Diversifying Agriculture for Better Nutrition in a Sustainable Way: Dies Academicus at Mettu University, Illubabor zone, Oromia region

1. Mettu University hall at Dies Academicus

August 09, 2017.  

NutriHAF project in collaboration with Mettu University organized an Academic Day on 12th of July 2017. More than one hundred academics from different Ethiopian universities followed the invitation. NutriHAF project staff members are supervising 21 MSc students at three Ethiopian Universities (Jimma, Bahir Dar, Wollega). The students presented their research results on a wide range of topics which reflect the interdisciplinary approach of NutriHAF project (livelihoods, value chains, gender, extension sector, biodiversity, dietary diversity)… read more…

Dr. Mustefa Benti from Agricultural College Bedele, Mettu University, inaugurated the Academic Day. In his key note speech on the linkages between agriculture and nutrition he highlighted the efforts of the Ethiopian government to combat hunger and malnutrition in its national strategy on food and nutrition security and in its food security program. He also stressed the importance of mainstreaming nutrition throughout different Ministries and coordinate national strategies. Furthermore, he emphasized the importance of assessing the impacts of these programs. Universities can play a central role in these efforts. They can contribute to improve policies and strategies through research on the linkages between agriculture and nutrition and they can help to formulate evidence-based policy recommendations. Dr. Mustefa Benti put emphasis on the fact that NutriHAF project is in line with the research efforts of Agricultural College of Mettu University and future collaboration is highly welcomed.

In the second key note speech, Dr. Christian Meyer from University of Applied Sciences Bonn-Rhein-Sieg, International Center for Sustainable Development (IZNE), together with Barbara Götz from the cold chain management group of Bonn University, explained the links between food safety and value chains. Food containing harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites or chemical substances, causes more than 200 diseases – ranging from diarrhea to cancers. An estimated 600 million people in the world fall ill after eating contaminated food and 420 000 die every year, resulting in the loss of 33 million healthy life years. Food safety, nutrition and food security are inextricably linked. Unsafe food creates a vicious cycle of disease and malnutrition, particularly affecting infants, young children, elderly and the sick. Therefore, there is an urgent need for risk management in food chains. The hazards in value chains can be caused by allergens (nuts, etc.), by chemical (pesticides, toxins, heavy metals, etc.), physical (stones, sand, wood, glass, metal, etc.) and biological (bacteria, virus, yeast, mold, parasites) factors. Strict hygiene, special packaging and cold chain management are crucial factors influencing shelf life. The linkages between shelf life and food security stems from the fact that growth of pathogenic bacteria can be prevented or limited by the same influence factors (hygiene, packaging, temperature) as prolongation of shelf life, and therefore, achievements to prolong shelf life are also achievements to increase food safety.

The linkage between asset ownership and income diversification was analyzed by Mabiratu Dangia  from Jimma University (JU). He explained that agriculture is the dominant activity and the primary source of income for rural households in the study area, but that a significant number of rural households (95%) engage in diversified non-farm income activities. Nevertheless, the activities outside of the agricultural sector only contribute about 8% of total household income. Asset ownership, access to training and use of fertilizer are basic factors for rural household income diversification and product specialization. The role of local institutions on people’s livelihood was examined by Chimdessa Uma (JU). In the study area local institutions exist which play a vital role in households’ livelihoods. For example, informal funeral and burial insurances (idir) and informal credit and saving institution (equib) were found to contribute significantly to household food security. Thus, government should be aware of these indigenous communities’ cooperations and their importance.

The vegetable value chains in Yayu and Hurumu districts were presented by Abera Beyu (JU). He found out that among the sampled farmers, 83 of them were vegetable market participants whereas 37 were non-participants. Farmers market participation decision was influenced by district, production experience, quantity produced, market distance and lagged price while their level of participation were determined by family size, livestock owned, involvement in non-farm income, quantity produced and lagged price. The post-harvest loss assessment and evaluation of packaging, handling and marketing conditions on the physicochemical property of kale leaves (Brassica oleracea) was presented by Geremew Chala (JU). He explained that kale leaves are highly perishable and affected by different handling practices along post-harvest chains and that the major causes of kale leaves loss in the study area are improper harvesting time, improper use of packaging materials, lack of temperature management in the market site and lack of proper facilities during transporting from farm to the market destinations. In order to reduce the level of postharvest losses and to rapidly transfer the produce from producers to consumers, a close integration of producer, wholesaler, retailer and consumer becomes necessary and therefore, public awareness campaigns should be implemented to increase the knowledge of properly managing perishable commodities like kale leaves. Using suitable transportation facilities, packing materials, right time of harvesting and right ways of handling at market site could reduce product and micronutrient losses.

