In Ethiopia, Wageningen UR collaborates with six universities, six regional 'Bureaus of Agriculture ' and 18,000 farmers in the CASCAPE project to increase food security in the country . "That is a good start, but how do you ensure that the millions of other farmers in Ethiopia are reached, too", asked a critical Frits van der Wal, theme expert Sustainable Economic Development at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, at a CASCAPE meeting in The Hague on September 26.
Showing Agriculture Growth Programme the way
CASCAPE, in which the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation invests millions of euros, is designed to help Ethiopia improve its agricultural policies. In six regions – which differ greatly, geologically, meteorologically as well as culturally – the CASCAPE team evaluates which measures have proven to increase agricultural production and which have not. This knowledge is documented and shared with the government.The Ethiopian government has so far always had agricultural policy that was applicable to the whole country, but the enormous diversity within the country calls for policies on a regional level, experts say. CASCAPE plays an important role in achieving that. "CASCAPE is a speedboat that explores the direction in which policy can best be developed. This speedboat points the way for the large oil tanker, the Ethiopian Agricultural Growth Program (AGP)," Christy van Beek explained at the CASCAPE meeting, held at the Ministry of Ecomnic Affairs in The Hague. Van Beek is scientist at Alterra Wageningen UR and she is one of the CASCAPE coordinators.
Huge increases in yield possible
Representatives of the six Ethiopian universities presented some of the results that have been booked since the project started, merely two years ago. The figures were impressive. The yields of farmers that are directly involved in CASCAPE are significantly higher than the average agricultural yield in Ethiopia. In some instances the potato yield increased five-fold, the Ethiopians showed. Crucial was access to good seed in combinations with site specific recommendations for fertilizer and pest control usage. In Ethiopia, agricultural advice not tailored to local conditions. There are only general recommendations, which apply across the country .
Country-wide implementation of proven technologies
The national CASCAPE coordinator in Ethiopia, Eyasu Elias, needed just one sentence to express the importance of this project for the Agriculture Growth Programme in Ethiopia: "Small farmers cannot afford to experiment and to take risks, so within CASCAPE we gather the ‘best practices’ and we share with farmers the methods and technologies that have already proven themselves."
The livelihoods of some 85 percent of the Ethiopian population depend on farming. Many farmers produce just enough to sustain their own families. If these subsistence farmers manage to triple their yields, it is important that they get access to markets, where they can sell their products. "Developing markets is the biggest challenge for the future," said Girmay Tesfay of Mekelle University. "In every region we are working on setting up chains that add value to agricultural commodities. In the region around Mekelle University, we focus on milk, potatoes, fruits and cereals. We study what products could be made of these raw materials and how we can set up food processing chains." Firew Tegegne, of Bahir Dar University, added: "The government supports small farmers that want to establish a food processing business. For many Ethiopians, farming is not their ultimate objective. If these small-scale farmers are given the opportunity, you will see that many of them will start a business. They will open flour mill or a company that presses sesame oil."
Frits van der Wal of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs clearly showed his commitment to CASCAPE: "For projects in other countries, we can learn a lot from the approach in Ethiopia." But he also made some critical remarks: "How do we ensure that the knowledge that is acquired is not just available to the 18,000 farmers that are directly involved in the project, but that it also reaches those other millions of farmers in Ethiopia?" The Ethiopian delegation explained that vast numbers of farmers are reached through frequently organised field days. For further up-scaling, the CASCAPE team referred to the Agriculture Growth Programme, which is also involved in the CASCAPE project. To increase the food security in Ethiopia, much more is needed than improving agricultural practices and increasing yields. Systematic changes are required, such as making sure that farmers have access to credit , to markets, knowledge, labour and land. These may not be subjects that the CASCAPE team can change, but it would help if the highly esteemed scientists involved in this project pull their weight in conveying that message, Van der Wal told the Ethiopian delegation.