To Reach a Farmer: Foundational Curriculum to Manage Climate Risk Ripples Across Africa

Original post published on the AICCRA news site.

The collaborative development of Climate Risk Management in Agricultural Extension (CRMAE) curricula is the first of its kind, building foundational knowledge and skills for extension workers to help farmers better plan for, manage, and respond to climate risk.

South-South learning and sharing has spurred the co-development of the curriculum in all six focus countries of the ‘Accelerating Impacts of CGIAR Climate Research for Africa (AICCRA)’ project, with adoption by 70 institutions representing a swathe of public and private extension and advisory service providers.

“This training has been very very very useful. If anything, it should have happened years ago!” declared Dawson Mwanyumba, an Agricultural Extension Officer of Kenya’s drought prone Taita Taveta County, after completing a training on a new Climate Risk Management in Agricultural Extension (CRMAE) curriculum.

The sentiment, reflective of a longstanding and unmet need for capacity development on climate information services across various institutions, is one that has underpinned and fueled the development of new competency- and skills-based curricula targeting public and private extension providers across all AICCRA focus countries over the past three years.

These curricula, which help to ensure that those who work most closely with farmers can take advantage of best-available and location-specific climate information products to better plan for, manage, and respond to a changing climate, are bringing to the spotlight the kinds of intentional capacity development and systems strengthening needed to move beyond enabling access to life-changing information, to actively promoting its uptake and use.

Nejeha Redy Alamar, Head of the Plant Science Department at Alage ATVET College, works with other participants during a group activity of the CRMAE curriculum, to understand the impacts of El Niño on rain-fed agriculture in Ethiopia.

Ethiopia sparks innovation in the region and beyond

It all started in Ethiopia. Following intensive multi-stakeholder consultations, iterative and collaborative development (otherwise known as ‘co-development’) and capacity development with Ethiopia’s extension system that occurred throughout 2021, 2022, and 2023, it became apparent that a new kind of foundational and skills-based capacity development effort was needed to ensure climate information is, beyond just accessible, usable, and used by those it is intended to serve.

In Ethiopia, high-resolution climate information has been available for more than a decade. Despite this, decision-makers for the country’s agriculture sector (at the highest levels of government all the way down to local decision makers) do not use this information to its full potential. The demand for capacity and skills development is significant, as is the potential return and impact from it.

As Tolesa Dendoba Buli of Ethiopia’s Ministry of Agriculture explains:

“The problem of not using climate information to inform agriculture in Ethiopia is not an issue of not having quality climate information—The Ethiopian Meteorological Institute has very good, high-quality information. The issue is about the people who need this information most not being able to understand and use that climate information. This applies to the Ministry of Agriculture and its extensionists who work most closely with farmers, all the way up to the level of policymakers, who do not understand the importance of climate information and services very well.”

This is why the CRMAE curriculum has been so crucial.

Bringing together those who produce climate information—the national meteorological services—with those whom it is expected to serve in the agricultural sector to co-produce curricula has sparked a capacity development effort that meets the real (and not just perceived) needs of agricultural professionals in each country, integrating free, best-available climate information and tools to support digital agriculture.

Agricultural technical vocational education and training (ATVET) colleges are institutions which play a foundational role in training the workforce in the agricultural sector to meet the climate challenge. They provide competency-based training to transform and professionalize the agricultural sector through practical skills development to meet market needs. In Ethiopia, there are five federal and 21 subnational ATVET colleges which train the country’s extension workers. This development is timely and long-awaited.

Speaking after the curriculum launch in October 2023, Ethiopia’s State Minister for the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Sector, H.E. Meles Mekonen expounded:

“While both Ethiopia’s Climate Smart Agriculture Roadmap for 2020-2030 and the National Strategy for Ethiopia’s Agricultural Extension System have long-identified location-specific agro-ecology based interventions and climate-smart adaptation practices as one of the main systemic bottlenecks for effective adaptation, for example, Ethiopia’s more than 72,000 agricultural agents serving over 16 million farmers have not until this point been supported with practical training materials to on how to access and use historical, monitoring, or forecast climate information products available through the EMI that will enable them to tailor their recommendations more appropriately.”

He added: “I am therefore pleased to present to educators, trainers, development actors, and all of those working to support the resilience of Ethiopia’s farmers with this practical guide for managing climate risk in the agricultural sector.”

