Friday, June 16, 2017

Somaliland : the end of pastoralism?

With the drought and the state of emergency in Somalia, there are many NGOs trying to fundraise money from wider public. Most stories you will hear through them are stories of famine and dying children. These stories are usually very inconsistent with what i have seen with my own eyes and what i have learned from interviewing key stakeholders.
image taken from the Economist
The last week Economist has a very informative article about what is truly happening in Somaliland and the consequence of the drought. It reflect well the stories that i have heart.

Pastoral lifestyle is under threat : those pastoral families who have lost too many animals have no reason to continue their nomadic life. So they decide to settle, usually next to water point. There they start building houses, enclose land for their needs and therefore start closing the classical nomadic routes. Also they need to create a new livelihood, and start cutting tree and produce charcoal. Less trees lead to more erosion and less water infiltration which will end up reduce the productivity of the grazing land that the pastoral need to feed there animals.

Claims on land in Somaliland are becoming more and important leading to conflict, therefore a policy on land has recently been developed to enhance the existing customary law. But who will enforce it in a state of emergency?

Get a informative read from the Economist here.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Are smallholder farmers going to feed the world?

Monitoring and evaluation has become core business in the development sector, even for research. So for every project we have to come up with a theory of change. We need to explain to donors how our projects will influence our partners and how our partners will then influence other stakeholder to reach an impact on the ground.

One of the story we often use tries to convince the donor that we will come up with new way to support smallholder farmer to commercialize. This means, we hope to contribute to the emergence of a smallholder farmer that will produce more food that for her/his own subsistence, and therefore will start selling food on the local market. Often we also hope that this smallholder farmer will invest the new revenue into better production means and therefore will become a more capitalized farmer, i.e. how has more equipment (for example a tractor or a milking machine). And after some years, our smallholder farmer will be a proud agri-entrepreneur contributing to African food security.

CIAT Kisumu 7

Nice story, and somehow is can sound convincing, isn't it. However when i look at the Kenyan context, i find it hard to believe, as most agri-businesses are actually started by young highly educated people with good incomes from other jobs... So where does my smallholder story fit this reality?

CCAFS Nepal-70 

 Some weeks ago, i joint a fascinating webinar, where Prof. Thomas Jayne investigates this question across different African countries. Only 5% of the medium scale farms are in fact smallholder that have commercialized, all other are or privileged rural population who by inheritance have relatively own big land or urban investors. Will this 5% be enough to justify our work in the up-coming years? or do we need to rethink what we truly want to focus on?

In the meantime a look at this fascinating presentation below  or check the website!

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Counting livestock from the sky?

In my recent discussions with technoserve around the the use of drones and high resolution satellite images in the livestock sector, i have been looking more closely at  high resolution satellite images from DigitalGlobe with the objective to count livestock from the sky. 

While many people are not yet convinced this is possible, i have just found a very interesting application in the Washington post of May 1st. They have used DigitalGlobe images to count cows on grazing land from industrial farms in the US who claim to be organic. They found that much less animals are on grazing land than expected by the organic norms...

Big brother is watching us!  i am looking forward to explore if similar application could work for livestock in the developing world : it could revolutionize the way we can implement grazing management in drylands.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Alternative incomes : giving land less people a chance

Because of the landholding system in Ethiopia, many people are so-called landless, i.e. they do not own certified farming land.

Landless people are often given other natural resources which they are required to administer sustainably. On our reconnaissance tour in Atsbi, we find out that there were 3 options.

1. irrigated rehabilitated land

Some of the governmental land get rehabilitated through mass mobilization. When it is possible, the government set up a small irrigation scheme, the newly gained land and offers landless people to crop.

a small scale irrigation scheme

2. maintain the a the forest

Some landless people can get a piece of forest, where they can collect the fruit sometime cut some branches to maintain the forest. In addition to that, the owner can keep beehives. Each beehive need to be kept 2 m from each other. We met a farmer that used his piece of land optimally, and was able to produce very pure white honey. He was producing about 300 kg a year. But when we wanted to buy some, we learned that he had sold it all. There is no market problem for the white Tigray honey.
The very successful honey producer
So in the end we bough from someone else for 350 birr per kg, this is 13.5 usd, the fair price for the top quality honey...  good business
the girl are packing our honey

 3. fisheries

 There is an fishery expert in the zone, quite astonishing for a region that is as dry as Tigray. But because of the long dry period, there are many dams to collect the water. The government is planning to have fish in these ponds and dams. This offer another profitable activity to landless people.
water in a dam

The is a clear push in the area to find new alternative incomes for people who do not have land. A great initiative. But will it be sufficient for this growing population?

