Most of the booths are empty in the small Internet café close to Bahir Dar University. A young man is eagerly typing away in the corner; several folders are piling up in front of him. The owner does not take any notice of him anymore. His shop became the temporary office for Biruhalem Kassa. He is a member of CASCAPE’s innovator teams (ITs) for Amhara region, specialising in Rural Development and Extension. His official office, a room at the university is currently under construction. Being on the move however is part of Biruhalem’s job. “My work is very diverse. Each day is different. […] I like the freedom and flexibility,” he says.

He rummages his pockets for some coins, puts them on the table and leaves the shop. In a meeting room at Bahir Dar University, the other six full-time members of his team have gathered. Fingers point at maps, plans are discussed before the task force splits up in individuals again, each of them heading off to their assigned sub-district (kebele). Biruhalem and his colleagues spend around 15 days a month in the fields working with the farmers. “What I have learned most is how CASCAPE makes things contextual, adapting new techniques to the farmer’s environment,” he says. He knows that the success of the project depends on the innovators: “The accountability and responsiveness of our team is crucial – without this there will be a lack of trust.”


If trust could be measured by the number of requests from farmers for the new varieties, the ITs must be doing something right. Besides the new seeds, more and more farmers also ask for basic business training, better storage facilities and access to local markets. The frequent visits to the countryside might have fostered high hopes among them that Biruhalem and his team cannot fulfil. “CASCAPE cannot satisfy the full demand because the focus of this project is limited. We are simply responsible to create evidence, by doing trials with a number of farmers,” he explains. During these trials, so-called development agents (DAs) are present to learn about the suitability of the technologies for the different agro-ecological conditions, diffuse light store (DLS) and the possibilities of distributing an improved variety.  

“These lessons are given to the Bureau of Agriculture (BoA) to conduct this technology on a wider scale,” he says. The transition however is often not that smooth. Having also to coordinate and implement the government’s agricultural growth plans, time and staff at the BoA are limited to scale-up the activities. “I have seen that with little information much can be achieved at grassroots level,” he says adding that for him “development starts with knowledge.” To extend his own knowledge, he hopes to do his PhD in Australia though leaving Ethiopia for good is not an option. “I want to help my country to develop and start my family here. I belong in Ethiopia.”