in full—something several other groups failed to achieve. As a result, the microfinance institution has been happy to provide further loans. And no, in the sense that many other farmers have made a success of fattening their sheep and increasing their income. Over four out of five who received training shortened the fattening period to just three months.

‘With the profits I’ve made from the sheep, we’ve built an extension to our house and bought a high-yielding Boran cow’, says Suchare Abamaliky, one of Misku’s neighbours. Musa Kadir, who belongs to the same peasant association, has used the profits from his sheep to pay school fees for his children. ‘I’m now earning as much money in three months as I used to make in a year from the sale of coffee beans’, he says. He has ambitious plans to expand the number of sheep he fattens, and he’s also begun to raise avocado and mango seedlings, having observed the activities of one of his neighbours. Shito Nasir had received training on how to graft superior varieties of fruit tree. ‘I could see she was making such a good business that I decided to do the same’, explains Musa Kadir. This is the way new ideas are beginning to spread, across hedges and fields from farmer to farmer.

A rural revolution?
Abafaris Abamaliky is some 20 years older than his wife, Misku, and he has lived, as he puts it, through three governments. Life is now better than it ever was in the past, he says. ‘We now have electric light in the village and better health care.’ Just as importantly, he and his neighbours now feel they can talk openly to government officials. Indeed, the success of the IPMS project owes much to the close relationship between villagers and the staff at the district offices of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development.

Besides introducing new technologies to Ethiopian farmers, the project has begun to change the way government staff approach agricultural development. ‘Before the project began, we used to focus on increasing the production of particular commodities, but we knew nothing about value chains’, explains Tanashe Eyasu at the local Office of Agriculture and Rural Development. ‘Now, we’re changing the way we work, and we’re linking producers with suppliers of inputs like fertilizers and feed, and sometimes even linking them with buyers as far away as Addis Ababa.’

Although the IPMS project will come to an end at the end of this year (2012), its impact is assured. ‘You can already see the knowledge being transmitted from farmer to farmer’, says Tsegaye Umeta, Goma’s district administrator, ‘and local government staff will continue to promote the knowledge and practices introduced by IPMS to new areas.’ It shouldn’t be a hard sell: when farmers are making good money, others will follow where they lead. And already, new businesses have sprung up to provide feed, fertilisers, medicines, beehives and other equipment.

If you ask Misku about her hopes for the future, she lists her priorities without hesitation. ‘My first desire is to support my children, so they can go to college’, she says. ‘Then, if God is willing, I would like a better house, with a cement floor, not a mud floor like this one, and with brick walls painted a nice colour. I’d also like a well.’ A while ago, she went on a farmers’ study trip to the capital, where she saw a small pump for drawing well water. ‘I’d like that too’, she says.

But is this a dream too far for a family which has just three hectares of land, a pair of oxen, two cows, ten chickens and a small flock of sheep? ‘No’, she replies. ‘If we continue to work hard, I’m sure this will happen.’ Her husband nods in agreement.

As we leave the village, we are accompanied by a chattering crowd of children, including Misku’s eight-year-old boy. When Ariso is not at school, he helps to look after the family’s sheep, but he also has a lamb of his own, which he recently bought with money he earned picking coffee.

‘Once I have fattened it up’, he says, ‘I will make a good profit.’ He probably hasn’t heard of ‘value chains’, but he is very much his mother’s son: he understands the importance of the market.

Story and photofilm by Charlie Pye-Smith.

Download publications from the Improving Productivity and Market Success of Ethiopian Farmers project: http://cgspace.cgiar.org/handle/10568/262

Read and view other stories/photofilms by Charlie Pye-Smith:

Gebremichael’s story: Changing the fortunes of farmers in Ethiopia through better livestock feed, 28 May 2012 (story and photofilm).

Saving the plains: ILRI research team wins Sustainability Science Award for its pastoral research in Masailand, 7 Jun 2012 (story).

The connection between animal disease and human health, 13 Jan 2012 (photofilm).

