Agricultural Transformation and Leadership Development in Ethiopia

The Presencing Institute worked with Synergos and the Ethiopian Ministry of Agriculture and its Agricultural Transformation Agency. The ultimate vision of this project is increasing the efficacy of the agencies involved and thus improving food security, livelihoods for smallholder farmers, and Ethiopia’s overall economy.

Agriculture is the foundation of the Ethiopian economy. It contributes to more than 40% of the GDP and employs over 80% of the labor force, of which 90% are small-scale farmers, many of them women. Arable land is highly fragmented and under-utilization of appropriate agricultural technologies has destined the country for food insecurity. However the country and its government were facing huge problems related to enhancing agricultural production and productivity.  So the late Prime Minister Menes Selewi made request to the Gates Foundation to support a diagnostic study and review of Ethiopia’s agricultural systems.

The seed system, extension and research, irrigation, soil and fertility, and crop value chains were analyzed and the diagnostics revealed two high level bottlenecks in the system: a lack of capacity in the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) to identify solutions for productivity problems, and a lack of capacity within the MoA to coordinate and drive implementation of interventions that could transform the system. The ultimate vision for the project is to improve food security and livelihoods for smallholder farmers while improving Ethiopia’s overall economy. A more focused goal for our work is to support and build the capacity of the Ministry of Agriculture to meet the country’s Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP).

How the Project is Organized

As a result of the diagnostic study and the Gates Foundation’s experience, the government created an Agricultural Transformation Agency (ATA) with a mission to address the bottlenecks identified in the diagnostics and support the MoA in achieving the country’s GTP. ATA is comprised of skilled analysts, diaspora expatriates as well as people from within the country.

Synergos Institute was brought in by the Gates Foundation to support the Government of Ethiopia (GoE) in setting up the ATA. This included inputs to hiring the Ethiopian staff team, providing working arrangements with the GoE, and creating agreements with other implementing partners. Once Synergos had set up an office in Addis, the relationship with ATA and the MOA converged into a partnership with Synergos to provide capacity building support focused on multi-stakeholder engagement. This includes designing and implementing processes that involve many diverse stakeholders, building common vision, and achieving collaborative actions to resolve the diagnosed bottlenecks.

Synergos is a 25-year-old global organization dedicated to solving the complex problems of poverty through collaborative processes. The two key Synergos people working on this project are Abera Tola, Regional Director for Ethiopia, who leads an all-Ethiopian staff in Addis Ababa, and Surita Sandosham, Vice President of Programs, New York.  

Synergos and the Presencing Institute had already partnered on a project in Namibia to transform the maternal health system. Synergos also has a long-standing relationship with PI practitioners who have worked with them in India, Brazil and South Africa. Based on the success of this work together, Synergos asked PI to join them in the overall transformation process in Ethiopia.

What We’ve Done

PI has now been working on this project since 2011 with PI practitioners Reola Phelps, Wibo Koole, Manish Srivastava, and Martin Kalungu-Banda. First, we developed workshops exploring the principles of innovation and Theory U for the key leaders of ATA and the Directors of MoA. We then dove deep into ATA’s “pillars,” areas in MoA that specifically need focus and have been identified as having bottlenecks. We ran workshops for key MoA and ATA leaders in irrigation, soils, seeds, and extension, and provided a program specifically for the top leaders of MoA and ATA, including the Minister of Agriculture.
In January of 2014 we began work with both the research institute and the cooperatives to identify what is holding them back from working more effectively and how to rapidly address these issues. These two organizations hold the key to change. Our final focus has been working with the four major regions in Ethiopia and we have run alignment workshops with key regional and national leaders. We have run these workshops in Bahir Dar, Tigray, Adama, and Awassa. To cap this off, PI ran a Train the Trainer program for key staff from Synergos Ethiopia and around the world. This has paid great dividends, as the local staff is now able to provide this capacity building without help from PI.

What We Have Accomplished

The principles of Theory U have been at the heart of the capacity building Synergos and Presencing have provided. It has been most gratifying to see and experience the changes that our work has created. In our workshops we have engaged with over 500 of the key leaders of ATA and MoA.  Probably most important is that many of the people we have worked with report that they feel a much greater sense of ownership for the whole of MoA and they feel personally transformed. We have helped to build a more harmonious relationship between ATA and MoA and this extends to relationships within MoA. The workshops between the Regions and the Federal government have also paid dividends. Prior to these workshops, these groups were very disconnected and even antagonistic. Now champions for change projects meet regularly and the regional leaders and national leaders are jointly working towards the GTP. That may not sound like much, but to have the degree of alignment that we have created is a powerful step in achieving the ultimate vision.
The words of a participant say it best:

“Before taking the training I was in need of making my behaviors compatible for change. But it was simply a plan. After the training I have got a bird’s eye view about Theory U, levels of listening, commitment and related concepts. In addition the training paves the way for me to access materials from the internet. Now I have so many materials which are downloaded from internet and I'm reading them. This together changes my behaviors and attitudes. I wrote the concepts that I got from the training and posted them in front of my seat inside my office and in front of my bed so that I can practice them. I'm practicing them easily and they are becoming the most powerful weapons for the existence of peaceful interaction between me and other persons around the work place and everywhere.” Tigray Regional Workshop Participant.

For more information: Wibo Koole.