Monday, March 27, 2017

The challenge of the fasting period : the milk cooperative in Agula

In my last trip to Ethiopia, we stopped in Agula, a town on our way to the site. We stopped at the small milk cooperative, that had 28 members. They collect milk every day, homogenize it and bring it to Mekelle the biggest town situation less than one hour away by car
list of cooperative members
We arrived on a fasting day : Ethiopian orthodox no not consume any animal sourced product on Wednesday and Friday, 40 days before Easter and Christmas and some other weeks. During fasting period, animal sourced food is not allowed to be shown in public. So when we arrived we only found a small boy. Business is low, and adults are busy bringing the milk and other dairy product away.
the boy we interviewed
The fasting brings many challenges to dairy production? how to store all the milk for 40 days? We learned from the boy he milk price reduces by 2 birr per litre (corresponding to a 20% price drop). But the demand does not disappear totally, there are sufficient non orthodox people and hotels that continue consuming milk. The rest is processed into butter.

machine used for milk homogenization
It is challenging to set up a value chain around animal sourced food where at least 4 months a year demand is collapsing...

the cooperative collection point

Monday, March 20, 2017

Getting the concentrates : the feed processing plant

Our last stop on my last field trip to Ethiopia was the feed processing plant in Mekelle, the capital of Tigray region. We went to a site where farmer's union have a fertilizer factory and since recently a feed processing plant, that right now is still a temporary construction.
raw material
The processing plant stores all raw material. Oil seed cake, mainly sunflower, nug and sesame seed cake that are source from Amhara as well as cotton seed cake that is sourced from Tigray. The maize bran is local when available but also coming from Oromia. In principle they have the same ingredients that the feed retailer in Atbsi. In addition to that, they would also have lime.
The final product
They have been trained to do the right mixures for fattening cows and for dairy cows. There is no specific mix for sheep. Different oil seed cake have different nutritional values. Therefore each batch that arrives has been tested for its content and the mixing recipe adjusted consequently.

Because it is a union, orders come in through cooperative. Feed is then delivered to these cooperative, where the farmer can go and pick his order. Therefore, the feed processing plant does not know to how many farmers they deliver. There is also one big ranch that directly sources from them.
the quality of oil seed cake is checked in a lab before acquisition
So finally, this feed processing plant is mixing the same ingredients than the feed retailer. The only difference is that the concentrate from the processing plant has been mixed with the right ratios, providing optimal energy to the animal. It is therefore a guaranteed quality.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Where the *** did the savanna go?

One objective of the my past trip to Burkina Faso was to validate some of our maps, and more particularly the land cover map.

So we decided to go North of Bama and to turn right into the dust road to Padema, there were the savanna should be.
the road to Padema

And this is what we found in the savanna :
crops between mango trees

A papaya tree plantation

up coming mango tree plantation


animal feeding on crop residues in the fields
So basically everything but savanna. It has a bit more tree than what is classified as cropland, but everything is somehow used for crop, with the exception of what is classified as savanna with trees, which we could find and is still the original natural vegetation

original vegetation

Some natural vegetation
Conclusion, we will have to think hard on how we want to define grazing and cropping area in our environmental model!

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Whose grazing land? the seasonal rights on communal land

Atsbi, the study area in Ethiopia for my current project, has made a bold move from free grazing to zero grazing.

Free grazing means that animals can just freely move around the landscape and eat crop residues from fields and natural grazes where ever they find them. This leads to the classical tragedy of the commons, no one has incentives to keep the right number of livestock as feed is free. Therefore the landscape gets over-exploited.