 

 

Nov 252009
 

Scientist whose work has enhanced the food supply of hundreds of millions of people
in sub-Saharan Africa is honoured in Ethiopia

Prof. Gebisa accepting a medal from the President of Ethiopia

At a reception at the National Palace in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, following a ‘Dialogue on Agricultural Development in Ethiopia’ on 12 November 2009, Ethiopia’s president, H.E. Ato Girma Woldegiorgus, bestowed his country’s highest award for achievement on Prof Gebisa Ejeta, an Ethiopian-born sorghum breeder and recent World Food Prize Laureate. In response, Prof Ejeta announced that he will use his USD250,000 World Food Prize award to establish a foundation that will help meet the educational needs of Ethiopian and other African children and to establish an annual dialogue in honour of his friend and mentor, Dr Berhane Gebre-Kidan, formerly of Ethiopia’s Alemaya College of Agriculture.

At his Palace reception, Ejeta was visibly moved by his country’s honour.

‘To receive from my country the highest recognition any Ethiopian can receive is overwhelming,’ said Ejeta. ‘All other recognitions I have received I have taken on behalf of the causes I have served. But I am happy to take this particular recognition personally.’

Ejeta, a self-described ‘typical Ethiopian’, said he had spent his life working to serve three principles: humility, integrity and loyalty. ‘I have always tried to remain in check with myself, my own sense of purpose,’ he said. ‘You have to have some cause bigger than yourself. Mine has been to work in service of humanity and the poor.’

Ejeta said, ‘With the money I received from the World Food Prize, I am putting together a foundation. We will use this award money to help meet the educational needs of Ethiopia and other African children.’

He then went on to make a second announcement.

‘Dr Berhane Gebre-Kidan has served as a friend and mentor since I met him at my alma mater, the Alemaya College of Agriculture. I want to establish an annual dialogue, the “Berhane Gebre-Kidan Dialogue”. I cannot think of a better venue to make this announcement, honouring my mentor.’

The 2009 World Food Prize was presented to the Ethiopian-born plant scientist, now an American citizen conducting research at Purdue University, in ceremonies in Des Moines, Iowa, on 15 October 2009. The prize, which comes with a USD250,000 award, is given annually to people who have helped address the world’s food needs. This year’s prize honours Ejeta’s life-long work to improve the production of sorghum, one of the world’s most important grain crops. It also honours his efforts to make his discoveries matter to the farmers who need them the most.

Humility
Ejeta’s desire to help others is rooted in his own childhood poverty. He grew up in a one-room thatched hut in rural Ethiopia. His mother’s commitment to his education helped make him a standout. Poor as she was, she found a place for Ejeta to study, and a place to stay, in a town 20 kilometres away. Ejeta walked there. He studied there. He worked hard there. He excelled there.

Lowell Hardin, an emeritus professor at Purdue University who has known Ejeta for 25 years, says, ‘Because he grew up in very, very modest circumstances — a single mother in a remote village in Ethiopia — he knew poverty. He knew hunger. And when he was fortunate enough to get an education thanks to his mother’s pushing, he decided he was going to apply his talents in this direction.’

Integrity
Ejeta has spent his entire professional life in research to reduce threats to Africa’s food crops. He applied his talents to fighting a weed called Striga, or witchweed, which threatens crops that feed more than 100 million people across sub-Saharan Africa. Ejeta says the parasitic weed can ruin fields of sorghum, a major staple in hot, dry regions of Africa.

‘If you grow a crop susceptible to infection by the parasite,’ he says, ‘and if your soil is contaminated, you have no chance of growing a crop. And most of these soils are becoming contaminated.’

Researchers had tried for years to control the weed without much success. Its seeds can lie dormant in the soil for decades. But Ejeta and his team at Purdue University discovered the chemical signals produced by the sorghum plant that ‘wakes up’ the Striga seeds. They then found sorghum varieties that didn’t produce the signals, and bred a line of Striga-resistant plants that thrived in a broad range of African growing conditions. These new varieties produced up to four times more grain than local types, even in drought-plagued areas.

Loyalty
With this research breakthrough, Ejeta immediately set about ensuring that his disease- and drought-resistant varieties were made available to the African farmers who needed them most. Once the new variety was developed in 1994, he worked with non-profit groups to distribute eight tons of seed to twelve African nations.

Carrying research to the next level is typical of Gebisa Ejeta, who has always understood the importance of getting technology into the hands of African farmers. Just out of graduate school, he bred a high-yielding, drought-tolerant variety of sorghum. When the new hybrid variety was introduced in 1983, Ejeta worked with Sudanese farmers’ cooperatives to scale up production of his drought-resistant sorghum.

