Advancing Conservation, Agriculture and Livelihoods in Oromia

Despite their significance for biodiversity conservation, local livelihoods and the national economy, southwest Ethiopia’s forest and wild coffee areas face threats from deforestation, forest degradation, biodiversity loss and climate change. Among those forest areas that face such danger is the Belete-Gera Forest, which covers 150,000 hectares, which is part of Ethiopia’s highland rainforest and a high priority protected forest area. Belete-Gera forest represents two adjacent forest blocks in two woredas in Jimma zone and stretches over 44 kebeles (lowest government administrative units). The Belete-Gera forest lost 40% of its cover between 1985 and 2010. Population growth in and around the Belete-Gera forest; market forces, particularly for export commodities such as coffee; lack of land use policy and planning; and lack of land tenure security, have put pressure on forest resources. Trees are being cut to increase the amount of arable land for cash crop production. Fuelwood is the sole source of energy for cooking, heating and lighting. Large numbers of cattle are grazing in the forest, trampling undergrowth and eating vegetation.

Digital Green, with the financial support from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation and in collaboration with Environment and Coffee Forest Forum (ECFF), is implementing the Advancing Conservation, Agriculture and Livelihoods in Oromia project. The project will reach 42,000 smallholder farmers, women and youth with the goal of reducing deforestation, forest degradation and biodiversity loss, while improving livelihoods of the forest-dependent smallholder farmers in the two target woredas of the Belete Gera forest landscape.

Digital Green and ECFF will work closely with institutions responsible for agricultural extension as well as forest development, protection and regulation, including the Woreda Agriculture and Natural Resource Management offices, Farmers Union Associations, Woreda Forest and Wildlife Enterprise offices, and the Woreda Women’s Affairs offices.

The project will employ Digital Green’s community video approach to foster adoption of practices that sustainably improve land and water productivity and reduce pressure on forest resources while improving livelihoods. Using a participatory forest management approach, the project will also build the capacity of government institutions and community members to protect forests and restore degraded land in their communities. The project will promote the sustainable harvest and sale of non-timber forest products, particularly honey, spices and coffee. The project will facilitate the formation of 40 women’s self-help groups to address women’s disproportionately low levels of access to extension services, and cultural factors that limit women’s participation in traditional farmer’s groups in the Jimma zone.

The Advancing Conservation, Agriculture and Livelihoods in Oromia project builds from the lessons of a previous project also implemented with the generous support from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation. The predecessor project, Integrating Natural Resource Management into Agricultural Extension Services in Ethiopia, worked in 15 woredas in the Oromia and Tigray Regions in Ethiopia to increase smallholder farmers’ adoptions of natural resource management practices. A total of 44,206 farmer households were reached, exceeding our target by 17%.

Laying the Foundation of a National County Forum in Guinea

On December 10, 2020, the Feed the Future Developing Local Extension Capacity (DLEC), the African Forum for Agricultural Advisory Services (AFAAS), and the West and Central Africa Network of Agricultural and Rural Advisory Services (RESCAR-AOC) organized a webinar on enhancing professionalization and partnerships in agricultural extension in West and Central Africa. This webinar, attended by 60 people, served two purposes: (1) to share findings and recommendations from a recently completed DLEC report on strengthening professionalization and partnerships in Guinea; and (2) to introduce the concept of a country forum to stakeholders in Guinea and the region. The webinar recording is available here.

Dr. Amadou Ndiaye, from RESCAR-AOC, provided opening remarks highlighting the importance of partnership and professionalization of agricultural extension. Dr. Kristin Davis, DLEC Co-Director, presented on pluralistic extension systems and lessons from DLEC’s work.  Next, Dr. Patrice Djamen, DLEC consultant, and Mr. Laye Sacko from the Guinean National Agency for Rural Promotion and Agricultural Advisory Services (ANPROCA), presented the findings and recommendations of the report, Strengthening Partnerships and Professionalization in Agricultural Extension in Guinea, which is available in English and French. Key recommendations include:

  • Strengthen the capacities of extension and advisory services (EAS) providers via a national capacity strengthening plan, training on managing partnerships, and improving communications between EAS providers
  • Improve the accessibility of information on EAS stakeholders and opportunities. An interactive platform should be set up for information sharing and knowledge management on stakeholders and EAS in Guinea.
  • Establish frameworks for consultation and exchanges. A national agricultural advisory forum, or country dforum, should be created to serve as an inclusive platform for the EAS actors to coordinate, exchange information, and explore opportunities.
  • Develop inclusive regulatory instruments such as a code of ethics, norms and standards, and others.
  • Update and enrich the training curricula for EAS providers to reduce the gap between current EAS and the new vision of professional EAS in Guinea.
  • Strengthen the awareness and capacities of EAS providers be strengthened for efficient and sustainable harnessing of the potential of ICTs.