Berhanu Dugassa from Wollega University assessed the link between agricultural extension service and nutrition sector. He described that Ethiopia has developed and implemented a wide range of nutrition related policies across the agriculture and health sectors, but that coordination between Agriculture and Health Ministry remains limited. Ethiopia's policy environment has a strong potential to address nutrition multi-sectorally, but has yet to be successfully mainstreamed across sectors. The gender based differences in access to services and information provided by agricultural extension agents was examined by Surafel Addisu (JU). He found that male farmers are in a better position of cultivating more land and they use more agricultural inputs such as seeds and fertilizers and therefore, conceive higher yields. But gender plays an insignificant role for the access to agricultural extension services. Local agricultural extension workers do not treat female farmers neither differently from male counterpart nor provide special support to them, despite of all local extension agents being male. It is recommended that agricultural officers deliver more extension services to female headed households in order to maximize their agricultural production from their limited land and livestock holdings.

Homegarden and coffee agroforestry systems in Yayu Biosphere Reserve were examined by Getinet Seid (JU). Both systems are characterized by high plant species diversity of different growth habits, such as trees, shrubs and herbs. The origin of plants are both exotic and native to Ethiopia. Both systems should be intensified at smallholder farmer level and farmers should get technical assistance in optimal composition of plant species as well as on adding other components into the systems.  The effects of fruit and vegetables use on biodiversity conservation were assessed by Melaku Mathewos (JU).There are direct and indirect contribution of fruits and vegetables in homegardens to biodiversity conservation: fruits and vegetables themselves form part of homegardens’ agro-biodiversity and they play a crucial role in enhancing the livelihoods of the households through food provision and income generation, minimizing pressure on natural forests. Nevertheless, fruits and vegetables are not contributing to the livelihood at their full potential due to limiting factors such as lack of appropriate market, diseases and wild animal damage. Further research should be conducted to solve disease and insect problems related to fruits and vegetables. The ecosystem services of farming systems in Yayu Biosphere reserve were examined byMezgebu Senbeto (JU). The major farming systems identified are homegardens, coffee plantations, semi-forest coffee production and crop production systems. Changes in the farming systems' services can affect negatively and/or positively the biosphere reserve management and sustainable development. Most of the major farming systems have increased their ecosystem services due to better understanding of local communities of the advantages of the biosphere reserve, and they are using and practicing some conservation activities, such as live fences, and soil and water conservation methods. However, the expectations and promises regarding the local benefits of the establishment of the biosphere reserve have not been realized yet. Awareness creation and trainings on sustainable management of farming systems must be strengthened, some declining ecosystem services of the major farming systems should be replaced by more compatible and applicable systems and compensation of ecosystem services should be assured for the local population.

The determinants of household dietary diversity were assessed by Mohammed Nuru from Bahir Dar University. The diets of households in the area are mainly defined by starchy staples. Key determinants that positively influence high dietary diversity are education, ownership of coffee land, off-farm income, livestock ownership and having a mobile phone. Therefore, government should enhance adult learning programs, train farmers with few resources on non-farm activities for additional income, and promote family planning and gender mainstreaming in nutrition and public health policies. Mobile phone information on agriculture, health, nutrition and marketing should be made freely accessible to all farmers.

Dr. Jochen Dürr, coordinator of NutriHAF project from the Center for Development Research (ZEF), University of Bonn, closed the event by thanking all participants for their interest and patience to follow all of the numerous presentations from 10-18 hours. He expressed the wish to continue research collaboration of NutriHAF project with Mettu and other Ethiopian Universities, for example, by future announcement of new MSc student thesis stipends. He said that it was a good opportunity for MSc students to present their research findings to a wider audience, getting valuable feedback and comments from experienced researchers, and gaining experience of power point presentations. For NutriHAF project, the research findings of all MSc students will contribute substantially to its capacity building activities and create publication opportunities.