Training in the field – 2nd WoodCluster Field School in Ethiopia

WoodCluster Field School 2019 team in Ethiopia (© WoodCluster)

A week full of gaining and training knowledge on small-scale farm systems and wood value chains as well as intercultural experiences! The 2nd field school of the WoodCluster project took place from 29 July to 4 August in Ethiopia, organized by the Ethiopian project partner, Wondo Genet College of Forestry and Natural Resources (WGFCNR), Hawassa University.

This field school activity serves for the conceptualization and development of a practical training component of a newly elaborated postgraduate course on “Wood-based bio-economy”, to be implemented at all WoodCluster project universities. Hereby students shall engage with farmers and actors of the wood value chain to investigate and exchange knowledge on the wood sector. This activity is the second one of its kind in the WoodCluster project, after the first field school in 2018 in Tanzania.

This time in Ethiopia, up to 30 participants (two thirds of them students and young scientists) represented all five universities in four countries that are active in the WoodCluster project (Ethiopia, Tanzania, Uganda, Germany). For most of the students and young scientists, it was the first time to be in Ethiopia and even outside their home country – an exciting experience.

The opening day of the field school (29 July) was coincidentally the Ethiopian tree planting day – a national campaign that has been gaining even international attraction. We had the chance to visit our partner institution, the WGCFNR, to attend their contribution to this campaign and could participate.

After this outdoor activity, we started the preparation of the actual field school. MSc and PhD students of the project presented information on the national and local level wood sector in Ethiopia and in the study region of the Chefasine village. Afterwards, the whole group visited the village for meeting the community members to introduce the student group and the planned activity. The farmers were very welcoming, showing their farms and interest to participate in the exchange with the students.

Then the actual fieldwork for the students started in three thematic groups under the supervision of experts in the thematic field:

  1. Woodlot inventory
  2. Farm mapping and analysis
  3. Market and value chain analysis.

The student groups went off to the village and the wood markets in the nearby towns to collect information and discuss with the wood producers and traders.

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One challenge that our participants faced was the rather rough weather and road conditions due to the rain season. Another one was the language barrier.  Chefasine is located in Sidama Zone where an own local language, Sidama, is spoken. Not all Ethiopians do even know Sidama. Therefore, for the work in intercultural groups, the translation from English to Amharic (the official national language) and to Sidama and vice versa has been necessary. It requires time and patience to gain a full understanding and participation. This fieldwork training was a good experience and has been managed well be everyone.

After three full days of collaborative data collection and assessment, the whole group went back to the farmers of Chefasine Kebele where the students presented and discussed their findings. Hereby skills were trained of how to communicate and present the scientific findings to the community. The students were very motivated and creative to visualize their outcomes and managed it very well.

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Parallel to the students’ exercises in the field, the core team members of the WoodCluster project conducted a project status and planning meeting. In several sessions, the research and the teaching component and their interlinkages have been reviewed and discussed to progress and fulfill the project targets within the now ongoing second half of the project period. The agenda contained the finalization of the lecture material with the incorporation of practical cases based on the students’ research; the setting up of publication teams and the way of integrating the lecture materials in advanced trainings and digital teaching methods.

WoodCluster meeting on the progress of the project activities by the senior staff (© M. Domke)

The final and important key topic that has been reviewed by the project staff and particularly by the students, was the trial field school activity. The students, as the activity’s target group, evaluated their experiences and shared their ideas. This is very valuable to further develop the field school practice for the last trial in Uganda 2020, but also for the actual implementation within the postgraduate course.

Visit of the large-scale Oromia Forest Enterprise (© M. Domke)

Additionally, to students’ field activities and project workshop, two excursions have been part of the program: A visit of a wood small-scale processor’s hub in Hawassa town. There, young entrepreneurs are trained and financially supported by a government program during their first start-up years. A second trip took us to the wood processing plant of the  large-scale forest enterprise of the Oromia regional state.

We are very happy about the smooth organization and running of the field school 2019 Ethiopia. We thank all participants for being so motivated and actively engaged. Especially, we thank our Ethiopian team for making the WoodCluster field school and project meeting possible, and let us keep vivid memories and a very nice traditional scarf from the region.

By Maxi Domke

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