East Africa / Ethiopia

Reflections from LIVES baseline survey July – September, 2012: Impressions and lessons

By LIVES baseline team

Meta Robi landscape, Oromia, Ethiopia

Metarobi district/ ILRI/ Fanos Mekonnen

Livestock and Irrigated Value chains for Ethiopian Smallholders (LIVES) project funded by the Canadian International Development aid and implemented by International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and International Water Management Institute (IWMI), undertook its project baseline survey from July-September 2012. Baseline data was collected from 194 sample peasant associations (PAs) in the 30 project districts in the four regions: Amhara, Oromia, SNNP and Tigray. Furthermore Data on value chain actors at district, zonal and regional level was collected. LIVES regional teams (Amhara, Oromia, SNNP, Tigray) along with regional, zonal and district partners (eg. Regional research, zonal and district office of Agriculture…) involved in the process. During this period, the regional teams experienced so much, learned so much and came close with reality and the beauty of rural Ethiopia. The team (some) also faced life threating moments in the floods and river overflows of the very peak rainy season (see video). All team members were armed with a 13 pages project baseline data collection format, which was prepared and debated upon at the HQ prior to the actual survey. This became handy in most of the cases, and made our data collection structured. Now, here we are with our reflections from the many moments on the field and our lessons in the 4 regions, 10 zones, 30 districts and 194 PAs. We believe this is learning for our future endeavors

1.      Empower experts and development agents (DAs) and LEARN from them

Experts and development agents took the lead in facilitating the focus group discussions and data collection at PA level. Prior to the actual work experts in all districts (one from livestock and one from crop departments) were trained for the survey questions; they were asked to comment on the feasibility and accessibility of such information. Afterwards development agents were briefed by these experts (in the presence of the LIVES team) for the PA level data collection. Experts have a full picture of the area and the ways to validate/extrapolate data, e.g. getting the annual average number of eggs from households by calculating the average number of hens a household owns, the length of brooding, and the number of eggs laid in each laying cycle; calculating area coverage of fruit trees and vegetables by multiplying average area required per fruit tree by number of trees…

2.      Observe your surrounding

The best way to estimate household assets, especially livestock, is just by looking at the number of cattle, sheep and other animals grazing in the open pasture land. Apparently animals of a household graze in their own little group and don’t mix up with others (unless they are heading home or getting water). This makes it easier for an observer to have a sense of the livestock ownership in the area.

3.      Respect culture, hierarchy and authority

Recognizing and respecting culture and authority (if it’s there) could be to your advantage in cases like this. If so, respect it VERY well!!! We followed this strategy at all steps of the LIVES baseline data collection. Consulting with the officials and letting the authorities at the PAs take the responsibility of making arrangements for the focus group discussion; respecting religious and cultural practices and moving accordingly… This made things easier for us. We were welcomed positively(less suspiciously) by the farmers and in many cases willingness to provide the required information was extraordinary.

4.      Inspire farmers and be open to them

We all love being inspired. So why not create interest and excitement to the focus group members?. How we did it?  We explained our prior experiences in IPMS.  Told success stories of farmers who worked with IPMS, and how the work was facilitated by regional partners and bureaus of agriculture. Then we clearly communicated that LIVES is here to give Knowledge and not aid. That LIVES is hereempower them so that they continue climbing up their success ladder, long after LIVES has moved on. Making clear of our objective, our purpose and what the project is planning to do facilitated trust building, which is a vital step in development work. Kettema Yilma writes his focus group discussions as “though our encounter was brief we have found the people in most cases receptive and quiet willing to share their knowledge and information. Apart from district office of agriculture, in most cases they never have much encounter with any development or research organization be it NGO or government. They have never been tainted by external support, handouts and most are willing to collaborate without any reward up front.” and this was the situation in almost all of the PAs the LIVES team visited.

5.      Break it into pieces

Anticipated district level data by household and ownership (male headed, female headed, livestock, fruits and vegetables) for the LIVES baseline data was non-existent in 95% of the selected districts. Not because the districts are unique or anything, but simply because there is no such data management system. The questionnaire test (pre-test) done by the Amhara team in early July helped to solve this condition. The easiest way to get gender disaggregated household data at PA level was by organizing farmer group discussions at sub-PA (Gote/Zone) or even further sub-sub-PA level(development group/Gere) and then merge the data to get a PA level information. This is not only accurate and reliable but informative and educational for all parties involved.  Of course, here, way of approaching farmers influences the quality of data one gets. Here is where no.4 becomes handy!

6.      Energize and refresh

Focus group discussions are by nature time-consuming and can prove tiresome. Hours may elapse discussing only on one commodity, and you still have four or five other commodities in line. Keeping the attention sharp and the discussion productive is a major task of the facilitator. This is a real challenge, especially when you have to do it through a translator. Here is where energizers and refreshments (jokes, questions on the history/tradition of the area, games, refreshments (Ethiopian coffee, honey with bread)) come very handy.  An Ethiopian coffee ceremony with ‘kolo’ as a snack, tipped by Ketema Yilma of IPMS, proved to be a real refreshment tool in our farmer group discussions. The aroma of fresh coffee being roasted kept us all alert, even the non-coffee drinker ones!! There were also many occasions when our little snacks were put aside and replaced by a feast from the farmers’ house  that shows their respect and expectations to be partners of LIVES.

7.      Means of communication in districts and PAs

In the PAs of LIVES project areas, mobile phones are THE means of communication. Beeps and rings every now and then were familiar background sounds during our focus group discussions. Mobile charging service on market days is a major income for small kiosks around market areas in the small rural towns. Every farmer gets a small card with his expand »mobile number before s/he’s off shopping. When s/he comes back after couple of hours, his/her phone awaits fully charged – hopefully until the following week. Mobile phones prove to be potential tools for knowledge sharing.

