Monday, September 18, 2017

Facilitators : the never mentionned factor of success

During the participatory stakeholder workshops in Burkina Faso, Ethiopia and Tanzania, workshops cannot be hold in English. So in many countries we had to rely on translators. For example, the participants in Burkina Faso spoke French, Jula and More, but there was no common language to all, so we really had to juggle to make sure that we have everyone on board and no one gets excluded because of language barriers.

Set up of the week
We have hired facilitators/reporters to work with smaller groups of participants, who speak the local language. It also means, that we had to trust the facilitators to do their job well, as we had little means to cross-check what is going on during the group discussions. For example, in Ethiopia the workshop was held in Tigrinay, which is spoken in Tigray but is not the national language, which in Amharic. So in Ethiopia even our national partner who helps us organize the workshop is not able to understand what is going on.
  all documentation is on poster so that power cuts do not disturb the training
A huge responsibility therefore weighs on the hired group facilitators/reporters. To make sure that they get the skill to do their job well, we implemented a two days training. The first day aimed at giving the facilitators the skills to "give everyone in their group to do the best of their thinking". This part of the training were based on Sam Kaner's book and approach, and we mainly focused on active listening. On the second day, we when through a "dry run" of the workshop, to show facilitators/reporters what their job is, what we expect from them, and which results we would like to reach.
training active listening in Ethiopia
During the workshop, facilitator/reporter were assigned to discussion groups in pairs, so that one can facilitate and the other take notes, as well as always being two in difficult situations.

drawing out techniques in French
After the workshops, facilitators and reporters wrote a report about what was discussed and what has happened in their groups in English or in French. This is often our only way get access to the information that was shared in many different languages.
Training in Burkina Faso
The facilitators/reporters did a fantastic job in all three countries : they had to learn new skills and understand their role in a very short time, handle difficult situation is their groups and remember to report everything with as many details as possible. They are key to our success and to the data we can collect.
facilitators at work in Burkina Faso
Let me take this opportunity to thank the three teams in all 3 countries for their enthusiasms to take up a challenging task and the great job that they have done to support us.

Monday, September 11, 2017

How to count animals in pastoral area?

During my last workshop in Burkina Faso, a stakeholder category were pastoralist, this are livestock keeper that at least part of the year have migrating animals. In Burkina Faso, i went to have a mint tea with representative of the Peul community, one of the pastoral communities in Burkina Faso, in order to understand how they think and how we can somehow figure out how many animals they have.

the peul community discussing during the workshop
Here is what i have learned :
Firstly Peuls will never about livestock numbers, this is a taboo as it is for western cultures to talk about salaries. This is out of fear to be taxed when crossing different countries with their cattle. It was therefore very difficult to ask them about livestock numbers.
However, they talk happily about what they define as troupeau. Though troupeau means herd in French, the word cannot be translated.

taken from
This is why:
A Peul household is complex, as it is generally composed of a head of household with several wives who has several children. Every child at its birth is given a female cattle, and all its offspring will belong to the child when he or she marries. As a result, every animal has a clearly defined owner within the household and women own livestock too. We will refer to all animals that belong to any of the household member as the overall household herd.
Transhumances routes in Western Africa
In order to manage risk, the head of the household split the overall household herd into different sub-herd, that the Peul refer to as troupeau, which will follow different transhumance routes with different herders (who can be a member of the family or hired). Also, different household may pool their different troupeaux to go on a transhumance route with the same herder. As part of a risk mitigation strategy, the Peul nowadays have what they call a “troupeau laitier” that is a troupeau of female animals that give milk and therefore do not go on transhumance. This allows part of the family, mainly women and children to live a sedentary life and live from the sale of milk.
Next to the dairy cows, the weak animals also remain at home, they will be fattened over a certain amount of months to be sold for meat. These animals are not considered as troupeau as they are very few and can be asked about the number of animals.
taken from

What does this implies?
  1. Most transhumant families have a non-transhumant troupeau that stays in Bama the whole year long, these are mostly lactating cows and therefore is also referred as troupeau laitier (the milking herd).
  2. Depending on the wealth of the household, there might be several other troupeaux somewhere on a transhumance route
  3. Herds observed in a given location on a transhumance route is likely to be only part of the overall herd of one household, but likely to be composed of troupeaux from different households
  4. Fattening animals are not considered to be part of a troupeau and can be asked about in terms of number of animals.
a scientist trying desperately to ask the right question!
And now imagine a scientist coming asking any one in this system about how many animal he or she owns? 

