Sharing research findings in Ethiopia

By Joern Fischer

My last blog post spoke of a number of planned activities to distribute our research findings to date in Ethiopia. Let’s start today … with the last of all events during that trip, a mini-conference with government and non-government stakeholders from the zonal, regional and federal levels.

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We had about 50 participants, who we engaged through numerous talks, discussions and in breakout groups. We covered topics of biodiversity conservation, ecosystem services and disservices, human livelihoods, gender and equity, governance, and future scenarios – all based on our original research over the last few years (see our project website).

Together, our findings tell a story of a rapidly changing landscape. The biggest challenges for local people relate to land scarcity (owing to population growth), crop raiding by wild animals (especially baboons; see here) and unhelpful policies around fertilizer use. We learned that especially the poor depend on the integration of conservation and production activities (this paper), and that the forest and also trees in farmland are used widely, in many different ways. We learned that gender equity had improved, but that there was still a long way to go (this paper); and we learned that there is a systematic communication gap between some stakeholders engaged in food security and biodiversity conservation (this paper).

Our small conference went well, and our findings were well received. What was particular interesting was the last session – on the future of southwestern Ethiopia. In this session, we presented multiple scenarios of what the future may bring – depicted in the bilingual book we just published, and distributed at the conference. Here, we were dealing with a mix of attendees, but most of them represented various government bodies.

And … essentially universally, they reasoned the best way forward was a scenario based on diversification of land uses and livelihoods; including strict protection of some forest patches, and modern organic practices throughout the rest of the landscape. This observation is interesting, because it is not reflected in what we heard from stakeholders on the ground … they, too, largely have this preference, but they speak of government policies that push intensification and commercialization, rather than diversification.

So it looks like to me like the people involved in various agencies are further than their policies – when asked as individual experts, their vision for a sustainable future is diversification-based. When we look at what is actually encouraged through policies, however, it’s less clear that diversification takes centre stage – rather, it seems we hear a lot of talk about various new varieties and fertilizers, and surplus production, and trade-offs between conservation and intensification.

This conversation won’t get resolved overnight, but it was interesting to share our findings, and stimulate discussion – including about what is the right direction for southwestern Ethiopia. Our attendants at least, seemed to largely agree with us – we need a systems perspective, bringing together livelihoods and conservation, and likely need diversified livelihoods and solutions.

Our presentations from the mini-conference – a total of 200-300 slides or so – are available on our project website within a few days of this blog post being published; as is the book summarizing the scenarios. Through time, other materials from this last field trip will also be there.

2 thoughts on “Sharing research findings in Ethiopia

  1. Fascinating, though I won’t say surprising. Reminds me of a presentation from a colleague at Cornell University years ago — Stefanie Hufnagl-Eichiner — where (IIRC) she found that government conservation professionals, non-government professionals, and a significant share of farmers all perceived similar (diversification-based?) practices as being pertinent to reducing run-off. But all actors viewed interventions to *support* such approaches unlikely, so even though most actors even in regulatory/expert positions viewed it as desirable, almost none viewed it as possible, which of course is at least partially self-fulfilling. (It seems this chapter of her thesis was never published; but see p. 82 onwards here: https://ecommons.cornell.edu/bitstream/handle/1813/30719/sh339.pdf?sequence=1). I may be misremembering it slightly, but my summary is what I recall from her presentation of it. It has stuck with me all of the 9 years since, as it strikes me as likely a common phenomenon: a sense, even near-consensus, about necessary changes, but a lack of a feeling of agency.

    This restrictive sense of what is possible is part of the reason I heavily used Donella Meadows’s ideas around visioning (http://donellameadows.org/envisioning-a-sustainable-world/):
    “When you envision… you are trying to state, articulate, or see what you really want, not what you think you can get. It’s very quick for most of us rationally trained people to go out to the farthest envelope of what we think is possible. We are putting all kinds of analysis and models in there of what is possible. I never would have said that it was possible for apartheid to end in South Africa, or for the whole of the Eastern world to come back towards democracy. And yet it happened. So that tells you something about our model of possibilities. You have to throw them away. You have to think about what you want. That’s the essence of vision. What is a sustainable world that you would like to live in? That would satisfy your deepest dreams and longings?” (emphasis added)

  2. Reblogged this on Beginning to End Hunger and commented:
    Results from my colleagues in Luneburg on their work in Ethiopia. Echoes of my former Cornell colleauge Stephanie Hufnagl-Eichiner in her work on agriculture and hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico, where even experts and government figures agreed on what could help (roughly, agroecological approaches) but because no-one thought they were politically possible to implement, no-one systematically agitated for policy support for them…

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