Challenges and Changes Brought by COVID-19

The case of the Green Innovation Centre in Ethiopia

Campaign © GIZ

Corona made it seem impossible to continue the usual development work

2020 brought unique challenges to the work the BMZ’s Green Innovation Centre project is doing to support the agriculture and food sector in Ethiopia. However, having to work on securing food and seed for the coming years compelled the project to work through the challenges — April to June is planting season.

As Corona started spreading, movement restrictions came into place and it became difficult to reach farmers. The project considered collaborating with various partners to introduce innovative approaches to reach farmers and to continue the vital training and services in the Ethiopian agriculture system.

Radio against COVID-19: A farmer listens to the radio while preparing his field. © GIZ
The Ethiopian Ministry of Agriculture endorsed tools such as radio to pass information to farmers during COVID-19 times

Radio programme pro innovation and con COVID-19

In April and June — together with regional agriculture and health bureaus — the Green Innovation Centre ran radio programmes in two major languages of Ethiopia. The series informed an estimated 1.5 million farmers about innovations they could use in their production while spreading precautionary information against Corona.

It also covered the status of desert locust infestation, control measures and the role of farmers in the process. 30,000 flyers and 3,000 posters, with measures against COVID-19, also assisted the awareness campaign for rural farming and semi-urban communities.

“I am happy that we could reach so many farmers through the radio programme. It was an opportunity to help protect farmers’ families from COVID-19 and introduce some of our innovations, good agricultural practices and ideas to increase agricultural productivity,” said Sebsebe Zewde, Amhara regional project manager.

In addition to the mass information efforts, face masks and sanitisers were provided to agricultural experts and development agents who continue to support farmers during the pandemic.

Furthermore, the Green Innovation Centre Ethiopia distributed megaphones to facilitate open-air agricultural advisory services. The megaphones are also used to promote messages for personal care and protective measure against COVID-19 to an estimated 400,000 farmer households.

This outreach campaign was complemented by supplying agricultural inputs to farmers in order for them to be able to cultivate the highest wheat and legumes yield. Seeds, fertilizers, improved cultivators, ploughs and farm implements were made available to farmers who are members of a Rotation Based On-Farm Demonstration scheme, which is introduced to promote good agricultural practices, crop rotation and row seeding for over 120,000 smallholders. The provision is also entailing helping twenty seed-producing farmers’ cooperatives multiply seed for the coming years.

Blended learning – Training for trainers with a new advisory approach

Agricultural training is one of the activities affected by the outbreak of Corona. Considering this challenge, the Green Innovation Centre is exploring a blended-learning approach—for the first time in Ethiopia—to introduce a combination of virtual and practical training for farmer trainers: development agents. A client-centred extension approach, which uses a multitude of training aids, is at the heart of the blended-learning approach where development agents are trained to serve farmers as clients. A mobile application will facilitate the learning process by helping trainees learn new methodologies and practical courses for the field.

The project is similarly developing and testing simulation games to facilitate learning and smooth exchange between development agents and farmers. The game helps the agents to learn more about sustainable agriculture, in particular crop rotation, mulching, agricultural mechanization and good agricultural practices.

User interface Lersha mobile app for farmers

An e-commerce platform for farmers

The pandemic made it difficult for farmers to use public transport and to buy inputs from farm service centres. Because of this, the farm services centres are now extending their service to farmers via an online platform called Lersha which combines a call centre and agricultural agents. The integrated digital system offers farm inputs, mechanization and advisory services to smallholders. Farmers use mobile phones or ‘Lersha Agents’ who are qualified in agriculture to access the service.

Lersha also provides farmers with precise weather forecasts using a global positioning system and it is a platform where farmer unions can offer their products and get connected to markets.

The entrepreneur behind Lersha, Abrhame Endrias, is optimistic about the platform: “We would like to make farming easy for everyone. Farmers will get inputs and crucial farming information in time to strengthen productivity and we create jobs for more than 200 Lersha agents, IT specialists and vendors.”

Financed by BMZ and implemented by GIZ, the Green Innovation Centre Ethiopia project is committed to supporting farmers and the agriculture sector even in the difficult times of Corona to continue agricultural production and productivity for Ethiopia.

Learn more about the Green Innovation Centres for the Agriculture and Food Sector in Ethiopia

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Magnus Schmid, Programme Manager, (responsible)
Wibishet Fessha, PR and Communications Advisor (author)