by Mamusha Lemma
Throughout its activities in Ethiopia, the Livestock and Irrigation Value Chains for Ethiopian Smallholders (LIVES) project has used participatory processes to design capacity development interventions that assess the knowledge and skills gaps in value chain actors and service providers.
Implemented through training, coaching and mentoring, study tours, and self-learning materials, among other strategies, these interventions have been characterized by experimenting with different capacity development approaches in different regions based on local needs.
Collective exploration and lessons from these tests have helped refine further and articulate more clearly the best capacity development approaches. ToT training, mixed group training, couples training, study tours, and coaching and mentoring have emerged as the most effective ways of developing the knowledge and skills of value chain actors and service providers.
Some of the project’s findings have corrected previous assumptions including the expectation that coaching and mentoring would be conducted only after training activities to support knowledge and skills application. In some areas, study tours followed by coaching and mentoring, or coaching and mentoring alone, have been sufficient in transferring knowledge and skills. For example, when improved livestock or irrigated crops management practices were first introduced to intervention households, a study tour followed by coaching and mentoring was effective in transferring knowledge and skills. In North Gonder Zone in 2014 coaching and mentoring was used to introduce banana farming before producers were trained to develop specific knowledge and skills.
In many LIVES project sites, study tours have been demonstrated to be an effective entry point (compared to starting with training) for motivating producers to adopt improved practices by giving them exposure and practical experiences about new production methods. At the same time, combining training sessions with study tours or field demonstrations has enhanced learning by allowing reflection on field experiences during classroom sessions and by providing ‘authentic’ learning contexts.
The project has also used mixed-group training approaches where development agents and agricultural experts are trained with men and women producers (including husbands and wives) in practical issues of livestock and irrigation value chain interventions across all value chain areas. This mixed training has fostered better interaction among producers and development agents leading to improved understanding and collaboration, and joint commitments to apply new knowledge and skills. This approach has also improved follow-up of producers by development agents and created social pressure on both the development agents and producers to apply what they learn.
Couples training and household coaching and mentoring have proved effective in increasing women’s access to training, knowledge of technical information and knowledge sharing in households leading to informed and collective decision-making, and better mobilization of family labor to adopt improved production practices.
Experiences from LIVES have also shown that focusing interventions on a few selected market-oriented producers and businesses (rather than focusing on all producers) to demonstrate successful value chain enterprises is more effective in influencing other producers and businesses within and beyond project areas and the public extension system at large.
As a result of these LIVES capacity development activities, 7174 (20% female-headed) intervention households have adopted a number of improved livestock and irrigation value chain practices, which has had in turn influenced other producers. A number of input and service providers such as grafted fruit seedling producers, livestock feed suppliers and motor pump repair and maintenance service providers have started to provide input and services to intervention and domain households. For example, in poultry and dairy value chains, intervention households were able to improve their dairy management practices, such as dairy and poultry housing, cleaning of barns, conservation of locally available feed resources, and feeding and watering practices. Improved housing and feeding of livestock were commonly observed applied improvements. Women who have received training and coaching support were also more involved in day-old chicks and pullet production, milk processing and butter selling, harvesting and processing of forage crops, and feeding and watering of animals, leading to increased quantity and quality of milk production.
The use of these experimental approaches has shown different ways of enabling and enhancing learning through experience, which increases the chances for value chain actors readily applying new skills and knowledge in their activities. They have also enabled better targeting of training sessions to respond to specific needs and allowed the use of action planning as the basis for providing coaching and mentoring support. The need to make coaching and mentoring a continuous process of learning engagement focusing not only on production issues but also on organization and linkage between value chain actors has also been demonstrated.
In many project sites, there are examples of uptake of successful interventions by the public extension service, such as the promotion of successful interventions in field days, purchase of inputs such as grafted fruit seedlings from intervention households, incorporating project lessons in planning processes, and use of successful intervention households and input suppliers as demonstration and learning farms. Working with the project, public sector partners have learned that practical knowledge and skills development, practical demonstration of technologies, and regular technical and linkage facilitation support are key to develop the capacity of producers and DAs and to establish trusting relationships between them.
While scaling out of some of the successfully demonstrated interventions has already taken root to a certain extent, continued capacity development support will remain critical to further expand the capacity of the public extension sector and other mandated institutions.
Finally, the experimental approach of using different capacity development approaches has had both advantages and disadvantages. One benefit is that this approach has allowed spontaneous testing of approaches and methods without having specific design principles and elements. Through experimentation and process learning, certain training approaches have been refined and defined as LIVES capacity development approaches. But this approach also has had limitations including lack of consistency and uniformity in application, making it difficult to gather comparative data on training performance and effectiveness of capacity development approaches across regions.