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

What does it take for successful farm diversification? a comparison between Italy and Switzerland

It is a while since i have been looking in farm diversification in Europe as a way to support livelihoods of farming families. Yesterday night, the Swiss TV has shown a very interesting comparison between Italy and Switzerland in farm diversification in agri- tourism.

Swiss farmers diversify much less than their neigbors, because the return to labor in agro-tourism is low compared to other farm activities. In Tirol, next door, farmer are benefiting massively from agro-tourism and expand. So  how comes that their return on labor in tourism is so much higher compared to other activities?

This small feature suggests that farmers in Tirol are very well organized, and promote themselves as a group. They have adjusted their other activities in a way that it is easy to combine with agro-tourism, because they clearly have a big demand from tourism.
A model for Switzerland ? i guess we are trapped here between demand creation (is there demand in Switzerland where everything is so expensive for agro -tourism?) and between farmers starting to show innovation. Clearly there are very few farmers in Switzerland to took up the bet of of agro-tourism. Why not work with them to develop it further?

Sunday, September 3, 2017

How does a bright future look like in Atsbi Ethiopia?

During the recent participatory workshop in Ethiopia, we asked participants in groups of stakeholders to think through a bright life in Ethiopia in 2030. From these narratives lead to indicators of what people value.

a facilitator explaining the selected indicators.

 For Atbsi, participants came up with a series very different indicators and a series of very similar indicators.

Some of the common indicators, are better education for children, better mobility as well as better accessible  technologies to make life easier.

But what was the most interesting part of the Ethiopian workshop, we presence of very young participants. I always knew that, in Ethiopia, it is fully acceptable that women can take their young children to workshops so that they do not need to arrange child care. So we had a 2 year old girl that joint her grand mother to the workshop.
The youngest participant with her grand-mother
Also another illiterate lady took her 12 year old daughter to the workshop, because the daughter can read for her. Though we really try to make our workshops accessible to illiterate people by using images and colors, it was not a bad strategy.  It was also for us the opportunity to ask a girl about what she aims at in life. She told us that a better future for her is a world where she can support her parents so that they do not need to work so hard anymore. She is also hopping to get good education so that she will be able to support her parents.

The second youngest participant on the left, she is supporting her illiterate mum with reading.
At the end of the workshop, we asked the girl separately about her evaluation, and she mentioned that she was very proud that her personal opinion was asked and listened to.

It was a great opportunity to hear from the next generation about what they value.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

When watershed management changes life : the example of Abraha Atsbeha watershed

During the last workshop in Northern Ethiopia, we also made a half day field visit to the Abraha Atsbeha watershed, a few kilometers away from Wucro, in Tigray Ethiopia.

It is one of the classical northern Ethiopia success story of watershed rehabilitation. More than 25 years ago, farmers were poor, and regularly had full crop failure or because of drought or because of flooding.

About 20 years ago the community started rehabilitate their area. They started with re-planting tree and bushed on the hills and within the delta.
infiltration pond in the forest

Today, where there used to be bare land, there is a forest. There are clear rules on who has the right to use the forest. The area where we were standing was made available for land owners, while on the other side the area was given to landless people. The forest is used in different ways : to keep bees, to feed leaves to livestock during the dry season, to collect wood and provides benefits to people.
infiltration pit

The delta is also where water used to accumulate and the lack of infiltration used to lead to devastating floods. Today, ponds and pits collected the water from the hills and let the water infiltrate slowly. No floods were experiences over the last years.
a well in the lowland of the landscape
More importantly, as a result of the water infiltration, ground water started to reappear in the lower part of the watershed. Today, farmers have shallow wells with water the whole year round. Around the shallow wells, today households have home gardens where vegetables and fruits are grown for home consumption. Home gardens have therefore a big impact on food diversity and therefore not only contribute to food security but also to improved nutrition on one of the area where people used to be malnourished.
guava orchards