Today, Ejeta is working with local partners to connect brewers, bakers, and flour millers with farmers growing the improved sorghum. By working along the entire chain, from farmers’ seeds to consumers’ plates, his work is helping to lift people out of poverty—and providing a powerful weapon in the war on hunger.


Dialogue

The 12 November 2009 ‘Dialogue on Agricultural Development in Ethiopia’ was organized by the Ethiopian Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development in Ejeta’s honour. Supported by the International Livestock Research Institute and other organizations, the Dialogue was opened by H.E. Ato Girma Woldegiorgis, President of the Federal Republic of Ethiopia.

President Woldegiorgis called Ejeta ‘an Ethiopian champion whose prize is a commitment to others. Through much of our history, we have made scientific discoveries. With this recognition of Dr Gebisa, we reclaim that history.’

In his welcome address, H.E. Ato Teferra Derebew, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, noted how much the Ethiopian Government has emphasized agriculture in its development program and said, ‘Gebisa represents a new generation of agricultural researchers. The farming and pastoral societies of Ethiopia are grateful.’


Ejeta on Ethiopia’s challenges and opportunities

In his presentation, Prof Ejeta spoke about Ethiopia’s role in enhancing science-based development in Africa. Whereas most African governments have invested too little to create impact, he said, Ethiopia is an exception.

‘No other African country has committed more internal resources to agricultural development,’ Ejeta said. ‘I have grown positive about Africa lately. Ethiopia is at the cusp of a major agricultural revolution. Ethiopians are among the most resourceful people I know. They can focus and get it done.’

He extolled two great examples of technology transfer in Ethiopia: the Chilalo Agricultural Development Unit in 1970s and the work of Sasakawa Global 2000 in 1990s. ‘Neither,’ he said, ‘was sustained.’ Why not?

‘I am defined,’ Ejeta said, ‘by the modest background that I come from and the great education that I have received in both Ethiopia and the United States.’ In his experience, he said, both Alemaya College of Agriculture and Purdue University shared a ‘land grant university model’ that takes the results of research and delivers it to communities.

‘More buildings and more students don’t make a college,’ he warned. ‘The quality of education in Africa needs to be improved. We need to go back to the model we used 40–50 years ago. We need to get our colleges linked to outstanding universities overseas. The most significant mark that we can make is capacity strengthening.’

Among his worries, Ejeta said, were an uncoordinated national agricultural research framework and what he called the ‘seasonality and fragmentation of development efforts.’

‘For too long we have relied on external funding,’ he said. He warned of the tendency of non-governmental organizations to lobby for boosting social service spending and the susceptibility of donors to embracing paradigm shifts, from sustainable agriculture in the 1990s, for example, to today’s integrated value chain approach. Such frequently changing paradigms, he said, ‘have led to a series of failed starts and are partly responsible for our lack of traction on the ground in agricultural research for development.’

‘African science-led agricultural development needs to be country led,’ he said. ‘Our country programs must be front and centre, with international agricultural research institutes and non-governmental organizations working to support them.’

Ejeta advised the Ethiopian agricultural research-for-development community to ‘Loosen up, be open and take risks’ and to focus on three things: accelerating technological development, investing in institutions and pushing for policy and ownership.

Panel on climate change and African agriculture
Three other presentations on the achievements and future of Ethiopian agriculture and agricultural research were followed by a panel discussion. Several of the panel members spoke on the new challenges Ethiopian and African food producers face with climate change. Dr Mata Chipeta, working for the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in its Ethiopia sub-regional office, said, ‘Climate change is likely to worsen our food security problems. Climate change could become just the latest excuse for Africa not to be food sufficient. Last year’s fuel price hikes and then fertilizer, food and financial crises are all interlinked. Africa must become master in its own house. It must stop feeling entitled to free assistance. It must invest its own resources. Only then will we get a future that we drive.’

Dr Carlos Seré, director general of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), whose principal campuses are located in Ethiopia and Kenya, spoke of the need to enhance the capacity of societies to learn quickly and respond to climate and other changes. ‘I don’t think there is a trade-off between climate change and food security,’ Seré said. ‘Our agricultural and climate challenges have much in common. Agriculture has to be central to climate change discussions.’