The move to zero-grazing means that farmer keep their livestock at home and feed them from their own land. Livestock that does not move also consumes less, there is therefore an additional benefit.

But what is happening with the grazing land that previously was freely use? how gets access to that grass?
the grazing land that was still in private ownership

Grazing land is often considered as community land and therefore managed by the community. We have visited two of them and talked to people around to understand the management.

We discovered that access was seasonally regulated. During the rainy season access was restricted to all. After the rainy season, farmers with certified land would share the grazing land according to oxen ownership. Who has 1 oxen gets one share, who has 2 gets two share. Note that who is landless (who does not have certified farming land), does not get access, because they do not need oxen, though they might actually own a dairy cow. There are paid guards who make sure that no free grazing takes place.

This grazing land was open for free grazing

After a certain amount of time, the grazing land is becoming common grazing land again. Who has not made hay or collected his share of grass by that date, will just loose it, as others can come with their animals to graze it.

In conclusion, there are seasonal property rights on grazing land! There is only one exception : the church cow can graze anywhere any time, it benefits to all, so one one will chase it away :-) .

Monday, March 13, 2017

What revolution can the drones bring to the livestock sector?

Last week, i joined the workshop on Animal Health Delivery in pastoral zones. I have been asked to discuss how geospatial technology can bring change into this industry. Here is the power point presentation i gave :

The workshop brought together government representative, NGO and private sector to discuss what are the challenges and opportunities to bring animal health to pastoral zone, an area that has cope with low infrastructure, low and moving populations.

The biggest constraints identified  were :
  • The negative perception of pastoralist towards vaccine, it is seen as an emergency solution and not as prevention. This leads to no vaccine demand. Many pastoralists live in very basic condition with poor health and hygiene themselves.
  • vaccine quality is low, and often ineffective
  • In emergency, government roles out big vaccination campaigns, but there is no coordination among the different stakeholders and the is no post check on the effectiveness of the campaign.
  • there are insufficient trained human resources  on the ground, despite of the fact that there would be sufficient trained vets available.
  • NGO budget often end up in offering free services at the wrong moment, distorting market and effectiveness
  • there is the understanding that animal health should be governmental, therefore the government constrains the market too much (i.e. not allowing for imports)  

The biggest opportunities identified were :
  • allow for vaccine import, Kenya is not producing sufficiently and the right time
  • there is a potentially big and untouched customer base
  • There is scope for  more user friendly vaccines, i.e. vaccines that do not per se need highly trained staff for administration or vaccine that are termo-stable (that do not need cooling)
  • In the short term, there is a need for a cold chain, keeping vaccines cold and therefore maintain their quality
  • Investigate effective way for public private partnership 
  • further develop infrastructures such as roads and mobile networks
It was a fascinating workshop : it will lead to an in deepth study to understand these limitations and opportunities better, including trying to work with drone data. Definitely interesting work deserving a follow up!

Friday, March 10, 2017

whose animal? whose work? whose money? a gender reflection from Atbsi

On my last trip to Atsbi, we met two farmers who kept dairy cattle : one man, one women.

For the women, she clearly felt that the animal was a common ownership between her and her husband. When we interviewed her, the husband had gone with the animals to the water point.
the woman farmer we interviewed
She would feed and milk the cow. She showed us how to prepare and mix feed for the animals, she got training for that. Having a Holstein dairy cow increased her labor, as she is now preparing optimal feed for the cow. She mentioned that this was now possible because her children are a bit older. A quick look at her children told me she meant no breastfeeding anymore.

She was selling the milk to the cooperative. It was difficult to understand what she does with the money. As far as we understood, part of it would go to buy the concentrate feed, and this could be done either by him or her. If he goes she would give him the money for that.
homestead of the woman farmer
Clearly, in this household, the care of the animals at home was a woman's duty, no wonder she had small children and she would stay at home. The husband would take over the tasks a bit further from home such as going to water points or getting feed.

We got at very different picture from the landless dairy cow keeper in the settlement. The cow was his and he would fully take care of it, from feed to milking and selling. His wife had a job, and the livestock was his activity and a secondary income for the household. He was a carpenter and keeping livestock was not his first choice. But he said that now he sees the benefit, he is happy with it.
the male farmer and his calf
Clearly we did not interview a representative sample size, but from the two interviews we had, it is clear that gender role in livestock keeping can be very different in each households even when they are less than 2 km apart.

