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Food security learning journey

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To be read as a bus ride, sometimes fast, sometimes slow; sometimes in shocks, sometimes smoothly, but what you read is never complete because the bus must move on.


Wednesday, 29 October

Addis, Intercontental Hotel, early in the morning, Say hello to everybody, old and new colleagues from embassies and The Hague, still at the breakfast table. Everybody gets into the bus. Simone and Herman S., cheerful facilitators, in front. Nani and I sit down on the second row behind Tina, our tour manager. Bus starts rolling. When the shaking and the rocking of the bus decreases and the vehicle gets into a steady pace it is time for a word of welcome. No mike, so speakers stand in the middle of the bus in order to be heard.

Wijnand IJ. explains what we are in the bus for. Round of introduction. Herman S. puts us under the spell of the Magical Mystery Tour. I say a few words about Ethiopia and its history, but before getting sidetracked too much, remind myself of explaining the three pillars of EKN Addis’ programme. Dr Amsalu is next; gives a solid presentation about the seed sector project. I can only hear half of what he says, as he turns half of the time his head towards the front of the bus and half of the time to the rear when his voice gets lost in the noise of the bus. I read his solid hand-out to fill the gaps. Addis is behind us. Around us a landscape of rolling, yellowing teff, barley and wheat fields interspersed with green fields with pulses. Forested hilltops. Stop at the roadside. The sun is warm; the breezy air cool. We look at fields cultivated by members of a seed production cooperative. We bridge a roadside ditch to see the teff they grow. The kernels in the oars are still green and small. Some members have assembled near the field. Questions from us, translation, and their reply. We learn that they cluster their fields with no other teff fields around theirs. So no unwanted cross-pollination. Chickpea field on the other side of the road. Rotations are important too. How much income? Some members bought tractors. Next stop. A fenced compound with big sheds and an office building. Dr Amsalu introduces. The managing committee of the cooperative give short presentations. In Oromiffa. Dr Amsalu accidentally translates into Amharic instead of English. People laugh; so does he. Visit to the office. Sheets with facts and figures on the wall. Positive trends. A walking stick is used to point these out during the presentation. Two prize cups on a desk, awards for excellent achievements of the cooperative. We move to the big shed which has a seed sifting and cleaning machine. Added value for the cooperative. We now go into depth: sales, market niches, packaging, finance, and intellectual property rights. Cooperatives pay lower interest rates than companies in Ethiopia. What about gender? Behind each man stands a woman, they say.

A group picture with the members of the cooperative in the middle of a wheat field concludes the visit. We reach Adama, or Nazret in Amharic. We get off at a a hotel with a spatious lounge. Straight to the meeting room. Joep tells us that the sector approach works there where the energy is and that the ‘missing middle’ need attention. Working groups. I am with Worku and Marcellin in a group. Sector approach in Benin? there is none. On the contrary. The government there is not doing much good to the cotton sector; private sector is denied any role. The plenary is very much about result indicators. Do we have target groups? Yes, children are our principal target group. Nutrition indicators in the results framework are about them. Then it is time for our own nutrition. Lunch, injera.. After lunch we sit down for coffee. The lady lights the incense, the coffee is boiling on a little stove, but we have to go: to discuss thematic management. First Wilma presents organizing principles. What should steer budget allocation? (and who?). Reina follows with a briefing on the present discussion in The Hague: from result-based to result-oriented management, and, global analysis versus country expertise. Then Ton takes us through the corridors of Mozambique and Caro does the same through the area-based approach in Mali integrating water and markets. Ttime to leave but our bus is gone, with Tina and all. Phone calls. At last we find out that the bus had a small accident trying to get us a mike. Now held up by the police. We do the rest of the sessions in the garden of the hotel. Beer is served. Melle talks about the dairy programme in Kenya benefiting small and big farmers alike with a lot of NL expertise and enterprise built in. Subsequently, Ferko advises us not to claim too little (as our results). But where are awareness raising and behavioural change in the theory of change? Dinner time. One colleague is too tired and sleeps with his head down on the table. After dinner Laurent and I indulge in Bangladesh talk. A new bus arrives and we finally leave. It is late. I try to sleep; it is hard, for I have little leg space. Arrival at Haile Resort in Ziway in the middle of the night. Collect a key, climb the stairs and go to bed.