The ILRI director general remarked on Ethiopia’s rare agricultural, biological, human and institutional diversity: ‘There will be a lot of variability in how the climate changes. Ethiopia has greatly diverse farming regions. It has great biodiversity. How can we use cutting edge science to understand that diversity and use it better? Lessons learned in one place may be valuable in another. We need to empower people at the local level to provide solutions. Science can quicken this work. The centres of the CGIAR have been working side by side with the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research and other institutions in this country. We stand ready to deepen our cooperation with the diversity of institutions in Ethiopia.’


Regular dialogue begins

Fittingly, the person whose remarks closed the Dialogue was Prof Ejeta’s mentor, Dr Berhane Gebre-Kidan, who had attended the October World Food Prize ceremony in Iowa, where he watched his protégé be honoured.

Recalling that Ejeta had attended Jimma Agricultural Technical University, Alemaya Agricultural University and then Purdue University, Gebre-Kidan said that each of these institutions shared the land grant philosophy, which combines education, research, and extension, all involved in the development of its local communities.

‘I wait for the day,’ Gebre-Kidan said, ‘when this triangle is recognized in each of our colleges of agriculture. We are recognized as a country unable to feed itself. We have to change that image. We have a world-class scientist in the person of Prof Gebisa Ejeta, which we can exploit. We need to establish a think tank that will think outside the box about Ethiopian agriculture. We need to institute a regular dialogue to move Ethiopian agriculture forward.’

It appears from Gebisa Ejeta’s announcement at Ethiopia’s National Palace that that ‘regular dialogue’ is about to begin.

Support for the Dialogue honouring Prof Ejeta was provided by the Ethiopian Government as well as the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, the Canadian International Development Agency, the International Development Research Centre (Canada), the International Livestock Research Institute, the Japanese International Cooperation Agency, OXFAM America, OXFAM Great Britain and the United States Agency for International Development.

For more information about the 12 November 2009 Dialogue in Addis Ababa, go to: www.ilri.org/ilrinews/index.php/archives/tag/dialogue

For more information about Prof Gebisa Ejeta, go to: World Food Prize Laureate.

Nov 062009
 

Gebisa Ejeta On 12 November 2009, Prof Gebisa Ejeta, winner of the 2009 World Food Prize, contributed to a ‘Dialogue on Agricultural Development in Ethiopia’.

Organized in his honor by the Ethiopian Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, the Dialogue was opened by H.E. Ato Girma Woldegiorgis, President of Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, with a welcome address from H.E. Ato Teferra Derebew, Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development.

The program included the following presentations.

  • ‘Enhancing Science-based Development in Africa: Where Does Ethiopia Stand? – Prof Gebisa Ejeta
  • ‘Achievements and Challenges in Ethiopian Agriculture’ – H.E. Dr. Abera Deresa, State Minister, Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development
  • ‘The Role of Agricultural Institutions of Higher Learning in Producing the Next Generation Agricultural Leaders in Ethiopia – Dr Solomon Assefa, Director General, Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research
  • ‘The Role of Agricultural Universities in Creating the Next Generation of Agricultural Leaders in Ethiopia’ – Prof Belay Kassa, President, Haramaya University

These presentations were followed by a panel discussion with contributions from H. E. Tumusiime Rhoda Peace (African Union Commission), Dr. Mata Chipeta (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations); Dr. Carlos Seré (International Livestock Research Institute); and Dr. Yilma Kebede (Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation).

The Dialogue closed with remarks by Dr. Connie Freeman (International Development Research Centre), Dr. Bashir Jama (Alliance for a Green Revolution for Africa), and Dr. Berhane Gebre Kidan.

Support for the Dialogue honouring Prof Ejeta was provided by the Ethiopian Government as well as the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, the Canadian International Development Agency, the International Development Research Centre (Canada), the International Livestock Research Institute, the Japanese International Cooperation Agency, OXFAM America, OXFAM Great Britain and the United States Agency for International Development.

For more information about Prof Gebisa Ejeta, this year’s World Food Prize Laureate, please go to: World Food Prize Laureate.

See presentations and photos from the dialogue.