Once a month, a group of Ethiopian farmers pack their walking sticks and leave their plots of land behind. They pass fields of different crops and follow down a small dirt road, which looks more like a landslide than a road. Even a four-wheel drive would have his problems here. At the end of the road, the tall, lean figure of Muluken Lulie is waiting for them. He is dressed in a grey suit and leads his visitors to a potato plot where the fifteen farmers gather around him. 

Farming blood runs through Muluken’s family. His parents earned their livelihoods on the field and Muluken grows potato, maize and teff on a total of three hectares. As common in Ethiopia, the plots are divided in smaller pieces scattered around his house. In 2011, the government sent the first agricultural experts or development agents (DAs) to his district (woreda). In their bags was a new potato variety called Belete, which means ‘superior’ and promised to increase productivity manifold. Muluken was curious and agreed on using some of his land to grow it. Several training sessions later, he was appointed model farmer and also chairman of the Farmers Research Extension Group (FREG) in his area. “The first thing I have learnt from the training is the need to increase productivity based on the available technologies,” he says.


Once a month, he shares his knowledge and experience with other farmers. “Development is for everybody,” he says referring to farmers outside of his group that question the selection of farmers made by the government and DAs. “The project does not have the capacity to go everywhere,” he explains and adds that it all starts with a change in mindset. “There is no jealousy among our group members. […] They see that we get good results from the interventions adopted, so everyone is now eager to accept those technologies.” Muluken picks up some potatoes and recounts his latest harvest of this crop: more than 100% yield increase. Murmur erupts among the farmers who spread out their hands to touch the potatoes still covered with soil.

However, there is a price to pay: “The crop requires much more labour […] and continuous supervision.” Muluken and his wife had to hire external labour, another mouth to feed besides their six children. Only some of his production is for household consumption, the majority is sold at the market. He focuses on the cash crops, which give him the biggest returns and allow him to plan for the future. “The first priority is to send my children to school. Then, I would like to get a sofa and electricity,” he says. The meeting is over after two hours and the farmers return to their homes. Muluken brings the potatoes to his storage room and hopes that the project is here to stay. “I am planning to go with CASCAPE for the next 10 years. They are doing a good job and their interventions are beneficial to us.”