(From left to right) Dr. Tufa Dinku (IRI, Columbia Climate School), Dr. Meles Mekonen (State Minister, Agriculture and Horticulture Development Sector), Dr. Fetene Teshome (Director of Ethiopian Meteorological Institute), and Dr. Kindie Tesfaye (Senior Scientist, CIMMYT) officially endorse the Climate Risk Management in Agricultural Extension in Ethiopia Handbook during the curriculum’s launch in October 2023.

South-south collaboration catalyzes new initiatives

Building upon this compelling example, targeted knowledge sharing of the Ethiopian experience and multi-stakeholder consultations in Senegal in 2022 revealed a similar and strong demand for competency-based curricula to help Senegal’s diverse extension system manage climate risk.

From this demand emerged, over the course of a year, Senegal’s own CRMAE curriculum and teaching resources following iterative co-production and capacity development processes which were ultimately piloted in 2023, and which public training, education, and development institutions have taken steps to mainstream and institutionalize moving forward.

Highlights from the Senegal CRMAE training

In terms of the impact on professionalizing the agricultural sector to meet the climate challenge, results from pilot activities of the curriculum in Senegal demonstrated that over 90% of extension staff found the curriculum strongly or very strongly relevant for supporting them in their professional capacities. Moreover, by way of strengthening farmers, 73% cited positive examples after the agricultural season of how the knowledge or skills gained were used to benefit farmers.

“This was really a big win and an important ‘Aha!’ moment for other countries when deciding whether or not to implement such a curriculum,” explains Tufa Dinku of the International Research Institute for Climate and Society, a key supporting partner and catalyzer of climate curriculum efforts in Africa. “Because in Ethiopia, which has more than 70,000 extension agents and arguably one of the strongest extension systems in Africa, anything seems possible. But when you look at Senegal, the extension system is largely fragmented, decentralized, and less robust in terms of human resourcing. So to see it succeeding [through CRMAE] is extremely encouraging.”

Highlights from the Zambia CRMAE training

As testament to this fact, after participating in Senegal’s training of trainers on the CRMAE in March 2023 to gain a deeper understanding of its structure and components, Mali’s Institute of Rural Economy (IER) independently mobilized its own national curriculum consultative workshop with national extension providers in July 2023, resulting in a detailed plan of action and resolution to adapt, train upon, and pilot Mali’s own CRMAE curriculum in 2024.

Moving forward and with lessons learned from Ethiopia, Senegal, and Mali, curriculum consultations and co-production processes in Kenya, Zambia, Ghana also ensued, alongside trainings of trainers and validations of newly adapted, country specific CRMAE curricula, with resolutions for locally led implementation in each respective country in 2024.

So far, more than 70 institutions across all six AICCRA focus countries have collaborated within their respective countries to co-produce competency- and skills-based curricula targeting public and private extension providers to help farmers manage climate risk.

Harnessing e-learning platforms for sharing

Beyond the curricula themselves, dialogues have spurred the sharing of digital innovations that were co-developed within the curricula —such as the Climate Crop Suitability Maproom between Ethiopia, and Kenya— between countries and catalyzed resolutions to leverage complementary initiatives such as Kenya’s national KilimoBora Mobile Learning Centre, and the Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture’s (RUFORUM) e-learning platform to strengthen access and use of learning content beyond AICCRA target countries.

RUFORUM, a consortium of 163 universities in 40 countries in Africa aimed at strengthening the capacities of universities to foster innovations responsive to demands of smallholder farmers, is an important player in making sure educational resources are shared with other African countries facing similar challenges.

A new kind of extension

Going forward, the curricula are expected to help pragmatically improve the use of climate information in decision-making at the farm-level. They are not just making resources more accessible, they are turning extension staff themselves into robust and resilient resources for farmers, helping them make decisions in the face of an increasingly erratic climate.

“Farmers will no longer be receiving information just from a delivery person, but from a clarifying person, to explain exactly how the climate is going to affect them, these are the measures we are going to take, and these are the impacts,” attested Steven Ondimu, an Agricultural Extension Officer in Kenya’s Laikipia County. “With this training, I feel more empowered, more knowledgeable, and more wise to make decisions—more informed and having a higher likelihood of succeeding in everything that we’re going to do in farming.”

For further reading

AICCRA’s Climate Risk Management in Agricultural Extension Curricula