After that, Mr. Max Olupot, partnership specialist for AFAAS, and Dr. Samson Eshetu, institutional capacity specialist for AFAAS, provided an overview of AFAAS, explained the role of a country forum vis-à-vis the regional and global forums for agricultural extension and how these work together, and described success factors for a country forum. A country forum is an inclusive platform or community of practice for different actors to coordinate, exchange information and knowledge and identify service delivery opportunities. It is also used to advocate for better investment in EAS and to develop relationships between national stakeholders and other continental and international initiatives.

Next, the moderator, Mr. Andri Rasoanindrainy led a moderated Q&A to explore the issues raised during the presentation in more depth. Dr. Aly Conde, Director General of ANPROCA, provided closing remarks summarizing key learnings from the webinar.

DLEC is setting the foundation of a national EAS country forum in Guinea, including hosting learning events such as this webinar, continue socializing the country forum concept to relevant stakeholders in Guinea, and holding participatory discussions on the mandate of the forum, its structure, and how to make it inclusive and sustainable. DLEC will work with RESCAR-AOC to continue supporting this nascent country forum.  We hope that this work has lasting influence in Guinea’s agricultural extension ecosystem and ultimately helps farmers receive pluralistic, timely, and robust agricultural extension services.

Future of Food Systems? Platform for Digital Food and Agriculture

You may identify with this… On one of my first trips to a village in rural India, children would congregate in front of my camera, folks would peer into the few homes that had a television set, and a large line gathered in front of the village’s only payphone.

In less than a decade, smartphones that pack in-built cameras and social media apps have taken over much of those functions and costs have plummeted. The mobile revolution across Africa and South Asia is well known and accelerated by the pandemic, India now has more rural Internet users than urban.

But, there remain significant inequities. A recent study in Nature Sustainability found more than 75% of farms that were bigger than 200 ha had high-speed, 3G, or 4G connectivity but less than 30% of farmers with less than 1 ha did. Farms with the lowest yields and where farmers face the most climate-related shocks and food insecurity have even less digital connectivity.

Data has the power of connecting the dots to maximize our collective impact. Just like roads and electricity, data can serve as infrastructure to catalyze the next generation of agri-tech innovations.

Asia’s Green Revolution powered increases in rice and wheat yield through agricultural technologies like improved seeds and fertilizers and was most successful in irrigated areas. Digital technologies need to be contextualized to land on similarly fertile soil too.

Read this expert panel report of the Cornell Atkinson Sustainability Centre and Nature Sustainability on bundling socio-technical innovations for transforming agri-food systems.

The so-called developed and developing world divide won’t be closed by technology alone.  Physical infrastructure, human capital, political institutions, and finance are necessary foundations for the gains that technology can provide.

We need to go beyond seeing digital technologies as a silver bullet. Don’t get me wrong: the cornucopia of opportunities from artificial intelligence to blockchain to IoT is exciting and is quickly transforming agriculture into a knowledge-driven industry. But, transformative innovation necessarily involves bundling (i) scientific and engineering advances, with(ii) public policies, and (iii) private interventions. The opportunity we have is to align traditional agricultural research, business, and policymakers with the explosion of new agri-tech startups, venture capitalists, and telecom & cloud service providers.

No single organization has authority or control over even a significant part of the agri-food system, much less the whole. Rather, agri-food systems are highly decentralized and are likely to deconcentrate further as countries seek to boost the resilience of their national food security in the post-Covid era.  We also need to be wary of the inequities that technology can exacerbate, particularly when powerful interests capture its value & its data for themselves.

That’s what government and the broader agricultural sector now need to do: to flip agri-tech solutions that are developed from the top-down and where data is extracted from farmers today and instead empower farmers to control and share their own data in a unified way on their own terms.

To share an example, at Digital Green, we work with the Government of Ethiopia to use peer-to-peer videos by and for farmers to share best practices. As we do so, public extension agents collect data on what videos individual farmers watch and what practices they apply to their farms.

We have linked that data with a farmer hotline so that a farmer can listen to the same advice they watched during video screenings on their phones, but that was only made possible because of the partnerships that we established among ourselves. What if farmers themselves were able to access their own data that had been collected and decided who they wanted to share that with.

As the agricultural and telecom sectors continue to liberalize and expand, we’re co-creating an open-source platform, a digital FarmStack, to serve as the rails for countless applications across the value-chain that we cannot imagine from a growing ecosystem of government, NGO, tech, and agribusiness — and be inclusive of those big and just starting up. I’m personally most looking forward to seeing the ideas that farmers themselves come up with as they gain greater agency.

This platform can serve as an open architecture to codify governance policies and interoperability data standards that provides the necessary safeguards to protect the interests of farmers and the organizations that work with them. This will enable a wide variety of systems to talk to one another and seamlessly coordinate.

As Bill Gates once remarked, “a platform is when the economic value of everybody that uses it exceeds the value of the company that creates it.”

Even as much will inevitably change, we know that there are some things that will remain the same.  Farmers — especially those most marginalized like women and youth — will undoubtedly want to earn more for their harvests and consumers will want more nutritious food that is more affordable and accessible.  Enabling their aspirations — even when they oppose one another — will remain our benchmark of success.