Not just technology dissemination: the multiple dimensions of scaling initiatives of Africa RISING in sustainable intensification

Written by Million Gebreyes, Kindu Mekonnen, Peter Thorne, Abera Adie

A word cloud of Africa RISING partners in Ethiopia (photo credit: authors).

The Africa RISING project in the Ethiopian highlands operates in four regions of Ethiopia. The project, in the first phase, focused more on action research and implemented interventions in four woredas (districts) – one woreda per region in the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples (SNNP), Oromia and Amhara regions. In the second phase, the project is giving attention to both action research and facilitating scaling of its validated technologies. The project has also broadened its operational area from four woredas to 28 by creating strong development partnerships.

The Africa RISING coordination team visited and held meetings with at least 18 local partners in SNNP, Oromia and Amhara on 16-17 January 2019, 11-16 March 2019 and 19-20 March 2019, respectively. The meetings evaluated the progress of current partnerships, identified the types of activities managed by the partners and established joint activities for the upcoming 2019 cropping season.

The blog describes how various Africa RISING technologies, action research approaches and scaling mechanisms are helping the project’s local partners. Their reflections show that scaling up of agricultural technologies includes more than just transferring new practices and approaches to farmers. Scaling partners are looking for and appreciate new knowledge on a wide range of issues relating to the overall approach of both technology generation and scaling. Scaling up technologies is a long-term process, which should start early in the technology generation stage and be adapted and revitalized along the way as contexts change.

Discussion with Africa RISING partners from Debre Birhan University in Debre Birhan town, Amhara regionDiscussions with Africa RISING partners from Debre Birhan University (photo credit: Temesgnen Alene/ILRI).

Key lessons and observations from the meetings on how Africa RISING research and scaling activities are benefiting local partners in Ethiopia include:

Improving access to validated technologies: The Africa RISING action research validates technologies through participatory variety trials. Participatory trials of crop and livestock feed and forage technologies have given extension service providers access to technologies that work in their areas. 

‘Africa RISING has helped in solving some of our extension problems. Many of the technologies we previously introduced to farmers would fail. But because the program shares technologies that are validated in our areas, these failures have reduced,’ said an expert from the Lemo District Extension Office.

An expert from the Basona Werena Districts Extension Office said that ‘the project has introduced new technologies to them such as faba bean and durum wheat varieties’, thereby addressing their limitations in accessing new technologies to share with farmers.

Responding to the needs of farmers and local communities: The action research and multi-stakeholder engagements embedded in Africa RISING’s work have given local research partners a model for a policy-relevant and community service-focused approaches to research. These have, in particular, benefitted the program’s research and university partners. 

‘This project’s goals are in line with government efforts of scaling up best practices in agriculture. Hence, we are interested to work with Africa RISING. I am happy that the project went beyond the validation stage and is now scaling up the tested technologies,’ said a researcher from the Areka Research Centre, in the SNNP region.

‘Higher education institutions are expected to deliver knowledge and technologies to our communities. The partnership with Africa RISING is helping universities meet this target’, said an instructor from Mada Walabu University.

Creating working models for coordinating research, extension and farmers: The partners praised the use of participatory variety trials and the innovation platform (IP) approach as examples of how to close the gap between research and extension and generate and disseminate technologies that are accepted by farmers.

‘Our work with Africa RISING is different because we work closely with farmers and our extension personnel. As a result, farmers see Africa RISING’s work as their own. They understand the technologies well and have confidence in applying the validated technologies. I have seen farmers talking about validated technologies as if they were researchers. Our development agents also understand Africa RISING approaches and they can easily expand its work,’ said an expert from the Sinana District Extension Office.

‘Africa RISING is a small project if you look at its budget and the volume of work. But the impact of the approaches it uses is huge. For example, the innovation platforms are helping us coordinate the work of researchers, extension officers and end users of technologies,’ said an expert from the North Showa Zone Extension Office.

‘Also, the innovation platforms are helping in making sure that the knowledge generated gets buy-in from various stakeholders,’ added an expert from the Bale Zone Agriculture and Natural Resource Management Office.

Creating new networks and partnerships: Our partners also appreciate the networks and partnerships opportunities created by the various Africa RISING initiatives, which have helped them promote their work widely.

‘Generally, our partnership with Africa RISING is linking us with many more people helping us better promote what we do. For example, a student attached to our organization through the project has helped us to document the carbon sequestration potential of our landscapes, which has given much needed evidence for promoting our work,’ said an expert from Inter-Aid.

This feedback from partners indicates that scaling is not just a mechanical technology dissemination process but an organic process in which partners get access not only to technologies for scaling up but also to opportunities for learning how to do scalable action research, coordinate actions for scaling up and create networks to strengthen partnerships.