Taking a second look at the landscape, one can also sees tree orchards with papaya, guava and citrus appearing that are bigger than the home gardens. Farmer have invested water and effort to grow more fruits, and some of them today make good income from selling fruits to Wurko and Mekelle.

the community leader explaining the interventions done to rehabilitate the watershed
The community leader told us that at the beginning, 25 years ago, few people thought that if was worth investing into rehabilitation, but they had nothing to loose, so they have tried, and they have won. Today, there is sufficient water the whole year round, that can insure production of high value crops such as fruits. They are proud to have made it, and are happy to show case how watershed management can change lifes.

The cropping area that used to get flooded

Thursday, August 24, 2017

One day in 2030 or how to get participatory economic indicators

During the recent participative stakeholder workshop, not only we have tried to understand how stakeholder see their own production system involving in the future but also trying to understand what success would look like.

Traditionally, economist used GDP at national level, and income or ownership of assets to measure success. More money and more assets means wealth and therefore is success. Yet, the people we work with value many different things, such as family life, the access to traditional food, or getting a given position within the community. So success is more than money and we need to identify how this success can be measured.

two ladies making sure that their vision is taken into account into the future storylines
On the second day of the workshop, my colleagues of mine asked the stakeholder participant in stakeholder groups with similar interests to write down the story of one or two successful virtual characters, and describe a usual day in 2030.From that storyline, participants will have identify what are the indicators that the two characters are successful.

In Burkina Faso, the dairy processing lady was married to the butcher of the area. Their life will be shaped by a traditional Muslim life rhythm. Children will have access to schools, family will be supported by hired staff, and mobility will be improved as the family will own a car or at least a motor bike.

storyline from the pastoral group
the second part of the storyline

For the pastoral community, the successful life meant that they could maintain their traditional lifestyle but also with some modernization, such as aluminum mobile parks, motorbikes for improved mobility and cleared access rights to pasture.

From those storylines, many indicators could be identified. Participants then made an individual vote for the most important ones. Interesting in Burkina Faso, these were religious indicators, such as being able to visit Mecca, being able to follow Muslim rules and improved mobility, whereas in Ethiopia, high education for children and the adoption of new technologies came out more importantly.

The selected indicators from the different groups in Burkina Faso
To me, it was a new approach to get information from stakeholder about what they value, in a way that is very appealing and easy to stakeholder. I am quite impressed by the results we got.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Talking like them : collecting information from local decision makers

Last months were busy, i went to Ethiopia and Burkina Faso to implement a participatory stakeholder workshop with local decision makers, including local government, extension service, but also farmers, input seller, traders, processors, farm organizations and other NGO intervening in the area.

The objective of the first day was to understand how these decision makers see and categorize the livestock production in their area and to what extend they see that these systems will be changing over the next 15 years in view of the still doubling of the African population. 

The banner describing the project in French for all the events in Burkina Faso
Why do we need to know this? The DFID funded project i am working on, foresees the parametrization of the CLEANED tool, to allow decision makers to simulate different livestock intensification option and get multiple environmental indicators along water, greenhouse gazes, biodiversity and nitrogen content of soils. This model will only be of use to the decision makers if it actually reflects their understanding of the livestock production systems or practices. Too often standard models are brought to local level without adjusting them to the local context and the local understanding. In other words, we need to make sure that the model talks like they do in order to be useful.

A group mapping the production systems in Ethiopia
On the first day of the workshop, we used a so called snowballing negotiation, two people try to agree which are the major livestock practices or production systems in the area. When they agree the find an other group of two and re-discuss and negotiate in four. Then they find another group of 4 and negotiate in 8. Then there is a facilitated plenary negotiation about which are the local practices or production systems, and how they can be grouped to make four working groups.

Then in four working groups, each group discusses one identified practice or production system. They map on printed maps where the system/practice is found and in a reporting sheet note the characteristics in terms of breed, adoption rate, number of animal, feed basket, manure management and input/output markets.

