Farming households reached
Despite their significance for biodiversity conservation, local livelihoods and the national economy, southwest Ethiopia’s forest and wild coffee areas face threats from deforestation, forest degradation, biodiversity loss and climate change. Among those forest areas that face such danger is the Belete-Gera Forest, which covers 150,000 hectares, which is part of Ethiopia’s highland rainforest and a high priority protected forest area. Belete-Gera forest represents two adjacent forest blocks in two woredas in Jimma zone and stretches over 44 kebeles (lowest government administrative units). The Belete-Gera forest lost 40% of its cover between 1985 and 2010. Population growth in and around the Belete-Gera forest; market forces, particularly for export commodities such as coffee; lack of land use policy and planning; and lack of land tenure security, have put pressure on forest resources. Trees are being cut to increase the amount of arable land for cash crop production. Fuelwood is the sole source of energy for cooking, heating and lighting. Large numbers of cattle are grazing in the forest, trampling undergrowth and eating vegetation. Digital Green, with the financial support from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation and in collaboration with Environment and Coffee Forest Forum (ECFF), is implementing the Advancing Conservation, Agriculture and Livelihoods in Oromia project. The project will reach 42,000 smallholder farmers, women and youth with the goal of reducing deforestation, forest degradation and biodiversity loss, while improving livelihoods of the forest-dependent smallholder farmers in the two target woredas of the Belete Gera forest landscape. The project will promote the sustainable harvest and sale of non-timber forest products, particularly honey, spices and coffee. The project will facilitate the formation of 40 women’s self-help groups to address women’s disproportionately low levels of access to extension services, and cultural factors that limit women’s participation in traditional farmer’s groups in the Jimma zone.
Building on our extensive reach, strong partnerships within the public extension system at federal, regional and local levels, and the success of our video-enabled extension approach, we have launched the next phase of our work in Ethiopia. In October 2019, we launched the development of FarmStack, an agricultural advisory services platform that integrates: farm-level data such as soil type and crop varieties; content on agricultural practices, local weather, input availability and market information; and multimodal information delivery channels. Linking extension system actors and information through FarmStack’s automated, transparent and secure digital information-sharing platform will overcome the information-sharing bottlenecks that result in supply-demand gaps in both input and output markets; generic advice that does not reflect local needs or contexts; and other factors that increase costs and reduce efficiency across the system. Fostering coordination and information sharing among agricultural extension service providers and markets actors — whether public, civil society or private sector – will provide agents and farmers with convenient access to more tailored, locally relevant and timely advisory information responsive to farmer feedback. The objective is to facilitate cost-effective delivery of demand-driven, targeted and high-quality advisory services at scale in order to: contribute to a sustainable increase of incomes from agriculture for 3.5 million farmers (40% women) and improve the cost-effectiveness of extension services by a factor of five.
Digital Green is contributing to an evaluation of the effectiveness of the use of multimedia communications by agriculture and nutrition extension service providers to generate demand for nutrition-dense crops and nutrition-sensitive technologies. The study is providing evidence and recommendations for government extension providers on designing, producing and disseminating effective and targeted video communications for rural communities in the project area. Building on our work with Ethiopia’s Ministries of Agriculture and Health, Digital Green is coordinating message creation, production and dissemination by the two ministries.
In Ethiopia, a focus on increasing agricultural productivity to address short-term food security has come at the expense of implementing natural resource management (NRM) practices that would help farmers to sustain productivity over the long term. As a result, many farmers are facing environmental challenges, including erosion, depleted groundwater, deforestation, and unbalanced soil health caused by over-irrigation and poor fertility management. Although the application of NRM practices can help farmers overcome these issues, few of Ethiopia’s public extension agents are trained in such practices, and those that are, are not trained to link the concepts to production-related agronomic practices. As a result, farmers lack the tools and information to deal with the environmental challenges that affect their livelihoods.
With support from the Packard Foundation, Digital Green is developing the capacity of extension providers in Ethiopia to integrate NRM and conservation agriculture into the video approach already used widely by the Ministry of Agriculture. Previously, the public extension system promoted soil and water conservation activities on communal plots, disconnected from individual farmers’ plots and from the agricultural season. As a result of our work, extension agents are now promoting NRM practices among smallholder farmers year-round; and drawing a direct link between these practices and improved production and livelihoods. Although the importance of NRM for improving crop productivity is a new concept for many farmers in Ethiopia. the project has made great strides in raising awareness of the links between NRM methods and crop production, generating interest in soil and water conservation, and creating demand for tree seedlings and grasses that control erosion. Coordination across the Ethiopian public extension system has been crucial for success. Digital Green works in partnership with the public extension system at federal, regional, zonal, district, and village levels. The Ministry of Agriculture recently approved a new conservation strategy linked to the production of key commodities, which will dovetail with this project’s year-round video curricula.
