Celebrating the Strength of Cooperatives: The Transformation of Gonde Cooperative in Ethiopia

As we celebrate International Cooperative Day (July 1st), we’re reminded of the essential role cooperatives play in fostering sustainable development, ensuring food security, and empowering communities. Cooperatives help farmers pool resources, share crucial farming knowledge, and access broader markets, which drives economic growth and improves their lives.

At Digital Green, we work with many types of cooperatives, including the Gonde cooperative in Ethiopia. Located in Assela, Oromia, the Gonde Cooperative plays a dual role: purchasing grains directly from farmers at fair prices and supplying them with fertilizers and other inputs at competitive rates. This setup not only supports the farmers’ production efforts but also stabilizes their finances.

Before our intervention, the Gonde Cooperative was struggling. They faced challenges such as outdated member information, financial difficulties, and governance issues. A 2021 audit even marked the cooperative as bankrupt, with a deficit of 25,595.06 Birr. Recognizing the potential impact of revitalizing this cooperative, we stepped in with substantial support. Abdella Rabo, the Finance Head of Gonde Cooperation, highlighted the impact, saying: “The support we received from Digital Green, including materials, training, and financial assistance has helped us rebuild our cooperation and embrace technology.”

With an injection of 1 million birr from Digital Green, the cooperative diversified into grain trading and began supplying agrochemicals and other consumable goods. We funded essential positions like a cooperative manager and a storekeeper and supported the cooperative with new technology like a laptop and printer to streamline their operations. Moreover, extensive training in cooperative management and financial literacy was provided to both the board members and staff.

The turnaround has been remarkable. The cooperative has updated its member profiles, attracting 381 new members and an additional 38,100 Birr in capital. Financially, it’s now thriving with a recorded net profit of 110,686 Birr and has secured an additional 800,000 Birr loan. Governance has also seen significant improvements, with the election of new board members, including women, which has enhanced operational efficiency.

Looking ahead, we see the cooperative model as a beacon of hope and resilience and we plan to assist existing Women Self-Help Groups transition into formal cooperatives. This change will provide these groups with government recognition, access to more resources, and increased support for their farmer members. 

On this International Day of Cooperatives, we applaud the achievements of the Gonde Cooperative and all similar entities playing a vital role in agricultural development. We remain committed to nurturing cooperatives, equipping them with the necessary resources and training to empower farmers and strengthen communities. Let’s continue to support and celebrate the invaluable contributions of cooperatives toward a sustainable and prosperous future.

Embracing AI: A Leap Towards Enhanced Productivity and Skill Development at Digital Green

At Digital Green, we believe in the power of generative Artificial Intelligence (AI) for agricultural extension to transform the lives of the farmers we work with. Now, we are harnessing that same transformative power of AI to reshape our work dynamics and enhance productivity. By integrating AI into daily tasks, key deliverables, and organizational systems, we aim to boost individual and organizational performance, helping us be more competitive and innovative. Additionally, incorporating AI into staff learning programs can improve job satisfaction and retention, though we recognize that it is essential to collectively manage risks such as legal liabilities and data protection to safeguard the organization.

Our recent all-staff survey provides an insightful glimpse into how our team is integrating AI into their daily tasks and the broad enthusiasm for further AI-related upskilling. To better outline and understand the role and impacts of GenAI in our workplace, we’ve established an AI Upskilling Working Group, a diverse staff-led task force that seeks to: 1) assess and track AI adoption and opportunities internally; 2) provide accessible AI education sessions and resources to all staff; and 3) promote the responsible use of AI tools in our workplace.

How We Gathered Insights

Digital Green conducted a comprehensive survey targeting all staff members across various departments to understand the integration and impact of AI within our operations. The survey was designed to gather both quantitative and qualitative data, offering insights into how often AI tools are utilized, the types of tasks they are employed for, and staff perceptions regarding the benefits and challenges associated with these tools. It consisted of multiple-choice questions to quantify usage and satisfaction levels, as well as open-ended questions to capture detailed comments and suggestions. 

The survey was distributed through our internal communication platforms, ensuring easy access and a high participation rate of 70%, which further enhanced the reliability of our findings. This methodological approach allowed us to not only measure the current state of AI adoption but also to identify specific areas where additional support and training are needed. 

High AI Utilization and Optimistic Outlook

Results showed that 77% of our respondents already incorporate AI tools into their roles, reflecting a high rate of AI utilization across the organization.  Adoption is matched by a strong belief in the positive impact of AI on work productivity, with 63% of respondents acknowledging enhanced work performance due to AI tools. 

AI tools have become integral in various tasks such as document drafting, brainstorming, and research, with significant usage noted in technical tasks like data analysis and forecasting. These tools not only streamline processes but also foster a culture of innovation and continuous learning.