I still wonder why i did not ask the man what he does with the money he makes from milk, and who takes the decision on how to spend it. Is that my own gender bias?

Friday, March 3, 2017

Milk? that's a matter for the minister of Interior!

During our visit in Bama, in Burkina Faso, we talked for some hours with the livestock union. At the certain stage of the discussion, we asked them about gender roles.
Milk is clearly a matter for women, who handle both the milking and the sale. This makes sense as milking cows just like women tend to stay home when young men go on transhumance with the rest of the herd.
the representative of the livestock union
But we digged further... we discovered that men and women own their livestock within a herd. We were told that in some households women own more cattle than men, but men would take care of them. So we dug even further. So who decides about the sale of an animal? then it became very complicated and the men started talking and laughing.

the goats in the back not bothering about our gender discussion
The translation for us then was : madam is the ministry of Interior, she takes all the important decision in the household, but never openly, men will implement the decision from their ministry and do as if it was theirs!
The men going home after our meeting

We were discussing just with men. Next time we go back we will need to talk to women to see their version of the story!

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Improve productivity by minimizing livestock disease

In Atsbi, Ethiopia, the second biggest challenge with livestock after feed shortage is animal health. Animal disease reduce animal productivity, as sick animal produce less milk and meat but also tend to die.

One way to improve livestock productivity, is to offer veterinary services. At the entrance to Atsbi, a veterinary post run by the government can be found. When we arrived there, they way spraying animals with pesticide, so that they would not be attacked by mites that can lead to skin issues. In the rainy season they spray to avoid ticks who are the carriers of East Coast Fever.

A cow or two sheep get sprayed for 1 birr, a heavily subsidized price.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Making the data revolution work in Kenya

Last week, i was invited by technoserve, an NGO looking at business solutions to end poverty, to join a meeting bringing together GIS (Geographical Information Systems) experts in Kenya from a whole range of organizations, including private sector, NGOs, government representatives, governmental organization and research both national through university of Nairobi and international (well myself and my technician).

The aim of the meeting was to support technoserve to understand better how the sector currently looks like. We discussed many bottleneck in the current systems, trying to understand how comes that so many technologies are available in location based services, and yet so little is in use. Through group discussions we found out several issues that are characterizing the Kenyan context, among  which :
  • policy and regulation are not in favor in new technologies (until last week for example Kenya had no legislation about commercial drones, and it was almost impossible to fly drones) 
  • there is a lack of awareness across all organizations and levels, mainly in the Kenyan government, which explains the lack of policies.
  • There is lack of well trained staff that can take up the challenge of new technologies
  • There is no lobby group for GIS and new technologies in Kenya (true, and this meeting was great to meet a lot of new people) 
  • There are almost no opportunities locally to keep oneself up-to-date in this fast moving world. 
group work during the workshop
What i learned from it? My work at ILRI today has nothing to do with the work i did some 3 years ago. We have moved from a data scares world into a world there data in abundance, but we do not know how to learn from it. We have moved from a static world to a very dynamic one, as new data comes in our maps have to up-date and send relevant and understandable information to decision makers. Concept of near real time, machine learning and big data are changing our jobs... it is a really exiting world... but only few of the organizations present at the meeting were aware of the on-going data revolution...
David Galaty, the project manager of innovation in outcome measurements

The project that brought us together is called innovation in outcome measurement, and aims at understanding why some technologies are available but its potential is not used... good question and guess what? was raised by Gates Foundation, that funds the overall project. Beyond this meeting, the project foresees to test the use of drones in the livestock sector, a sector that is more complex than crop (which don't move) and for which drones have hardly been used up until now. What can drone change? which livestock related businesses can it enhance? what new insights can we gain? I will hopefully be part of the team that will try to answers these questions and see how to combine data from drones with other sources to gain new insights in the livestock sector.

example of drone used for aerial photography
Once again, Gates foundation is just making it happen : giving me indirectly the opportunity to challenge the status co, push me out of my comfort zone and giving me a  space for radical re-thinking. I am exited and looking forward to take this challenge up along with technoserve.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Sheep : the panty of the herd

In my last field work in Bama in Burkina Faso, we had a very long and interesting discussion with the livestock union, bringing together the association for dairy farmer, for fattening farmer and butchers.

