Bekele Wegi Feyisa is one of our TARTARE fellows working on his Ph.D. at Haramaya University. He is working on Objective 2, dairy intervention studies with TARTARE’s Dr. Robert Scharff of The Ohio State University. Below, we have the interview with Bekele on his experience and work with TARTARE.
1. What drew you to the study of Agricultural Economics?
Honestly speaking, I did not have a clear understanding of Agricultural Economics or other fields when I was a high school student. After I joined preparatory school, my older brother told me about the importance of Agricultural Economics for my future career growth. After the successful completion of preparatory education, I joined Addis Ababa University, and selected Agricultural Economics as my focus. Afterward, I realized that Agricultural Economists are much needed for the betterment of the country, especially in developing countries where every economist’s emphasis is on agriculture. I would like to thank my brother Teklu Wegi and my mentor Dr. Geberew Tullu who have pushed me towards the study of Agricultural Economics. Without their direct involvement in my academic career, I would not be here today.
2. Why did you decide to focus on the dairy value chain?
Every year, a farmer grows crops, rears livestock, and sells his/her products to pay for children's school fees, taxes, and other financial needs during the peak season when the price is expected to reach its lowest in the year (mostly January and February). As a result, farmers are forced to live in vicious poverty. My observation is that in some parts of Ethiopia, dairy is often a necessary source of income to continue to meet basic household financial needs such as the purchase of grain for consumption.
The nature of the dairy products and the number of value chain actors in the sector pose a serious threat to farmers, often preventing them from benefiting from their dairy products. I believe that one way of increasing farmers’ competitiveness and ability to ensure that safe and quality products reach the end users is through efficient and effective value chain coordination.
In general, the value chain helps to understand how the products go from initial conception to the final consumers. This includes the role of each actor along the chain, the value-added at each stage, and the profit share of each actor. The shared benefit of dairy farmers will only be fair if an efficient and effective value chain is in place.
3. What do you think are the most important issues with the dairy value chain, based off of your observations thus far?
The most important issues I see in the dairy value chain can be seen from two perspectives. The first perspective is that of ensuring a farmers’ competitiveness and fair share of benefits. Due to the absence of an effective dairy value chain, the benefit share is unequally distributed among actors. So, if there is an effective dairy value chain, it helps farmers to get improved inputs at reasonable prices, increase productivity and production, and also get a fair share of the benefit.
The second perspective is that the dairy value chain plays a vital role in achieving food safety. In the absence of an effective dairy value chain, it is very difficult to trace the products and identify sources of defects or contaminants. An effective value chain helps actors to support each other, given that safety is achieved by all actors. Therefore, the dairy value chain helps all value chain actors to share information and resources among themselves, and to collaborate in order to achieve safe dairy products.
4. What new skills have you acquired through your work with Dr. Scharff and TARTARE?
Working with TARTARE in general and Dr. Scharff in particular has given me an opportunity to easily target one area of research that has been given little attention, despite the fact that it has a tremendous effect on everyone. The way I have developed my research proposal has been highly impacted by Dr. Scharff’s professional guidance. Economic research in Ethiopia and other similar countries is largely focused on productivity-enhancing technologies. However, ignoring food safety issues could put achievement of desired outcomes at risk. I have also gained a lot of experience through the GOHi summer institute courses, TARTARE webinars, and TARTARE monthly meetings.TARTARE has opened a door for me, which helps me to be the man I always dreamt to be. The entire team is amazing! I am getting new opportunities and experiences every day.
5. What have been your greatest challenges thus far in carrying out your work as part of TARTARE?
Not only in my works as part of TARARE but also in my PhD studies, I have faced two main challenges. The first challenge is related to difficulties posed by the spread of COVID-19. For about six months, I have not been able to get access to an office, reliable internet, or other facilities. In addition, it has been hard to travel to different locations to get important secondary data. The second challenge is lack of strict deadlines for each activity at Haramaya University. For various reasons examinations, seminars, and other activities have not been commenced as I had planned.
6. What tools will you use to measure adoption of milk safety practices across communities?
This is a major part of my PhD research proposal. There are a number of milk safety practices recommend to be adopted at the dairy farm level to achieve safe milk production. However, before measuring adoption, the milk safety practices that are practically applicable in the local (Ethiopian) context and that are socio-culturally â€‹acceptable will be identified and prepared in the form of a binary outcome (yes/no) questionnaire. This will be achieved by reviewing good dairy farming practices documented in the literature, expert elicitations, and personal observations. Next, I will measure the milk safety practices adopted by a dairy farm by using a semi-structured questionnaire which asks a farmer whether he/she have implemented a given milk safety practice. This will help to construct an index that shows the number and percentage of the milk safety practices adopted by a dairy farm. Finally, econometric models will be used to identify factors affecting adoption of milk safety practices to inform policy makers to consider those factors in designing policies.
7. What tools will you use to evaluate the impact of adoption of milk safety practices on dairy farmers?
The contribution of the adoption of milk safety practices can be seen from two points of view. First, it has a direct impact on productivity and production, which could play a crucial role in boosting dairy farm income and consumption. Secondly, it could improve the safety of dairy products, thus helping farmers sell his/her products at higher prices, decreased product losses, and increase product acceptance by buyers. In addition, it has important implications in reducing the burden of foodborne disease, considering dairy products are widely consumed in Ethiopia. I will consider two food and nutrition security indicators to evaluate the impact of milk safety practices adoption on dairy farmers. One indicator is per capita food consumption expenditure, which shows annual household food consumption expenditure on self-produced food, purchased food, and food assistance from others. The second indicator is dietary diversity, measured by food consumption score. The food consumption score shows the number of food groups and types consumed by a household along with their frequencies in the last seven days. Finally, econometric models will be used to estimate the impact of adoption of milk safety practices on dairy farmers’ food and nutrition security.
8. Is there anything else that you would like to share about your experience working with TARTARE?
I would like to thank everyone in the team. I really appreciate the capacity buildings being made by GOHI. I feel I am on the right track of my career ambitions.