Around 60 experts are gathered this week at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia for a four-day project design workshop on an exciting new initiative that aims to transform the livelihoods of some of the poorest people in Ethiopia’s highlands. The project, which forms part of the US government’s ‘Feed the Future’ initiative, aims to transform agricultural systems via sustainable intensification.
The workshop provides a unique platform for a broad group of important stakeholders to learn more about the project plans and to share their views on expectations from and opportunities for synergies with the project. The diverse mix of participants, including research specialists, academics, economists, NGO workers and government representatives, contribute different perspectives to the discussion, enriching the planning process.
Four speakers, Robert Bertram of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Adefirs Teklewold of the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR), Shirley Tarawali of ILRI, and Edmealem Shitaye of the Ministry of Agriculture kicked off the first session, introducing the new project and outlining its projected actions and outcomes. Bertram highlighted the fact that in designing the project, there is no need to start from scratch, thanks to a tremendous amount of existing knowledge in this area. Tarawali elaborated by saying,
“Our task, and one which we hope this project will make a real contribution to, is to bring together not only the best that research can offer – be that crop, animal, environmental, economic, social – but to make sure this intersects with major agricultural development efforts that can ensure science gets translated into livelihood impacts”.
A light, interactive, discussion on the importance of sustainable intensification followed, with everyone in agreement that, while it may not be the only solution to the problems faced by struggling farming communities in this part of the world, intensification is nonetheless a valuable and necessary part of the bigger picture.
Why? Because people need food, animals need feed, and with rapid growth in population, demand for increased production from the same land space is inevitable. An important element emerging was confirmation that sustainable intensification is not just about increasing productivity per area of land; but also per unit of labour, per unit of water …
During presentations from Iain Wright of ILRI, Stanley Wood of International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and Shirley Tarawali, the group emphasized the importance of markets, water management, gender issues, health and nutrition and of private sector involvement in the intensification process. General concern over the complex definition of sustainable intensification was raised, and the key goal of connecting with wider research and development efforts repeated.
The afternoon session opened with an overview of USAID’s ‘Feed the Future’ programme by Bertram, USAID objectives and projects in Ethiopia by Cullen Hughes of USAID Ethiopia, and alignment with CAADP by Wood.
These presentations were followed by a lively group activity centred on the question “How can this project align and connect with other relevant, ongoing initiatives & projects?” The group identified over 70 research and development projects based in the Ethiopian highlands with a focus on crops, livestock, NRM, markets, systems and other related issues. The key is therefore to consider the ways in which this new project can both gain from and contribute to ongoing efforts to learn more about and improve the livelihoods of Ethiopian Highland farmers and their communities.
Day two saw further rich discussion on the new project design. The workshop started broadly with a wide range of individual perspectives gradually coming together as ideas flowed. Iain took to the floor on Tuesday morning to remind everyone of the hypotheses and assumptions behind the program before the group split to discuss this, and the purpose of the project, the four main project components – pathways, technology, tradeoffs and connecting – and site selection. Comments on the project blog were also addressed by the whole group.
The people who developed the concept note reflected on what they heard from participants – in terms of needed changes, different directions, and so on. Overall, feedback from the initial two days – in terms of advice and take-home messages – was positive, with Bertram encouraging everyone “to think how to integrate and go beyond business as usual” and Wright preparing the group for the second phase of the workshop:
We now need to really focus on exactly what we’re going to do, as well as what we’re not going to do, and why.
Post written by Kara Brown