Published 4 years ago.
About a 5 minute read.
Image: Ethiopian farmers harvest teff | Wikimedia
In conversation with Dr Tomaso Ceccarelli and Dr Elias Eyasu Fantahun — winners of the 2019 Olam Prize for Innovation in Food Security.
The innovation co-led by Dr Tomaso Ceccarelli of Wageningen Environmental
Research and Dr Elias Eyasu Fantahun of Addis Ababa University in
Ethiopia will transform productivity and drastically improve the livelihoods
of smallholder farmers in food-insecure areas across the country. I spoke with
them to learn more.
Innovation Mapping for Food
or IM4FS, is a landscape mapping approach that will combine data and
information from local stakeholders to recommend ‘best-fit’ combinations of
crops, farming practices and conditions. Farmers can then implement these
changes, with support from local planners or extension workers, to help them
reach their full yield potential and boost food security in the region.
IM4FS builds on the strength of the CASCAPE
project — which combines data, GIS
mapping and stakeholder engagement for improved agricultural productivity. IM4FS
takes all of this but enhances it with a
functionality vital for addressing food-insecure areas. This brings a more
dynamic and interactive tool to provide simulations and aid stakeholder
We believe that both CASCAPE and IM4FS are unique. If you consider the existing
approaches to land evaluation, they do not typically introduce stakeholder
engagement at various stages to inform and validate the proposed actions. This
information gathered from farmers, extension workers and other local experts —
on current conditions, challenges and expectations — is combined with social,
economic and environmental data and fed into the GIS-based tool to produce the
The mapping model is also unique because it is dynamic. Through the IM4FS user
interface, the best-fit recommendations can respond to the specific information
or questions fed into it, making it a valuable scenario-planning tool for these
stakeholders. They can simulate which interventions should be done in which
regions, and how — for instance, where the most suitable areas and conditions
exist in the country to introduce malt
and the necessary fertilizer or infrastructure requirements.
Image credit: Olam
Ethiopia has the potential to be self-sufficient, but because of various
constraints —especially poor farming practices, low-quality seeds, pest and
disease, and inefficiencies — productivity is poor and the country relies
heavily on food imports. This is absurd when you think the country is the
second-largest in Africa for arable land and has the potential to be
What is promising is the Ethiopian government’s target to double productivity,
but its policies apply to the whole country. The huge diversity — climate,
geological and social — means that change needs to happen at the regional level.
For example, a farming practice that works for one farmer may not work for
another; and a certain crop variety that’s suited to a particular location won’t
grow in different soil conditions elsewhere. This is where we come in — with a
solution involving local stakeholders to shape specific agricultural innovations
for a given area.
Improving food security means making sure it’s available at household level. We
are targeting this innovation in areas where millions of farmers rely on food
hand-outs, but with the right agricultural interventions, could be
Since we began the CASCAPE programme in 2016, this evidence-based approach to
applying best-fit combinations of crop and farming practices has tripled
wheat yields and doubled yields of
teff and faba
bean. For faba bean — an important and
often only protein source for these farmers — the increase is mainly because
we’ve been able to identify the need for and introduce more disease-resistant
For the 200,000 farmers currently involved in the programme, these increases
mean they can now grow sufficient food to feed their families and earn a
This is the result of many years of hard work, and it gives us a great morale
boost to continue working with farmers who are struggling and help them reach
It is really motivating to work with local researchers and other parties to
develop smart solutions to tackle something as devastating as hunger. Now we
have the opportunity, thanks to the Olam Prize, to strengthen this link between
researchers and regional planners, so we can reach many more farmers with this
mapping in other food-insecure regions of the country.
IM4FS will take these “best-fit practices” and scale them up in food-insecure
areas, making them work for many more farmers.
We’ll use the Prize to roll-out the mapping at a regional level, hosting
stakeholder workshops and in-situ data collection by extension workers and other
local staff. This will help strengthen engagement between our researchers,
planners and farmers. It will also fund the development of the GIS-based tool
behind IM4FS, to make it more dynamic so it can generate quantitative
information — like specific limitations (poor soil
access to inputs); the required measures to overcome these (fertilizers, rural
infrastructure); and expected volumes, once the correct interventions are
With this functionality, our aim is for regional stakeholders — government
institutions, local planners — to use IM4FS for scenario planning, to scale up
agricultural innovations across the country to solve food insecurity and improve
Published Jul 11, 2019 2pm EDT / 11am PDT / 7pm BST / 8pm CEST