While the adoption rates are high, our survey also highlighted some areas of concern. Over half of the respondents expressed a lack of understanding about the risks associated with using AI tools, indicating a need for comprehensive training and guidelines. There is also a concern among 23% of the respondents about keeping pace with rapid AI integration, which could lead to disparities in skill levels and job security.

To address these concerns, Digital Green is committed to providing equitable access to AI technologies and upskilling opportunities. Our AI Upskilling Working Group is at the forefront of this initiative, promoting responsible and safe use of AI, organizing AI Bot Camps (our internal AI training initiative) and other learning series to ensure that all staff, regardless of their geographical location or initial skill level, can benefit from AI advancements.

Looking Ahead

Digital Green plans to sustain its focus on responsibly integrating AI into our operations. This will involve continuous upskilling, measurement of learning impacts, and the development of policies that ensure safe and effective AI use in all of our workstreams that prioritize data privacy and security for ourselves and everyone we work with. By fostering an environment that encourages peer-to-peer knowledge-sharing and skill development, we aim to bridge the existing skill gaps and propel our team towards higher levels of innovation and efficiency.

Although our journey is just beginning, we are on a path to transforming our workplace into a more dynamic and inclusive environment. By embracing AI, we are not just enhancing our current capabilities but are also setting the stage for future innovations that align with our mission of boosting the effectiveness of agricultural extension and helping farmers increase their productivity and incomes.

Embracing Climate-Smart Farming in Ethiopia

Digital Green has been working to improve farming advice through videos, focusing on climate-smart agriculture (CSA) in Gumer woreda, Ethiopia. This pilot project aims to educate farmers about climate change and how to adapt their farming practices to mitigate its effects.

We produced two videos demonstrating climate-smart practices, such as making vermicompost and using cow urine as fertilizer. These videos have reached many farmers and significantly increased awareness about climate change and how to combat it in farming.

Ashiket Siraj, a farmer from Abeke Kebele, is a great example of the impact of this project. Before watching the videos, she knew little about climate change or the benefits of using compost. The training changed that. She said, “The videos opened my eyes to the effects of climate change and showed me practical steps I could take on my own farm.”

Inspired by what she learned, Ashiket decided to start making her own vermicompost. Even though the demand for worms has driven up prices, she invested 3 kg of worms for 2100 ETB to get started. She carefully followed the instructions from the videos, setting up a composting area and mixing the right materials.

Ashiket used to put cow manure directly on her fields, not realizing it could contribute to climate change. Now, she includes it in her compost, reducing harmful emissions: “I’m doing my part to fight climate change with my composting,” she said. Her efforts are improving her soil and increasing her farm’s productivity. She’s excited about the organic food she’s growing for her family and the potential to sell excess vermicompost and worms for extra income. “I plan to expand my composting,” she shared, “It’s good for my farm, my family, and the planet.”

Ashiket’s commitment to climate-smart practices has also inspired others in her community. As more farmers see the benefits of her approach, they’re starting to adopt similar methods. This collective shift towards sustainable farming is helping the entire community become more resilient against the challenges posed by climate change. It’s a powerful example of how knowledge sharing can lead to widespread change, with farmers supporting each other in adopting practices that benefit both the environment and their livelihoods.

The success of the CSA pilot in Gumer woreda, highlighted by stories like Ashiket’s, underscores the potential of video-based learning in transforming agriculture. Digital Green’s initiative is not just about introducing new farming techniques; it’s about empowering farmers with the knowledge and tools they need to make informed decisions. This approach is paving the way for a more sustainable and productive future for farmers in Ethiopia and beyond, showcasing the tangible impacts of integrating technology with traditional farming wisdom.

Transforming Lives Through Self-Help Groups: A Farmer’s Journey to Economic Prosperity

Alimaze Zawuge lives in a small village in Ethiopia. As a wife, mother of five, and farmer, her goal was simple: improve her family’s living conditions. However, her small farm size limited her ability to grow various crops or earn enough income from farming alone.

In June 2023, Alimaze’s situation began to improve when she joined the Muruta Self-Help Group (SHG), an initiative supported by Digital Green and the local government. This group was designed to help community members like Alimaze by providing them with financial and educational support.

By August 2023, Alimaze had saved enough money through the group to secure a loan to start a small business buying and selling spices, which allowed her to earn extra money in addition to what she made from farming. Her husband, Markose, supported her by helping with the business and caring for their home while she worked.

This new source of income has been significant for Alimaze’s family. It has increased her weekly income to 120 ETB and has opened up new possibilities. Alimaze now hopes to provide her children with a better education, including the opportunity to attend tertiary school.

The success of Alimaze and her family is a testament to the impact of community-based initiatives like SHGs. By providing access to financial resources and fostering a supportive community environment, Digital Green and the local government have helped Alimaze and others in her village to improve their livelihoods.

