Serbessa Urgessa is a young man who manages the Agricultural Knowledge Center (AKC) located at West Shoa Zone’s Office of Agriculture in Oromia Region. Established by the Livestock and Irrigation Value Chains (LIVES) project more than a year ago, this centre is one of the most active to-date. With the help and coordination of Serbessa, employees of the Office of Agriculture in the zone make use of the computers, internet, and reference materials and office space at the AKC to conduct meetings, discussion sessions and training workshops.
Serbessa has vast interest and skills in information technology and computers in general. His dedication to learn, serve, facilitate the use of the AKC and share what he knows with others is impressive. He supports his colleagues in editorial work, formatting reports, finding articles and resources on the internet, setting up email accounts and other computing skills that those who visit the centre need. On his own initiative, he has developed an easy-to-use reporting system for documenting the number of users of the AKC and the types of services used.
The centre in West Shoa is open Monday through Friday during regular working hours. Due to the limited number of computers connected to the internet, however, only up to 40 minutes are allowed per use per session, even though Office of Agriculture employees are allowed to access the internet there using their laptops.
In November 2014, the AKC hosted a basic business skills (BBS) training of trainers’ (TOT) workshop for the West Shoa Zone. Led by Dereje Legesse, a LIVES agri-business expert, the training, from November 19 – 23, 2014, was held to support business operators to actively participate in the development of gender responsive commodity value chains and to equip them with basic business principles. Key topics of the training included business plan preparation, cash flow analysis, loan appraisal techniques and marketing strategies.
Trainees were comprised of staff from partner organizations and business operators (zone and district level livestock/irrigation agency, micro and small enterprises office, cooperative promotion/marketing office, trade and investment offices and privates business owners). A total of 14 trainees, two of whom were women, attended this five-day workshop. To help the trainees further in BBS, Serbessa explained the importance of communication and the need to have personal email accounts. He raised three important benefits of having a personal email account:
- As part of business support services, it is crucial to communicate with partners and email is an efficient and cost-effective way of doing so
- Email enables business owners to grow their enterprises by using information resources from the internet
- Email enables business owners to advertise and market produce, share information with customers, distribute documents and receive messages, get feedback and responses from clients and partners
After explaining the benefits of communication, Serbessa offered to create email accounts for participants and explained about search engines. Out of the 14 participants, 11 had minimal skills in browsing and emailing. At the end of the session, all participants had personal email accounts, they knew how to compose, read and forward messages as well as how to download/upload files. Serbessa encouraged the participants to come to the AKC often and make use of the available services.
Being a knowledge intensive sector, agriculture requires up-to-date and relevant information resources that are context specific. The efforts of development professionals and businessmen/businesswomen could be more effective and efficient if supported with the required information and knowledge, which they can then pass on to producers and other value chain actors. Agricultural knowledge centres, which are a relatively new initiative in many of the offices of agriculture in Ethiopia, could contribute to improving access and availability of resources in the agriculture value chain. But in order for these centres to provide good services a knowledgeable and dedicated centre manager, such as Serbessa, plays an important role.
Written by Dereje Legesse (LIVES) with contributions from Serbessa Urgessa (AKC manager, West Shoa Zone).