By Mamusha Lemma, Beamlak Tesfaye, Zeleke Mekuriaw, Yigzaw Desalegn and Teshome Derso
Increasingly, many smallholder farmers in Ethiopia are adopting intensive livestock keeping practices in response to population growth and changing farming systems that have reduced sizes of farmlands.
In West Gojam Zone of Amhara Region, for example, smallholder farmers have embraced backyard dairy and cattle fattening activities as an important livestock business. But cattle fatteners there have difficulties accessing quality inputs and profitable markets. Most of the region’s smallholder cattle fatteners sell individual animals in nearby markets or to local traders in their villages. They lack relevant market information, which means they have generally low bargaining power when selling their animals.
The Livestock and Irrigation Value Chains for Ethiopian Smallholders (LIVES) project has piloted cattle fattening fairs in Amhara to help empower smallholder cattle fatteners by facilitating market linkages and providing them with the information they need to make informed market choices. In West Gojam Zone, these fairs have facilitated knowledge exchanges about improved cattle fattening practices, created linkages among input suppliers, farmers and livestock traders; and influenced policy actions to support and scale out cattle fattening value chains.
Organized and facilitated by LIVES and district offices of agriculture (Mecha and Yilmana Densa), the bureaus of agriculture, and trade, industry and market development; and the Livestock Resource Development Agency in Amhara, these fairs feature a competition for the best fattened animals.
Farmers with the ‘winning’ animals receive prizes after an evaluation by a panel of judges made up of experts from agricultural research, the livestock agency, traders and slaughterhouses. The animals are evaluated in terms of their body condition based on criteria agreed on by organizers and farmers in these events.
Farmers with the best animals then address participants and share lessons and experiences on animal selection, healthcare, housing, feeding and fattening practices. These events also bring together livestock traders and slaughterhouses to share information on market demands and quality standards. Traders and processors also give feedback to cattle fatteners on the condition of their animals. The fairs also create a positive competitive atmosphere among cattle fatteners.
Enyewu Getahun, a model cattle fattener at the Enamirt kebele, said he visited all cattle fatteners in Mecha District before attending the district cattle fair, which was held in 21 April 2016, to learn about their practices and judge where he stood compared to them. In the process, he created linkages with many other model cattle fatteners, which would not have happened without the fair. After learning about the practices of other cattle fatteners in the district, he was confident that he would win the competition. But since the cattle fattening fair also brings fatteners from other districts, he did not win. But he realized that he needs to do much more to improve his cattle fattening practices in order to raise his chance of winning in future.
After the fair, he decided to improve the design of his cattle shelter and expanded his fattening house. ‘I have found many more opportunities and connected with other cattle fatteners through this fair,’ said Enyewu. He has now become an ‘outfattener’ with linkages to other smallholder fatteners and buying fattened cattle for supply to processors in Addis Ababa.
The cattle fattening fairs have also influenced policy actions. For example, the Livestock Resource Development Agency has now committed to providing health services for model cattle fatteners in their farms. They no longer need to drive them to health service centres to access these services.
Additionally, the fairs, through engaging experts, traders and processors, have contributed to the development of cattle fattening standards for the market. As the cattle fatteners take part in the competitions, they learn about the need to improve their animal management practices and the farmer-to-farmer learning and competition to meet quality standards is also increasing demand for inputs and services.
As a result, the fairs have had wide-ranging effects as compared to training which has limited effects. This suggests that the public extension service should integrate such institutional innovations to create opportunities for men and women smallholder farmers to engage in livestock value chains. Overall, the experience of cattle fattening fairs shows how significant changes can be achieved in livestock value chain development by properly identifying key leverage points and solving critical challenges, such as market linkage facilitation.
But the opportunity to establish market linkages and exchange ideas should be the driving force for cattle fatteners and livestock traders to participate and finance such fairs. At the same time, organizers and stakeholders taking part in such events need to agree on and adopt quality standards. Such standards can inform the public extension service and empower cattle fatteners with the appropriate knowledge and skills in improved cattle fattening. Also, wider success of the initiative will require involvement of private sector actors, such as cattle fattening cooperatives, beef meat boards and association of abattoirs.
Editing by Paul Karaimu.