A group presenting results to plenary In Burkina Faso 
In the afternoon, the participant write a letter to the future generation describing how livestock keeping will be done in the future and aims at identify completely new practices/productions system that are not observed today. If such a new production is found then a group will need to take it up. otherwise the same group discuss the evolution of the production by 2030, mapping possible changes on the map.

Wondering what we have learned from this process? stay posted the up-coming posts will discuss this!

Friday, June 16, 2017

Somaliland : the end of pastoralism?

With the drought and the state of emergency in Somalia, there are many NGOs trying to fundraise money from wider public. Most stories you will hear through them are stories of famine and dying children. These stories are usually very inconsistent with what i have seen with my own eyes and what i have learned from interviewing key stakeholders.
image taken from the Economist
The last week Economist has a very informative article about what is truly happening in Somaliland and the consequence of the drought. It reflect well the stories that i have heart.

Pastoral lifestyle is under threat : those pastoral families who have lost too many animals have no reason to continue their nomadic life. So they decide to settle, usually next to water point. There they start building houses, enclose land for their needs and therefore start closing the classical nomadic routes. Also they need to create a new livelihood, and start cutting tree and produce charcoal. Less trees lead to more erosion and less water infiltration which will end up reduce the productivity of the grazing land that the pastoral need to feed there animals.

Claims on land in Somaliland are becoming more and important leading to conflict, therefore a policy on land has recently been developed to enhance the existing customary law. But who will enforce it in a state of emergency?

Get a informative read from the Economist here.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Are smallholder farmers going to feed the world?

Monitoring and evaluation has become core business in the development sector, even for research. So for every project we have to come up with a theory of change. We need to explain to donors how our projects will influence our partners and how our partners will then influence other stakeholder to reach an impact on the ground.

One of the story we often use tries to convince the donor that we will come up with new way to support smallholder farmer to commercialize. This means, we hope to contribute to the emergence of a smallholder farmer that will produce more food that for her/his own subsistence, and therefore will start selling food on the local market. Often we also hope that this smallholder farmer will invest the new revenue into better production means and therefore will become a more capitalized farmer, i.e. how has more equipment (for example a tractor or a milking machine). And after some years, our smallholder farmer will be a proud agri-entrepreneur contributing to African food security.

CIAT Kisumu 7

Nice story, and somehow is can sound convincing, isn't it. However when i look at the Kenyan context, i find it hard to believe, as most agri-businesses are actually started by young highly educated people with good incomes from other jobs... So where does my smallholder story fit this reality?

CCAFS Nepal-70 

 Some weeks ago, i joint a fascinating webinar, where Prof. Thomas Jayne investigates this question across different African countries. Only 5% of the medium scale farms are in fact smallholder that have commercialized, all other are or privileged rural population who by inheritance have relatively own big land or urban investors. Will this 5% be enough to justify our work in the up-coming years? or do we need to rethink what we truly want to focus on?

In the meantime a look at this fascinating presentation below  or check the website!

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Counting livestock from the sky?

In my recent discussions with technoserve around the the use of drones and high resolution satellite images in the livestock sector, i have been looking more closely at  high resolution satellite images from DigitalGlobe with the objective to count livestock from the sky. 

While many people are not yet convinced this is possible, i have just found a very interesting application in the Washington post of May 1st. They have used DigitalGlobe images to count cows on grazing land from industrial farms in the US who claim to be organic. They found that much less animals are on grazing land than expected by the organic norms...

Big brother is watching us!  i am looking forward to explore if similar application could work for livestock in the developing world : it could revolutionize the way we can implement grazing management in drylands.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Alternative incomes : giving land less people a chance

Because of the landholding system in Ethiopia, many people are so-called landless, i.e. they do not own certified farming land.

Landless people are often given other natural resources which they are required to administer sustainably. On our reconnaissance tour in Atsbi, we find out that there were 3 options.

