In CASCAPE we use a participatory approach to identify, develop, test and evaluate innovations. The first step is a thorough analysis of the constraints and opportunities in the intervention areas, as perceived by a range of stakeholders.

Key challenges and opportunities in agriculture were identified through participatory rural appraisals (PRA) in the intervention kebeles. Furthermore, an analysis was conducted on available natural resources, resource use, and socio-economic aspects of the communities including existing infrastructure, markets and market access, presence of stakeholders and local community organisations. Different groups of farmers were interviewed in each kebele to make sure that the diverse needs (e.g. of men, women, youth, elderly) were captured in the PRA process. In total more than 2000 farmers contributed to the PRA process in the CASCAPE intervention areas. After the PRA process a community workshop was organised in each kebele, to verify the data and prioritise themes for CASCAPE to work on. The output from this was a list of prioritised constraints as perceived by community members (e.g. Table 1).

Table 1. Main constraints according to community members in Bilisumma and Egu kebele, Kombolcha woreda, East-Oromia. Source: PRA Report Kombolcha woreda, East-Oromia, 2012).

Topic Constraints
NRM Soil erosion and low soil fertility
Water shortage
Crops  Pests and diseases (e.g. stalk borer for sorghum)
Low yields
Livestock Animal feed shortage
Animal diseases
Socio-economic High input prices (fertilizer notably)
Lack of access to reliable markets for vegetable marketing (Irish potato)

Although kebeles and woredas throughout the country are diverse, the main constraints like low soil fertility, lack of access to improved varieties, shortage of animal feed shortage, and high input prices came out as key constraints in the majority of the PRAs.

Box 1: PRA as planning tool
“During the PRA study, farmers in all woredas identified three major problems in enset production: 1) enset bacterial wilt, 2) mealy bug, 3) inefficient processing. Since the first two problems are being addressed by different stakeholders through various interventions, CASCAPE South found it reasonable to focus its interventions only on the processing technology aspect of the crop. (Source: Work Plan CASCAPE Hawassa, 2012).

The analysis and planning process continued with a scoping study at woreda/zone (administrative) level. The aim of the scoping studies, in which key stakeholders representing public, private and civil society were engaged, was to determine opportunities and constraints at woreda or higher regional levels which might not have been apparent at community or kebele level. During the scoping study, each cluster turned a “long list” of themes as identified by the farming communities to a “short list” of innovation themes. As the themes are different in complexity and size the number of themes is variable and varies between 6 to 12 per site. For each theme a solution (‘innovation’) is developed, combining tacit and scientific knowledge.
Innovation themes change continuously, based on farmer needs and achieved results. Depending on the nature of the innovation, it is tested as i) an experiment, when there is hardly any experience available, ii) a verification trial, when there is some experience from other areas, but the innovation needs local adaptation, iii) a demonstration trial when the innovation is relatively well-known to researchers but unknown to farmers and iv) pre-scaling when the innovation is nearly ready for scaling out.
The process of innovation development is schematically represented in Figure 3.
Figure 3. The adaptive planning cycle in CASCAPE. Adapted from Coghlan and Brannick (2001), Cardno and Piggot-Irvine (1996).

After each season innovations are evaluated using agronomic analysis, economic analysis, farmer preference analysis and trade-off assessments. Based on these four different analyses, the innovation is recommended either to be dropped or upgraded to the next level of testing (e.g. from validation to demonstration or from demonstration to pre-scaling).

Box 2: Adaptive planning

An example of a trial that needs continuous adaptation is the teff row planter that has been introduced in different regions by ATA and/or MoA. The trial results show regional differences. In some regions the row planter seems to increase productivity and farmers seem to see the economic benefits of making use of the row planter as it is introduced in their kebele, while in other regions the row planter as introduced there needs adaptation to make it fit farmers’ needs.

Through partial adoption and local adaptation, some farmers have developed what has been termed a “best practice”. These practices are generally by far better than the average farmers’ practice, but they are still not optimal. Best Practices are “the best of the moment and for the locality”. For AGP scaling-up of these best practices to a larger group of farmers is a central agricultural development strategy. As said, CASCAPE assists the AGP in the identification and validation of best practices as AGP lacks a clear research component. This is realized joint on-farm testing and validation using a three plot approach, i) Best practice as compiled by BoA/OoA, ii) Practice recommended through the research system and iii) Practice commonly used by the majority of farmers.
The key criteria for validation include productivity, profitability, farmer’s preferences, sustainability, gender and nutritional aspects of the practices. Approximately 3 to 4 best practices are tested per cluster per season.