“Especially in agribusiness - there’s no end point to learning!”

An interview with Gelawdios Bahlibi, one of the first certified trainers of AMEA

In October 2017, AMEA launched its first trainer certification in Ethiopia. As part of the trainer certification, the International Finance Corporation (IFC) carried out a training-of-trainers on the Agribusiness Leadership Program (ALP); one of AMEA’s soon to be approved training curricula. The aim of the Agribusiness Leadership Program is to improve the management and business skills of farmer organizations and increase their level of professionalism, essential for them to flourish as businesses and act as reliable business partners in the agricultural supply chains. High quality training provision and training materials are two of the core building blocks of the AMEA Framework, aiming to advance farmer organizations’ operations and services. AMEA is also creating a common pool of trainers for the AMEA membership including trainers qualified to support farmer organizations with different curricula and expertise.

 

Among the participants of last year’s ALP training was Gelawdios Bahlibi, a trainer based in Ethiopia where one of AMEA’s local networks is being set-up, who kindly responded to our questions about the training and the agricultural sector in Ethiopia. We discussed farming, cooperatives, the importance of training, support for farmers and professionalism.

 

To commence our discussion, Gelawdios told us more about the work he does in Ethiopia as an employee of one of AMEA’s members, TechnoServe, a non-profit organization that focuses on business solutions to poverty in the developing world. Many of TechnoServe’s projects in Ethiopia support smallholder farmer cooperatives to integrate into commercial supply chains. The specific project Gelawdios focuses on “works on training primary cooperative leaders and union leaders on how to manage their farmer account database and also how they can manage their training and the input distributions data. Good governance, financial management, book keeping, warehouse management and other trainings are also given to support the unions and primary co-op’s leaders. TechnoServe has been working in Ethiopia to address the fact that agriculture accounts for more than 85% of total employment and more than 45% of Ethiopia’s GDP, however many farmers are not integrated into the commercial markets, due to the lack of coordination, information and access to markets.”

In trying to approach as many farmers as possible and to ensure positive outcomes, Gelawdios and his colleagues focus a lot of their energy on motivating smallholder farmers to join existing cooperatives. This way, “we can address smallholder farmers in growth. Practical Agronomy practice on a demo-plot, post-harvest handling and basic financial management trainings are given to member farmers through Farmer Trainers and to efficiently reach individual member farmers we have farmer groups within primary co-ops. These groups include between 20 and 35 members and each group has a group leader. TechnoServe’s Farmer Trainers manage 5 or 6 farmer groups at the same time and deliver agronomy trainings to them.

While being a trainer himself, Gelawdios is also aware of the constant need of gaining new knowledge and improving existing skills. With this in mind, he joined the AMEA trainer certification and ALP training in October, in order to be able to improve the knowledge he can pass on to his own trainees. He says that the six-day training was very valuable and consisted of three parts:

 

  • facilitation skills training (how to lead discussions, managing a learning environment, and providing effective feedback to learners),

  • technical content dealing with governance, operations and financial management,  and

  • teach-back sessions, that allowed participants to demonstrate their knowledge and skills.

 

He found the “facilitation skills training to be very interesting”. He reports: “We learned about adult learning - which TechnoServe already incorporates into their trainings, which is important since our farmers are all adults - and improved our capability of leading a discussion, managing a learning environment and providing effective feedback to adult learners. It was nice but rushed look at the material. We still have that material and we are using it. I personally am using that material to develop my trainings, I’m reading it and it has helped me a lot.

 

The usefulness and the impact of trainings of trainers depend on the context in which trainers work. When discussing some of the challenges cooperatives and farmer organizations are facing in Ethiopia, we learned that among valuable information gained through the training was how cooperatives work globally: “I got the global concept of cooperatives. How they are established and how they operate. Our cooperatives, the way they were established, is very different from those that are found in developed countries. Members’ perception of co-ops is different. Members don’t exercise their power due to lack of awareness. In most co-ops of Ethiopia there is a lack of qualified personnel, good governance, skills, knowledge, resources and infrastructure. They are not autonomous and interference from others is common; it even happens that traders sometimes interfere in the decisions of co-ops.” 

Based on the knowledge gained on cooperative values and organization of work, Gelawdios is convinced that there is room for improvement in terms of farmer organizations’ and cooperatives’ work. He believes that “members’ participation is very important and one of the determinants for the success of co-ops. Leaders should involve their members in the overall planning and operations of the co-op. This will in return help members to feel ownership of their co-op and they will have a common vision for the future. To enhance knowledge and skills, sustainable and continuous training programs should be available to co-op leaders and members. Integrating co-op’s into the commercial market by filling the gaps in coordination, information and access to markets is important. Currently, most leaders of primary cooperatives only work as firefighters – they don’t plan in advance by involving their members in the planning. They are only dealing with current problems.

Stronger involvement of members in the running of the organizations and long-term planning are therefore among the solutions for a more efficient and professional work of farmer organizations in Ethiopia. Since he has a lot of experience in working with various organizations, carrying out trainings and observing them throughout the learning process, Gelawdios has gained important insights about the path towards professionalism. He shares of his experience: “Increasing the professionalism of smallholder farmers has a direct relation with improving the livelihood of the farmers. Most farmers are doing their activities traditionally. We can see this in many parts of Ethiopia. Most farmers grow crops by waiting for a rainy season, they produce limited types of crops, they do not follow recommended agronomy practices, they are mainly not market oriented and they are not integrated into commercial markets due to the lack of coordination, information and access to markets. This has a lot of impact on the farmers’ livelihoods. Different surveys reveal that, after implementation of the different interventions by TechnoServe, visible change in the income of co-ops and livelihood of smallholder farmers’ were observed.

 

In addition to certified trainers, part of the AMEA Framework is also the development of a global definition for professional farmer organizations. We discussed the possibility of such a definition with Gelawdios, who generally believes that such a definition could exist, but thinks we should also keep in mind that there “is a learning process and there’s no end point to learning. Especially in agribusiness, as it’s a very dynamic area. I understand that the level cooperative unions in developed counties reached today is a result of collective knowledge gained through a long learning process. By creating our own learning and innovating environment, and sharing knowledge and best practices, it won’t be long to see globally competitive co-ops in Ethiopia - and that could be attributed to professionalism.

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