1. irrigated rehabilitated land

Some of the governmental land get rehabilitated through mass mobilization. When it is possible, the government set up a small irrigation scheme, the newly gained land and offers landless people to crop.

a small scale irrigation scheme

2. maintain the a the forest

Some landless people can get a piece of forest, where they can collect the fruit sometime cut some branches to maintain the forest. In addition to that, the owner can keep beehives. Each beehive need to be kept 2 m from each other. We met a farmer that used his piece of land optimally, and was able to produce very pure white honey. He was producing about 300 kg a year. But when we wanted to buy some, we learned that he had sold it all. There is no market problem for the white Tigray honey.
The very successful honey producer
So in the end we bough from someone else for 350 birr per kg, this is 13.5 usd, the fair price for the top quality honey...  good business
the girl are packing our honey

 3. fisheries

 There is an fishery expert in the zone, quite astonishing for a region that is as dry as Tigray. But because of the long dry period, there are many dams to collect the water. The government is planning to have fish in these ponds and dams. This offer another profitable activity to landless people.
water in a dam

The is a clear push in the area to find new alternative incomes for people who do not have land. A great initiative. But will it be sufficient for this growing population?

Monday, March 27, 2017

The challenge of the fasting period : the milk cooperative in Agula

In my last trip to Ethiopia, we stopped in Agula, a town on our way to the site. We stopped at the small milk cooperative, that had 28 members. They collect milk every day, homogenize it and bring it to Mekelle the biggest town situation less than one hour away by car
list of cooperative members
We arrived on a fasting day : Ethiopian orthodox no not consume any animal sourced product on Wednesday and Friday, 40 days before Easter and Christmas and some other weeks. During fasting period, animal sourced food is not allowed to be shown in public. So when we arrived we only found a small boy. Business is low, and adults are busy bringing the milk and other dairy product away.
the boy we interviewed
The fasting brings many challenges to dairy production? how to store all the milk for 40 days? We learned from the boy he milk price reduces by 2 birr per litre (corresponding to a 20% price drop). But the demand does not disappear totally, there are sufficient non orthodox people and hotels that continue consuming milk. The rest is processed into butter.

machine used for milk homogenization
It is challenging to set up a value chain around animal sourced food where at least 4 months a year demand is collapsing...

the cooperative collection point

Monday, March 20, 2017

Getting the concentrates : the feed processing plant

Our last stop on my last field trip to Ethiopia was the feed processing plant in Mekelle, the capital of Tigray region. We went to a site where farmer's union have a fertilizer factory and since recently a feed processing plant, that right now is still a temporary construction.
raw material
The processing plant stores all raw material. Oil seed cake, mainly sunflower, nug and sesame seed cake that are source from Amhara as well as cotton seed cake that is sourced from Tigray. The maize bran is local when available but also coming from Oromia. In principle they have the same ingredients that the feed retailer in Atbsi. In addition to that, they would also have lime.
The final product
They have been trained to do the right mixures for fattening cows and for dairy cows. There is no specific mix for sheep. Different oil seed cake have different nutritional values. Therefore each batch that arrives has been tested for its content and the mixing recipe adjusted consequently.

Because it is a union, orders come in through cooperative. Feed is then delivered to these cooperative, where the farmer can go and pick his order. Therefore, the feed processing plant does not know to how many farmers they deliver. There is also one big ranch that directly sources from them.
the quality of oil seed cake is checked in a lab before acquisition
So finally, this feed processing plant is mixing the same ingredients than the feed retailer. The only difference is that the concentrate from the processing plant has been mixed with the right ratios, providing optimal energy to the animal. It is therefore a guaranteed quality.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Where the *** did the savanna go?

One objective of the my past trip to Burkina Faso was to validate some of our maps, and more particularly the land cover map.

So we decided to go North of Bama and to turn right into the dust road to Padema, there were the savanna should be.
the road to Padema

And this is what we found in the savanna :
crops between mango trees

A papaya tree plantation

up coming mango tree plantation


animal feeding on crop residues in the fields
So basically everything but savanna. It has a bit more tree than what is classified as cropland, but everything is somehow used for crop, with the exception of what is classified as savanna with trees, which we could find and is still the original natural vegetation

original vegetation

Some natural vegetation
Conclusion, we will have to think hard on how we want to define grazing and cropping area in our environmental model!