Thursday, 30 October

Wake up and work out notes. Breakfast. Talk with Rose and promise to send her the Bangladesh guiding note on results reporting. Get on the bus. Through the Rift Valley: savanna with acacia trees with wide, flattened crowns. It gets warm in the bus. AC is put on. Individual confessions in public about what we learned yesterday. Then Worku esplains EKN Addis’ strategy using tankers and speedboats, introducing one particular speedboat: the CASCAPE project , which is subsequentely described in more detail by CASCAPE managers Remko and Eyasu. One of their messages: scaling up tested good agricultural practices requires proper messaging. At Shashemene we turn east; the road is ascending again and brings us back in the dega. Around us farmland with cereals and beans fenced in by gum trees and erythrina, and lots of banana groves …without bananas. Last stretch is on a mud road. The going is slow with an over-cautious driver, causing the bus to tilt unnecesarily, nevertheless. We rather walk until we are picked up by minibuses from Awasa University which take us to the site, at Kofele. A large grass field. Farmers sitting on rows of benches. The press is there too, with film cameras. Welcome to the Southern Nations Region, says the District Commissioner. Big and clear posters to inform us about the activities of the project. We go through them one by one: good practices on malt barley, wheat, broad bean (faba), goat raising, nutrition. Chat (qat) cropping is on the rise here; it is more profitable than coffee. It is men’s business, therefore harmful for food security. PhD student found a solution: intercropping with food crops.
Visit to faba and barley field follows. The farming couple concerned explain how they have been able to send their son to university. Back to the meeting place. Lunch boxes. Hamburgers or fasting food (no meat). I also try the mashed roots of enset, the banana without bananas. In a fenced compound we meet with women with sheep and the rams they rent out for producing more sheep. Two gentlemen are put in the limelight, they were awarded for minutely following the advice of the extension service. I am getting a sunburn. Time to go. Drive through the market place of the town: horse carts, traders with their stuff on the ground, colourful shawls waving in the wind, and hundreds of inquisitive faces. One more stop. For me no time to listen to the farmer who is explaining: the media people take me aside for an interview What is my opinion of what I have seen here today? What more will the Netherlands support? Back into the bus. Little boys asking for water bottles. During the ride down I talk with Rose and Remko about mzungu and erythrina. We finally manage to get hold of a mike. Then we arrive at Savanna Lodge on the shores of Lake Longano.
I take pictures of the Acacia trees around the lodge. I still recognize most of them. We sit down under an open, straw-thatched structure looking out over the Lake. The opposite shore is only vaguely visibile through the haze over the lake. Below me a family is having a picture session. A new series of presentations. Laurent expounds his ideas about interventions, self-development and fluidity. Brechtje takes us to the Great Lakes, the virtue of systems analysis to understand conflict and food security as a means rather than as a goal (to reach stability) and Caro about what you can do if you have to work ‘indirectly’ on food security, in Rwanda, because the government told the embassy to stay out of production. Then we have to come up with statements and form groups to discuss them. I sign up for Melle’s statement because he believes CASCAPE is good for Kenya too (objectively validated practices). Dinner. Eline joins the group. We talk about Indonesia, Vietnam, Guatemala, No food security comes in though. Back to Ziway. Who wants to go on a boat trip tomorrow? Olnly place for ten people. Nani and I are residents, so don’t sign up. Back to Haile Resort. Some more Bangladesh talk with Laurent.


Friday 31 October

It is still dark. I hear my neigbour leave for the boat trip. I also get up to go for a walk. The sun just appears over the mountains on the other side of the lake. I follow a foot path to the lakeside. It gets too soggy and I turn back. Further up the lake I detect a large gathering of what seem to be very big birds. I go to the place to check it out. I find big birds indeed, many of them: Marabou storks trotting around on the shore and white pelicans wading gregariously through the shallow water near the shore. There are not only birds here. People move about with baskets of fish. They are coming from a landing site with small boats anchored around it. Here men take freshly caught fish to the shore and clean it on the spot. Nobody is paying attention to me, everyone is looking at the fish. The big birds are waiting patiently for their share in the catch, that will come after the cleaning. I walk back to the hotel. Wijnand M. and Simone are standing at the lakeside. I am surprised to see Simone. It tuns out she has overslept and missed the boat trip. The boat returnsShe still wants to go – there is still time – and asks Wijnand M. to come along. He politely declines, so I volunteer. The boatman starts the engine and we set off onto the wide expanse of water. A flock of white birds follow us in the wake, diving down to the water once in a while. We are in the good company of the Holy Virgin, whose figure is painted on the prow. We sail to one of the islands and go around it. The small island is full of birds: spoobills, herons, kingfishers, ibis and many other kinds; a bird that looks like a cormorant spreads out its wings to dry its feathers.

We return to the mainland where I still have time for a quick breakfast before the session on aid to trade starts. We sit in the garden of the lodge. Hans arrives just in time to give his presentation. There are birds here too. We can tell when one drops its dropping right on Wilma’s shoulder. I look up: I am sitting safely under an umbrella. From here we proceed to the rose farm. We are welcomed by Frank Ammerlaan from Ammerlaan’s Quality Roses, one of the companies operating in a large complex of greenhouses. ‘Are you all Hans’ colleagues?’ he inquires. He tells us that women are generally better workers than men are, more responsible. I ask him a question in my capacity of ‘nutrition scout’. His reply is that AQ Roses does not provide lunches to its workers because of the complications that would arise from the diversity of religious dietary prohibitions among the workers. In the beginning new workers sometimes fainted due to malnutrtion, but this no longer happens. We visit the greenhouse. Little bugs from a sachet help the company to eradicate moulds, by eating them. In the meantime women clear the shrubs of dead leaves to prevent the spread of pests and disease. We move on to a hall where the flowers are made ready for export. This involves sorting, cutting, arranging. The flowers will then be put into a freezer and shipped the next morning to the airport. A pretty good way of aid to trade, in Frank’s view. Back to Addis.

A presentation by Kadi on a wel-integrated programme in Uganda. Then Subha and Wijnand M. explain how they go about food security in the Palestine territories coping with the constraints caused/imposed by its close neighbour. Marcellin’s presentation comes last, about the development of an economic corridor to Nigeria involving municiipalities. To get rid of the ‘tracasseries’ on the roads is a vital element of the project. Then we talk at length about what are good ways of going from aid to trade or rather aid and trade. Lunch time. We stop and sit outside. But when the lunch is over we cannot continue our journey because the bus won’t budge. A little panic, again phone calls until Tina announces that another bus is coming our way. We continue our discussions in the compound of a friendly local until a swarm of bees fly in. The new bus arrives. It is our old bus with the first driver. And so we still manage to arrive at the embassy in time. A little final magic on our Magical Mistery Tour. We have a plenary session in the meeting room attended by Lidi and Martin. Everyone comes up with a lesson for his/her own work and a piece of advice for The Hague. Wijnand IJ. wraps up and Herman B. mobilizes volunteers for co-authoring the four reports. We conclude the journey with a reception at Lidi’s and chat and relax.

About the author

Jan Willem
First Secretary of Food Security, Netherlands Embassy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

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