8.       Data/Information management 

Data/Information management remains a big gap in the extension offices. Development agents and experts have so much information (but not always in our format: gender disaggregated, commodity specific, etc) to deal with at hand that they have no clue as to how best to organize and make use of the information. Subsequent data mismanagement often implies that the data you want takes two three weeks. On top of that, what you get today and tomorrow for the same character could be like night and day. This is no surprise to experts, who have little power to act on the faulty data and get the real one.

Farmer Training Centers (FTCs) are everywhere. At times we saw more FTCs than residence houses. However there isn’t much to see in the FTCs except benches and some figures and graphs on one part of the walls. How could LIVES use these facilities best? How can we use mobile phones to facilitate our intervention? And how can we possibly contribute to provision of better and reliable data and information management in these areas???

The LIVES baseline survey has given us [the team from far and near] a clearer picture of what’s out there. We saw the opportunities we can build upon. To mention some:

  • The local chicken egg production is on the higher side compared to the national average. Yet there is huge demand for exotic breeds assumed but not conformed to lay miracle number of eggs. Yet there is not a single input shop in the three woredas and the effort of trying to introduce the hay box brooder (copying from Dale) was disastrous. LIVES could contribute a lot in poultry production and marketing; however, need to choose which way to go for type of birds: Local improved/traditional vis a vis commercial or the combination of both! I cannot wait to see!
  • Prior interventions in fruit tree seedling provision by the government and NGOs along with the sensitization trainings provides LIVES a good entry point in it fruits value chain development
  • Possibility to promote improved production systems in beekeeping, fruits and vegetables in places with high potential, but little intervention
  • Existence of high market demand and good infrastructure for fruits, vegetables and dairy products
  • “Miracle cabbage” as Kettem calls it, is commonly known as Gurage Gomen, which is a major source of food and cash generation for households throughout Southern Ethiopia. Almost every house hold grows it throughout Sidama highlands and could be produced in rain fed and irrigation. This could be a potential for LIVES to consider.
  • PAs nearby district administrative towns are the ones with the highest potential (market, infrastructure, services…) but neglected by development programs/projects. These could be a potential areas of intervention in LIVES
  • Private AI technicians at zonal level (Gonder) is emerging some at farm level (Tewledere) are other opportunities for LIVES to look upon
  • There is a great expectation from LIVES by farmers, experts, decision makers… at all levels institutionally and individually. So much hope from everywhere mainly because in many of the sites(with the exception of some places in East Shoa) R&D projects are few/none.  Some have even reserved and office space for LIVES (zonal office of agriculture Adama)
  • There are well trained and experienced staff at Zonal level who can support our work
  • In many of the selected LIVES districts (in all regions), there aren’t many NGOs/ other big programs. This gives a room for LIVES to easily see /monitor its impact in the area
Sheep fateening, Sidama, Southern Nations, Nationalities, and People's Region, Ethiopia

Sheep Fattening in Sidamma. ILRI/ Kettema Yilma

And, we had a glimpse of challenges we need to face in order to come out as winners at the end of the four and half years. To mention some;

    • Though effort was made to rank PAs as (not) potential for LIVES commodities based on criteria (market access, infrastructure, services and farmer knowledge) during the project implementation plan assessment, some PAs, when visited, proved to have not much potential. Eg.  A PA with a rugged terrain, no road access and no pumps is ranked potential for irrigation; or a PA that is deep in a gorge, 3 hours walking to the nearest market is ranked potential for beekeeping
  • There wasn’t an easy mechanism to quantify value chain actors, especially retailers and assemblers at each level. The newly organized trade and market agency have little information; many retailers, assemblers and processors for livestock (sheep, goat, chicken egg, vegetables…) are non-registered and seasonal. Figures put to quantify these actors was very much dependent of human estimation, and thus  difficult to take as a baseline for impact measurement
  • The Livestock agency offices at regions, zones and district are too autonomous than imagined. They need us to recognize that and act accordingly.  LIVES should device a mechanism to   address both (bureau of agriculture and livestock agency) separately.
  • Survey in dry season; is convenient for all: farmers (less work) development practitioners (reduces travel time of the unpracticed body of researchers, and risk of being washed away by running water).
  • Qualitative data validate quantitative data.   Would be nice to coin something that captures those in baseline surveys, though it’s difficult to make it in detail
  • Environmental issues eg. Drying of lakes used for irrigation, damping of chemicals in the lakes and the consequences on the environment (in eas shoa zone), land degradation (in Jimma zone)… could be challenges (hidden opportunities) for LIVES to take note.
  • In some of the zones/districts (eg. East shoa, eastern zone of Tigray), focus group discussants expected remuneration for time spent in the discussion, but was resolved through consensus (it wasn’t always easy though!)
  • ‘Beles/ Agame’, a popular fruit in the whole of Tigray, though not as such popular outside of Tigray, could be potential commodity for LIVES to engage in as there are many farmer involved in the production and marketing of the fruit in the eastern zone of Tigray
Sheep market, Ējērē (Ejere), East Shewa, Oromiya, Ethiopia

Sheep marketing Ejere. ILRI/ Fanos Mekonnen

Finally, hopefully, these observations of the LIVES-baseline team could somehow indicate some features to look at closely, or give a general overview of what is out there in the institutions and organizations that we plan to contribute something in the next coming years.

Pictures and videos from the baseline (different teams), Video… are on the IPMSSERV

Pictures \\IPMSSERV\Project Files\LIVES\Picture

Video \\Ipmsserv\users\All Users\Kahsay

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