Digital Green partnered with the Feed the Future Livelihoods for Resilience Activity, which aims to reduce food insecurity and increase resilience of households receiving assistance under the Government of Ethiopia’s Productive Safety Net Program fourth phase (PSNP4) in Amhara, Tigray and SNNPR. The project builds the capacity of PSNP households to make informed decisions by providing tailored technical assistance along three livelihood pathways: crops and livestock; off-farm activities; and wage employment. To promote adoption of agricultural and livestock rearing practices, nutrition practices, and gender norms to increase incomes and foster household resilience, Digital Green introduced its digital extension approach into 18 project-supported woredas. Following a participatory process to identify and prioritize video topics, Digital Green trained the implementing partner and woreda-level public extension staff to develop content for and produce locally-relevant videos. These production teams have produced a set of 57 videos, which have been shared with more than 26,000 village economic and social association (VESA) members by implementing partner and kebele-level public extension staff trained by Digital Green to facilitate participatory video screenings and group discussions using techniques that foster peer-to-peer learning and behavior change. The presence of trained community facilitators in each kebele prepared to continue to implement the video-enabled extension approach, and the interest of VESA members to learn through the videos and discussions, create a good opportunity to promote priority technologies and practices and to meet information needs of farmers. The project, led by CARE and implemented by a consortium that includes SNV, Organization for Rehabilitation and Development in Amhara, Relief Society of Tigray and Agri-Service Ethiopia, runs through 2021.
Digital Green worked with the Agricultural Extension Directorate of Ethiopia’s Ministry of Agriculture (MoA), Regional Bureaus of Agriculture (RBoAs) in Amhara, Oromia, Tigray and Southern Nations Nationality People’s Region, and the Agricultural Transformation Agency (ATA) to: 1) institutionalize and scale its digitally-enabled extension approach within the public system; and 2) augment the approach by exploring partnerships that provide complementary value chain, natural resources management and nutrition-related information, with the goal of improving smallholder farmers’ livelihoods.
Digital Green equipped the MoA to increase the reach and effectiveness of its extension services and to reach beyond male model farmers to also communicate with women and non-model farmers. The project reached more than 438,500 farmers in 71 districts, over 57% of whom have adopted featured practices. Women represent 28% of farmers reached and 23% of adopters. With the integrated use of cost-effective video and interactive voice response (IVR), extension agents are reaching more farmers with accurate, timely, effective and localized messages. Our approach has become one of the main avenues for the public extension system to better reach farmers and increase the adoption of improved practices and technologies. In 2017, the video-enabled extension approach was formally included in the Government of Ethiopia’s Second Growth and Transformation Plan and Second Agricultural Growth Program, which paved the way for the MoA and the four RBoAs to procure equipment to scale the approach into 45 districts in addition to the 71 project-supported districts. The ATA has likewise expanded the content and reach of its IVR service and Q&A forum, which reinforce video messages and enable farmers and extension agents to share questions and voice feedback. System-level changes facilitated scale-up and ensure that the public extension system can sustain implementation past the project end date. Five Agriculture Technical and Vocational Education Training centers (ATVETs) incorporated video-enabled extension into their training curriculum. Video production, dissemination and monitoring (adoption verification) activities are included in the job descriptions and performance reviews of extension personnel. MoA and ATA have contributed approximately $3.4 million, inclusive of staff time, training costs and equipment expenditures to implement the approach.
Digital Green worked in partnership with the Government of Ethiopia’s Ministry of Agriculture and the Agriculture Transformation Agency (ATA) to institutionalize the use of ICT-enabled services to boost the reach, efficiency and effectiveness of the national extension structure. The consortium combined locally-produced video, radio, interactive voice response (IVR) and human-mediated facilitation to disseminate information about good agricultural practices and tools and technologies developed via the New Alliance Scaling Seeds and Technologies Partnership (SSTP) that improve smallholder farmer productivity and environmental outcomes. Producing localized messages for the ATA’s IVR platform – which hosts a library of audio messages – and creating a two-way, question-and-answer functionality provided farmers with answers to questions on SSTP priority crops and inputs, reduced travel time for extension staff and alerted zonal-level managers to localized crop and pest conditions. The project tested new uses of technology to strengthen extension, including the use of IVR to bridge input supply-demand gaps, while simultaneously embedding video- and IVR-enabled approaches into Ethiopia’s existing public extension system. The project reached nearly one million farmers with information about SSTP technologies and related good agricultural practices. Women represent more than one-third of the total number of farmers reached and total proportion of adopters of the new technologies. USAID awarded the project a Digital Development Award (2017), which recognizes projects that embrace best practices in the application and utilization of digital technologies and data-driven approaches to achieve development objectives.