Convince
sceptical
farmers

The bell rings and students spill out of the classrooms onto the corridors of Bahir Dar University. Established in 1996, the university is the second largest institution in Ethiopia after Addis Ababa University. Since then, over 40,000 students have enrolled in both undergraduate and postgraduate programmes. “Every kid in Ethiopia is going to school, so in 10 - 15 years we will only have literate farmers,” says Dr Yihenew G. Silasie, one of CASCAPE’s regional project coordinators. 

His office is located on the ground floor, overlooking the green square inside the university’s courtyard. As a soil scientist, his real office is in the fields though. CASCAPE’s approach of working closely with the farmers comes therefore natural to him. “Even though farmers do not have a diploma in agriculture, they are very educated, they know a lot of things if you listen to them. They have their own stories. If you put them in the driving seat, they will work with you, trust you, respect you and work with your technologies,” he says choosing his words carefully.

Potential

There is an aura of serenity around him that might come with the appointment of associate professor. However, despite his titles and 14 years of experience in research, he still sees himself as a soil scientist and says about his responsibility: “My job is to teach, conduct research and to do common service to the people.” Born and raised just 30km from Bahir Dar, the project’s proximity to home might also trigger a special kind of motivation that is passed on to the people working with him. With 20 million inhabitants, Amhara is one of the most populous regions in Ethiopia. Yet, equally high figures are recorded for cases of malnourishment. 

The mountainous areas prove a challenge to the development agents who use bicycles to get around. “Our topography is not suited for cycling, we are not in Wageningen,” he says and laughs. The next minute Dr Yihenew is composed again mentioning that natural resource management will be the most difficult objective to achieve in the CASCAPE project. Knowing the potential of his region, the initiative for him is only a starting point to convince sceptical farmers. “This project should not cease here. It should support the Bureau of Agriculture in scaling-up activities because we have accumulated the knowledge.” Another ring of the bell and the corridors fill once again with the voices of students soon actively shaping their country’s future.