We had a lengthy discussion with them about their cattle keeping systems and their challenges. No word was lost about goats and sheep. So we did as always, we just asked. 

We discovered that cattle keeper do not really keep goat because they have different grazing patterns. Therefore one cannot go on transhumance with cattle and goats. Also, in their understanding, if someone has goats, is complete, meaning it is a system on its own. 

However, a cattle keeper will always keep sheep. They have similar grazing pattern than cattle and therefore can be kept together. Often livestock keeper have a breeding strategy, and manage their herd accordingly. So they do not want to sell off cattle when they have a urgent money need. That's why they keep sheep : in order to have something small to sell off to pay for something unexpected, such as a family member who gets sick and one need money for health care. It is a risk management strategy that allows them to not touch their herd. "Sheep is the panty of the herd" they told us. The last thing you can strip before you have to touch you herd. 

Thursday, February 23, 2017

The charming feed trader!

In my last trip to Atsbi, Ethiopia, we decided to interview a feed retailer in Atsbi itsef. He was selling maize bran is locally sourced from Tigray.

sunflower seed cake
He also had cotton seed, sesame seed, sunflower seed and nug seed cake. Oil seed cakes are usually coming from Amhara region (South of Tigray) except the cotton that is grown in Tigray.
maize bran

cotton seed cake

He was mentioning that all price went up by 20% in the last month. He could not explain why. (but we know the African continent experiences a historic drought, so there must be a huge demand for livestock feed).
We also where wondering why customer would come to him rather to his competitor. He says that he can sell a whole range of concentrate, his competition would not have such a variety of products.
When we left him, we told him that we think all customer come to him, especially women, because he is such a charming men!
the feed retailer laughing at our explanation why people should buy from him...

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Destocking in Atsbi : a move to more sheep?

Atbsi, in Northern Ethiopia is known for its highland sheep. Because it mainly feeds on grass it also get a special taste and therefore reaches a better market place. A special breeding program supported by the Livestock CRP (the research program i am working on) in the area is looking at improving the breed by selection. Indeed the carcass weight is 40% below its potential, meaning one could get more meat from one animal. The reason for this investment?

The bet is that destocking will take place by shifting from cattle to sheep. Really? the area has been chosen by the government for dairy production and the farmers we met in the presence of Ethiopian government representative all told us they want to have dairy (farmer 1, farmer 2)?

So we decided to stop randomly and talk to some farmer without the Ethiopian government representative. We found a farmer who was winnowing crops. We stopped and talked to him. He had a cross-breed cow and some sheep. His major challenge was fodder, and he was not convinced that his dairy cow was holding the promise of more milk. He was thinking of getting more sheep. He says that he can feed 10 sheep with the same fodder than for one cow and that seemed more profitable for him...

Will mechanization holds its promises? if yes how will destocking in Atsbi look like? More dairy? more sheep? Maybe just more specialized! A story to follow!

Monday, February 20, 2017

Destocking in Atsbi : a move to dairy production? (2)

My last post has discussed the move toward dairy production in Atsbi. We visited another farmer who also moved to improved cattle but within a settlement.

the carpenter who became a farmer
The farmer was landless (see here what this means in Ethiopia), and his wife had a job in the nearby school. He used to be carpenter but he had an accident, so had to change occupation. He had recently go the house he is living in and as he moved he had sold his sheep to buy a pregnant dairy cow that he keeps in his compound.

off-spring from his first dairy cow

He is landless but get access to 0.25 ha irrigated land, where he gets crop residue from. But he does not get access to the communal land and therefore buys crop residues, grass and concentrate for his cow.
The dairy cow in the settlement
His shed has enough space for at least two cows. So when we asked him where he will be in 5 years, he said that he will have a cow more so that he can get more income. He hopes that with this income he can move to Wucro the nearest big town, where the economy is booming.