Time
will
tell

It is just after lunch and Getnet Akalie sets off by foot to his next stop. He has already visited two households today, a regular day in a life of a development agent (DA). He covers his dark close-cropped hair from the scorching sun. Only equipped with a notebook and a pen, he passes harvested fields with crops arranged in form of tipis. His sub-district (kebele) Achefer counts 1,500 households, of which 374 are run by females. Over the past years, Getnet has observed that female participation has remained low in his kebele and that women are more prone to food insecurity. “The female-headed households rule their lives by renting out or sharing their land. They mostly don’t have enough food to feed themselves three times a day,” he explains.

Often this is not a matter of choice. Disputed land tenure rights are often blocking women from access to their land and long working hours of 13-17 hours a day leave little to no time for selling their products. “There are some women who go to the market for trading. Those who go as a petty trader don’t make huge profit, as the amount of crops they sell is very small. If they get Br5 [ca. €0.20] a day, it will be used to buy salt and other materials but it won’t be sufficient for them.” Without plots of land to demonstrate new varieties on, females are also unable to become so-called model farmers.

Scepticism

Getnet whose background is in animal science walks past a field of potato. “When CASCAPE first came and introduced this new variety, I was really sceptical of whether farmers would lose their crop […] but after the demonstration I was confident enough that many farmers would adopt the technology,” he says. Once a new variety is approved, it is the job of the development agents to introduce it to the farmers. Being a pilot project, only a few farmers have gained access so far. Working directly at grassroots level, Getnet and his colleagues sometimes have to face accusations of favouring farmers over others.

On the other hand, the new technologies have improved the relationship between farmers and the DAs. “Before I simply gave the farmers the theory but I had no practical technologies at my disposal. Now I have both, which helps me to develop trust and the farmers are more open for change.” In the case of the seed potatoes, the number of benefitting farmers increased from 4 to 18 under his watch. “Now the farmers start to become our friends,” he says. After another five minutes of walking, Getnet has reached the next farmer. He takes off his makeshift head and wipes the sweat from his forehead. Having been a DA for eight years, he would not mind an office job with all its amenities.