the usual

A donor finances a project, monitors and evaluates its implementation, and finally, requests a report – the usual process in the development sector. Without innovation, there tend to be similar projects in an area, an increase of ‘fund shoppers’, and little success in scaling up good practices. But what if a learning component is included in projects in addition to mere fund management? And what if strong and mutually beneficial linkages are created between projects? This is exactly what the Food Security and Rural Entrepreneurship Innovation Fund program introduced, supporting agricultural innovations in Ethiopia to improve food security of farming families and promote rural entrepreneurship.

The Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Addis Ababa decided to finance this four-year program in 2012. From 2013 to 2016, 74 innovations in four regions of Ethiopia were granted financial support. In total, €6.625 million was provided in grants to agricultural innovators in the horticulture, aquaculture, poultry, and potato sectors amongst others. But it also went beyond just fund management, by incorporating a parallel linking and learning (L&L) component for the 39 projects under the category of innovation fund. The fund was managed by the international NGO ICCO Cooperation, while the linking and learning component was implemented by AgriProFocus, in collaboration with the Fair and Sustainable Ethiopia consultancy company.

Linking and learning matters

The objectives were to facilitate learning between innovators and others, and document and disseminate lessons learned. AgriProFocus developed critical learning questions related to economics and marketing, gender aspects, sustainability, environmental impacts, potential risks, and how innovations support food security. Questions were based on the innovators’ proposals, and shared and discussed with them during a kick-off workshop. Innovators prepared action plans for linking and learning, followed up by field visits.

AgriProFocus provided training on marketing, contract farming and the development of out-grower schemes. They organized sector-specific learning sessions for poultry, horticulture and potato value chains. For example, in response to the observed decline in the contribution of small-scale women poultry farming towards enhancing food security, a women-focused survey was conducted and results were shared with commercial and small-scale poultry farmers. As a result, an expert from PUM (Netherlands Senior Experts) helped to set up a ‘poultry learning lab’, hosted and managed by three commercial farms, and provided one-on-one support to innovators in other sectors.

Steps in the linking and learning process positively contributed to bringing innovators together to discuss and be better informed on common challenges and existing opportunities. One direct impact of using critical questions was that entrepreneurs identified gaps in their initial planning, helping them to reconsider some of their original thoughts. In the long term, this enables people to think more critically about new or expanding business ventures. Linking and learning between innovators and invited sector experts has led to clear benefits, especially from sharing problems and discussing solutions in the Ethiopian context. But it was not always easy finding experts to support the different sectors. Also, some innovators were less prepared to accept and implement the recommendations given.

From innovation to change

Innovators in Ethiopia face many problems beside the lack of financial support. While they try new ideas, technologies, products or processes, they take risks and search for the most effective and efficient gains. Support that links innovators to other businesses and markets, makes them more prepared, more successful, and helps them think beyond their original project. Also, including linking and learning in any agricultural innovation program adds value to the funders’ objectives. And importantly, increased sharing and networking helps to establish long-term relationships and collaboration on common agendas.

Written by Teklemariam Awoke (November 2017)
A result of Experience Capitalization training organized by the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Ethiopia, in collaboration with CTA and Guava Stories.
Pictures: AgriProFocus