Alimaze’s story highlights the importance of supporting rural communities through education and economic opportunities. It shows how, with the right support, individuals can overcome challenges and achieve their goals, leading to stronger, more resilient communities.

How Video-Based Extension Transformed Wheat Farming in Bonga, Ethiopia

A remarkable transformation is unfolding among a dedicated group of wheat farmers in the lush landscapes of Bonga, Ethiopia. These farmers, who had been tilling the land together for nearly a decade, found themselves at the heart of a revolutionary change brought about by a collaboration between Digital Green, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Ministry of Agriculture—a collaboration that brought video-based extension service to farmers, designed to empower them with practical, actionable knowledge.

Traditionally, these farmers depended on conventional extension services for agricultural guidance. Often crowded and overwhelming, these sessions covered everything from land preparation to harvesting in a single sitting, leaving many farmers feeling lost in a sea of information. The one-size-fits-all approach failed to engage them fully or address their specific challenges, leading to a disconnect between the training provided and its practical application on their farms.

Introducing the video-based extension service marked a new beginning for these farmers. Tailored agricultural videos were introduced covering crucial aspects of wheat farming, like land preparation, row sowing, and urea application. The farmers, now equipped with the knowledge presented in their local language and at their own pace, embraced these new practices with open arms.

Beyond the Fields: A Community Transformed

The videos were more than just instructional content; they were a source of inspiration. By demonstrating best practices in an engaging and relatable format, the videos motivated the farmers to try new techniques and improve their farming practices. The result was a collective cultivation of 17.25 hectares of wheat land, following the best practices showcased in the videos with precision and care.

In July of 2023, fueled by the guidance from the videos, the farmers invested significantly in quality inputs and embarked on a season of farming with high hopes. Their goal was ambitious yet achievable: to harvest 30 quintals of wheat per hectare, translating to a total expected yield of 517.5 quintals. When sold at the market rates, this yield brought them substantial revenue above what they normally received, transforming their livelihoods.

The benefits of Digital Green’s video-based extension went beyond increased yields and potential earnings. The videos fostered a sense of community among the farmers, encouraging collaborative work and shared learning. They provided a platform for farmers to reflect on their technical mistakes and build upon their existing wheat farming experience, enhancing their skills and confidence.

The success story of Bonga’s wheat farmers is a powerful endorsement of the video-based extension service. Ato Alalo Abebe, the local District Agriculturalist, praised the approach for its effectiveness in overcoming the limitations of traditional training methods. The farmers themselves, reinvigorated by their success, are eager for more. They look forward to accessing additional agricultural advisory services and are keen to continue their journey of learning and growth.


Cultivating Knowledge: Bridging Agriculture, Technology and Indigenous Wisdom

As we observed International Indigenous Languages Day this week, we reflected on the unique intersection of language, agriculture, and technology and how these elements combine to support farmers around the world, particularly in culturally rich regions like Ethiopia. Farming embodies a heritage interwoven with the cultural and linguistic fabric of communities. Recognizing this, Digital Green champions the use of indigenous languages in delivering agricultural advice. This approach not only respects but also revitalizes the deep-rooted connections between traditional practices and contemporary farming wisdom.

Improving Access and Adoption with Local Language and Videos

Language barriers can significantly hinder access to vital agricultural information. By offering advisories in the local languages of farmers, these barriers can be removed, paving the way for a more inclusive and accessible exchange of knowledge. Digital Green’s commitment to this cause is evident in our extension services, available in over 24 local Ethiopian languages. 

By delivering advice in the indigenous languages and dialects of a variety of regions, we provide farmers with advice that’s not only linguistically accessible but also contextually relevant. Utilizing video-based extension services, we bring agricultural practices to life in the most relatable way possible — in the farmers’ own languages. This method not only improves comprehension but also fosters a sense of belonging and community among farmers. They can see and hear practices in action, narrated in the familiar cadence of their mother tongue by a local farmer they already know, which significantly boosts the chances of these practices being adopted successfully.

A Prosperous Future for All Farmers, No Matter the Language 

Beyond video, Digital Green employs a variety of technological solutions like an AI assistant, mobile apps, voice messages, and interactive platforms, all adaptable to deliver content in indigenous languages. This ensures that crucial advisories reach farmers everywhere, even in areas where internet access might be sporadic.

Our vision at Digital Green is to create a future where every farmer, no matter their language, has the knowledge and resources to thrive. By honoring linguistic diversity, we’re not just sharing agricultural advice; we’re nurturing a global community of informed, connected, and empowered farmers. Let’s celebrate language’s vital role in preserving cultural heritage, fostering community, and advancing sustainable agriculture.

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