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Girma T. Kassie: “Research is not only about generating knowledge”

Mar 28,2017

Dr. Girma T. Kassie with his son in the field

With a cup of coffee, clean data set and a feeling of his work’s positive impact on improving the livelihoods of the farmers in drylands, Girma T. Kassie, PhD, starts his day at work.

“Research is not only about generating knowledge and technology,” says Dr. Kassie, Senior Agricultural and Market Economist, who joined ICARDA in 2014. “It includes the identification, targeting and dissemination of the generated knowledge to the ultimate users.”

As part of the socioeconomics research team at ICARDA, Dr. Girma Kassie takes responsibility for engaging in research that increases the internal and external efficiency of the entire research machinery.

While many of the projects he has worked on were exciting, Dr. Kassie names “Smart marketing in Central Ethiopia” as the one closest to his heart.

Aimed at improving market participation and performance of small ruminant keepers in Ethiopia through collective action and provision of market information, the ICARDA led project is being implemented in Central Ethiopia, the epicenter of poverty.

Dr. Kassie’s team designed an experiment to provide farm households with market information and trained them to collectively act on marketing their small ruminants. “The experiment has already shown encouraging results in terms of improving the marketing decisions of farmers and increasing their bargaining power,” he notes with satisfaction. “When documented and reported, this research would be an important input to development policy planning and I strongly believe that it would encourage policy makers to take access to market information and collective action in rural areas very seriously.”

Another memorable research Dr. Kassie had conducted before joining ICARDA was the Drought Tolerant Maize for Africa project, led by CIMMYT and implemented in collaboration with IITA, regional and local NGOs, seed companies, and NARS in 13 countries.

“Drought tolerance in maize has been a topic of research for a couple of decades,” Dr. Girma T. Kassie, says. “However, in Zimbabwe, where maize is a source of income for over 60% of the rural population, farmers’ perceptions, preferences and willingness to pay for drought tolerant varieties of maize had never been subjected to rigorous research.”

Maize plays a crucial role in the food security of millions in Sub-Saharan Africa, providing about half of the calories consumed by the population. Despite successful development of new varieties, drought, pests, diseases and land degradation remain key challenges that constrain its productivity.

Scientific reports indicate that climate change will result in higher temperatures in drought-prone areas of Africa: increase in temperature by 2°C could result in 13-20% grain yields decrease. For every degree day above 30 °C, yields are reduced by 1% under optimal conditions and by 1.7% under drought conditions.

“Although development of drought-tolerant crop varieties, alongside improved management options, can offset yield losses by up to 40%, farmers’ adoption decisions for improved maize are governed by their willingness to pay for different traits,” says Dr. Kassie.

The study, conducted across Zimbabwe with data generated from 1,400 households, has found that farmers in the country are willing to pay 2.5 times higher for drought tolerance than for additional ton of grain yield per acre. Moreover, farmers value drought tolerance is 3.2 times more than changing maize varieties from small to large grain size.

According to the study, women, large families and temporary employed people are more interested in drought-tolerant varieties. “Women are more sensitive to the risks in terms of food shortage than men,” Dr. Kassie emphasizes. “It also implies higher risk aversion among women compared to men.”

Dr. Girma T. Kassie says results of the study could be useful for researchers to set their criteria to prioritize variety development activities. “The results show that simply because a variety is improved, it does not mean that it will be taken by farm households,” he stresses.

“Drought tolerance is the most important maize trait for local farmers in communal areas of rural Zimbabwe. Dissemination of improved technologies to the right group of farmers is another lesson that can be drawn from this research.”