Work
talk
learn

Dr Eyasu Elias is away from his desk, 70km outside of the capital Addis Ababa. “Isn’t that a wonderful sight,” he exclaims. Fields of green stretch out as far as the eye can see and there are only a few scattered clouds in the blue sky. This picture perfect has just one little flaw. The crops where Dr Eyasu stands have two heights, one reaches up to his calves, the other one to his knees. “This is our new variety of potato, Belete, which has shown yields of four times the normal amount of 2 tonnes,” he explains pointing at the knee-high crops. Yet, the farmers in the area do not use it. The field is a CASCAPE demonstration plot. “It makes me angry that we know the variety and the solution and we can’t deliver it to the farmers that need them”.

The case sounds like a typical one for development work: the cure exists but it does not reach the right people. That is the main task of Dr Eyasu and his team of experts. “We use the field activities as a testbed so that our research can help to craft a more supportive policy. This linkage is exciting,” he explains. The Ethiopian studied agriculture and did his PhD in soil science before moving into the research and NGO sector. Former contacts at Wageningen University threw his hat in the ring for the National Coordinator job. When he started writing the proposal, he could only imagine the potential of the project and its impact. Two years on, the initiative has grown from two to five years and its budget extended from half a million to 13 million Euros.

Inclusiveness

Ten minutes later, he is surrounded by a small group of farmers and researchers, still recognisable as the man in the suit. Change is an inclusive concept. “The most important thing is that you sit down with the farmers; you work, talk to them and learn from them. […] It’s not like throwing technologies through the window. You adapt them to their interests, needs and priorities,” he says. His team hands out seeds of the new variety to so-called model farmers. They will use some of their land to demonstrate the benefits of the variety and if requested pass on seeds to other farmers in a system called ‘Local seed multiplication’.

Requests from outside organisations to copy CASCAPE’s approach provide further evidence that the project is on target. But instead of protecting years of hard work, Dr Eyasu sees it as a part of the institutionalisation process. “We cannot monopolise knowledge,” he says. Before he has to return to his desk, he soaks up the beauty of his country and casts a last look over the fields. “Ethiopia has lots of good land that can produce. At the national level we should produce enough to feed the nation,” he explains. His mission is accomplished when the best practices have been scaled-up and the innovations have reached all of Ethiopia’s farmers.