"The challenge in Ethiopia is steering change based on demonstrated evidences"

With declining land and labour productivity and growing population in Ethiopia, agricultural transformation is becoming ever more crucial for sustainable food security. The BENEFIT programme, led by the Wageningen Centre for Development Innovation, contributes to enable this transformation, according to Ethiopian BENEFIT manager Dr Dawit Alemu.

As BENEFIT we always work on market incentives to make changes sustainable

‘Where we are heading, is that what we do becomes a policy or programme or otherwise leads to engagement at higher levels. Take the Integrated Seed Sector Development programme (ISSD), where five directives we have initiated have been approved. Among them allowing direct seed marketing, which means a step ahead in the liberalisation of the seeds system. Or take our financial literacy approach in SBN. We are asked to develop it into a national package and upcoming season it will be in the national extension package. A wider impact in the field will follow.’

Demonstrating improvements

It is BENEFIT’s role, states manager Alemu, to do something innovative, demonstrate its value and engage the government so they design a national programme or interest private sector to develop the business. ‘We innovate at a small scale, demonstrate evidences, and communicate about it,’ he explains. ‘In this way, we create interest for the government to design a national programme or for private sector parties to take it further. And what is developed for one sector, might serve as an example for other sectors. BENEFIT is not a programme, but a portfolio. Our strength lies in demonstrating improvements and communicating it to higher levels.’

Importance of agricultural transformation

Alemu showed the importance of agricultural transformation at a workshop on closing the yield gap in Ethiopia at the WUR SDG Conference.‘What we see is that the agricultural GDP is growing. Over the past ten years, improvements in the production levels of major cereal crops, and to some extent export crops, and irrigated agriculture linked with better access to inputs and price information have been demonstrated. But the percentage of its contribution to the national GDP has been declining, due to the increase in the GDP from services and industries sectors.

Farmers need market incentives to change, according to Alemu. ‘We see that they are gradually becoming responsive to market signals; as BENEFIT we always work on market incentives to make changes sustainable. Still the challenge is aligning the measures in addressing systemic issues at macro level with demonstrated evidences at micro level. Ethiopia is not poor in resources or in highly educated people. The problem in Ethiopia is steering change based on evidences. So that is what we are working on,’ states Alemu.


Collaborative actions

BENEFIT, being the umbrella of several programmes, is important for three reasons, BENEFIT manager Dr Dawit Alemu points out. ‘First, as the programmes are interconnected, we can capitalize the specificities of each programme in a joint manner. By working on the availability of vegetable seeds, also nutritional issues can be addressed. In each programme, currently around 20 percent is collaborative action. The people involved in the separate projects are starting to realise they have a joint target as well. It has become normal to discuss what can be done together. Also priority commodities have been identified in every region. For instance, the different programs collaborate for soya bean value chain development where through a joint stakeholders’ platformincluding all relevant stakeholders. Seed suppliers, traders, extensionists and others involved work together. Our role is facilitation of the functioning of the joint engagement in a sustainable manner, and the Wageningen Centre for Development Innovation helps us with that.’

Better contact with stakeholders

‘A second benefit of the partnership, is that we have been able to intensify the contacts with important stakeholders. Because of the memorandum of understanding between BENEFIT and the government,we are better aligned with public programs. Policy makers don’t have to discuss with all separate programmes rather at BENEFIT level, which makes us more relevant and influential. For instance, we recently managed to engage with policy makers in addressing the pulse export challenge faced from India and Pakistan through our pulses innovation platform. The engagement was based on a research that has identified the key issues. Accordingly, high level policy debate has been initiated among governments and we are working on some of the issues like phytosanitary measures. We have sent a team of experts to India to learn and see how the pulses are received and handled.’

Synergy in programme management

Third, Alemu states, the separate programmeshave become more efficient, as standardisation in project management has been realised. ‘We have put in place unified roles and procedures in finance and human resource management that have created synergy and cost effectiveness in programme management.’