IFPRI Evaluates a New Wheat Package Rollout in Ethiopia

A farmer weeding in an experimental wheat plot in the Abosar Alko kebele,in Oromia. Photo credit: G. Abate/IFPRI

A farmer weeding in an experimental wheat plot in the Abosar Alko kebele, in Oromia. Photo credit: G. Abate/IFPRI

This month, researchers from the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) concluded a farmer survey to learn how wheat growers in Ethiopia responded to the new promotional package rolled out by the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) and the Ethiopian Agricultural Transformation Agency (ATA). The purpose of the package is to help wheat farmers increase their crop yields. While Ethiopia is a major regional producer of wheat in sub-Saharan Africa, the government spends a significant amount of foreign exchange to import about a million tons of the grain annually. To ease this dependence on imports, the government has started to design a strategy for import substitution, which includes, in part, developing a robust local wheat sector.

The wheat package did not introduce new techniques to farmers, except for row planting. Gashaw Abate, IFPRI visiting research fellow and member of the IFPRI wheat evaluation team, said, “What makes the package different is that it promotes optimal use of inputs and best agronomic practices to farmers.” The package includes recommendations for fertilizer application rates, use of certified improved seeds at a reduced seed rate, and planting in rows instead of scattering seeds by hand. These planting recommendations were introduced to about 400,000 wheat farmers in 200 kebeles located in the four main regions of Ethiopia’s wheat belt: Amhara, Oromia, SNNP, and Tigray.

In each kebele, the ATA targeted between 5 to 14 model farmers to promote the package by providing a one-day training course on applying the package, a voucher for 50 kilograms of urea fertilizer, improved wheat seeds on credit (free of interest charges), and help with transporting and selling the wheat to the Ethiopian Grain Trade Enterprise’s (EGTE) buying stations. Gashaw explained that the fertilizer vouchers were important for wheat farmers, especially for those in parts of Bale and Arsi—two of Ethiopia’s largest wheat-producing regions—where farmers don’t typically apply fertilizer. During face-to-face interviews, many reported to Gashaw that their crops responded well to the use of the fertilizer made available through the vouchers.

“Getting seed at the right time is a big deal”

The ATA also addressed a major roadblock for wheat farmers. Historically, Ethiopia’s wheat sector has faced persistent seed shortages. Through the ATA’s efforts coordinating with the Ethiopian Seed Enterprise, regional seed enterprises and cooperatives, seeds were delivered on time to farmers in the wheat-initiative areas. “For farmers, getting seed at the right time is a big deal,” Gashaw said. “This is a significant success for the ATA.”

While the ATA was introducing its promotional package, the IFPRI wheat evaluation team—Nicholas Minot, Alan de Brauw, Tanguy Bernard, and Gashaw Abate—were launching a two-pronged impact evaluation to measure the effect of the package on farmers’ yields and incomes. To start, the researchers selected 73 wheat-initiative kebeles in Amhara, Oromia, and Tigray. The kebeles were divided into 37 high-intensity and 36 low-intensity kebeles. The team worked with model farmers, non-model farmers, and female farmers, breaking each group up into their own experimental and control groups.

In the first round, at harvest, the IFPRI team conducted a crop-cut survey in the low-intensity kebeles to measure the yield differences between farmers who applied the package and farmers who followed traditional planting methods. Farmers were randomly assigned to one of three groups: a treatment group that received support to apply the full package, a second treatment group that only received assistance with marketing their crops to the EGTE, or a control group that did not receive support to apply the package.

The second round of the evaluation, the Ethiopia Wheat Grower’s Survey, took place from February to March 2014. IFPRI-led teams conducted interviews with all of the farmers in the sample. Researchers wanted to gauge farmers’ opinions of the package, and were interested to learn how farmers responded to the package and if they planned to adopt the program’s recommendations in the future. The survey results will show the ATA which interventions the farmers embraced and which interventions the farmers neglected.

Using a reduced-seed rate through row planting is a major piece of the package. However, farmers were convinced that 50 kilograms of seed per hectare was not enough because they traditionally use 75 kg per half hector. “Farmers were very skeptical of the recommendation,” said Gashaw. “Some applied additional seed on top of the recommended amount.” Gashaw recalled visiting two particular wheat farms where farmers did plant with the recommended amount of seed, and both farmers reported impressive yield results.

Row planning requires fewer seeds than broadcasting, making it possible to use less seed on the same area of ground. When planting in rows, it also becomes easier for farmers to spot and pull the weeds that compete with the wheat for soil nutrients. Still, persuading farmers that they can both save seeds and harvest higher yields proved difficult. Researchers did see adoption of row planting, but farmers voiced concerns that the labor component was significant compared to broadcasting. Some farmers reported that while broadcasting requires one farmer, row planting could require an additional two laborers.

Farmers’ Day

In some of the kebeles, Development Agents (DAs) organized a Farmers’ Day around a model farmer’s plot to demonstrate to other farmers in the community the difference between plots planted with traditional broadcasting methods and plots that followed the wheat package. The DAs explained the package and the different methods and application rates used by the model farmers. Gashaw attended one of the Farmers’ Days in Sama (a kebele found in the Minjar Shenkora woreda) and observed the lively discussions sparked among farmers. He reported that the farmers in attendance were excited and expressed interest in applying the wheat package in the next planting season. “There is a clear demand for the wheat promotional package,” he said.

During the training, Gashaw also recalled how one DA pointed to a nearby wheat plot planted in the traditional manner. The plot looked sparse and yellow in color. The demonstration plot, where the training took place, was very green and healthy. “The differences between the plots were very eye-opening for farmers,” Gashaw said. The DAs were not only able to teach other farmers in the community about the advantages of the wheat package, but were able to visibly show farmers the differences in results.

The social aspect of spreading the word through demonstrations and success stories in the farming community is important to help other farmers adopt better planting practices. Measuring the impact of a farmer’s social network is another piece of IFPRI’s impact evaluation study. Researchers want to know if farmers talk to each other about their planting methods, identify what information they share, and determine how far their networks extend. In 2015, an IFPRI follow-up survey will take place to measure the adoption rates of farmers who were not included in the ATA’s original intervention, but were influenced through word-of-mouth. For now, both rounds of the IFPRI impact evaluation are complete, and researchers are in the process of cleaning and analyzing the survey data. Later this year, the wheat survey team will release a report with the survey’s findings.

During his time in the field, Gashaw heard stories from many model farmers about how their relatives and neighbors would stop by their plot and were impressed with the health of their crops and yield increases. Friends and relatives would ask, “What are you doing differently?” This is the question that researchers want farmers to ask, and the goal is for model farmers to continue to spread their stories of success.


Read the full description of the impact evaluation, written by the IFPRI wheat team, hereCheck back in the summer for the IFPRI report on the findings of the wheat impact evaluation.

This article appeared in the first edition of the REAP quarterly newsletter. Download the PDF here.