Leaders are the driving force behind progress in any endeavour
Dr Fentahun Mengistu Tiruneh knows firsthand the immense potential of the agriculture sector in Ethiopia but also understands the daunting challenges it faces – from environmental degradation to technological stagnation and the impact of climate change.
As the Country Director of the Sasakawa Africa Association-Ethiopia, Dr Fentahun leads and coordinates various programs and initiatives to unlock the full potential of Ethiopia’s agriculture sector. Despite some daunting challenges, he is very optimistic about the future of agriculture in Ethiopia and Africa.
“The major opportunities for agriculture are the abundance of natural resources, the favourable growing environment, and the sizable population, which might result in significant growth if skilled. The major challenges facing agriculture include environmental degradation, technological stagnation, lack of coordination, lack of systems approach to development, and climate change impacts,” he says.
According to Dr Fentahun, leaders are the driving force behind progress in any endeavour. He firmly believes that with the right leaders at all levels, opportunities can be seized, potential can be unlocked, and problems can be effectively resolved.
If the right leaders exist at all levels, opportunities can be taken advantage of, potential can be unlocked, and problems can be resolved. Visionary and transformational leaders put in place the appropriate policies and strategies at the right time and situation and mechanisms for coordination and collaboration to address development problems and seize opportunities holistically. Leaders promote change, make sure the necessary expertise is available, and inspire others to follow their lead.” he says
He is a highly respected expert and leader in agricultural research and development in Ethiopia and East Africa. With over three decades of experience in the field, he understands the immense potential of the agriculture sector in Ethiopia and the daunting challenges it faces, including environmental degradation, technological stagnation, and the impact of climate change.
Dr Fentahun firmly believes that the solution to the challenges facing the agriculture sector in Ethiopia and Africa lies in capable, visionary, and transformational leaders who can collaborate effectively. He serves as a civil society leader who participated in the Centre for African Leaders in Agriculture (CALA) program, where he had a transformative experience and highlighted the importance of developing agricultural leaders at all levels to address these challenges and unlock the full potential of Ethiopia’s agriculture sector.
He enrolled in CALA, expecting to learn how to solve complicated problems through collaborative leadership. The course exceeded his expectations, teaching him the basics of leadership, including communication, influencing, motivation, emotional intelligence, and more. He learned how to become a transformative and adaptive leader, drive others to embrace change, collaborate, and work in synergy. Dr Fentahun’s interpersonal and familial connections, teamwork and leadership in the workplace, and technical knowledge on relevant subjects all substantially improved due to CALA. He described CALA as a unique experience that differentiates it from other leadership programs.
Dr Fentahun notes that the CALA program is instrumental in creating a network of like-minded leaders across Africa who can collaborate and work together to address the agriculture sector’s complex challenges. He emphasized that the program is not just about obtaining a certificate but about producing leaders with the necessary skills to lead African agricultural development collaboratively and solve complex problems in an indeterminate future.
In addition to the technical skills he gained, Dr Fentahun also appreciated CALA’s focus on soft skills such as communication, influencing, motivation, and emotional intelligence. These skills are essential for effective leadership and collaboration, especially in the agricultural sector, which involves multiple stakeholders and complex challenges.
One of the most significant takeaways for Dr Fentahun from CALA was the emphasis on handling difficult conversations and objectively giving feedback by describing the situation, the person’s behaviour, and the impact of that behaviour on the workplace. This feedback approach, known as Situation, Behavior, Impact (SBI), is critical for building trust and fostering open team communication.
Dr Fentahun also found the ALP projects to be a valuable experience, providing delegates with hands-on experience and allowing them to tackle real problems of national importance. Through his ALP project, he researched and comprehended the National Agricultural Investment Plan (NAIP) of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), broadening his understanding of the role of agriculture in Africa’s economic development.
Dr Fentahun’s experience with CALA has not only improved his leadership skills and knowledge. Still, it has also allowed him to network with other CALA delegates and serve as a mentor to future representatives. He acknowledges the importance of networking and collaboration to drive positive change and encourages prospective CALA delegates to value these connections.
Dr Fentahun firmly believes that the solution to the challenges facing the agriculture sector in Ethiopia and Africa lies in capable, visionary, and transformational leaders who can collaborate effectively. He commends CALA for its role in empowering African leaders to drive positive change in their communities and beyond. CALA’s unique approach to integrating numerous techniques and its focus on collaboration, hands-on experience, and real-world problems make it valuable in fostering African leadership.
Dr Fentahun’s participation in CALA is just one example of the program’s success in empowering African leaders to drive change and promote sustainable development. Through programs like CALA, African leaders gain the knowledge, skills, and networks to tackle complex challenges and drive progress in their communities and beyond.
Dr Fentahun holds a PhD in Agriculture (Bodenkultur) with Honours from Boku University of Natural Resources & Life Sciences, Vienna, Austria, a Master of Science (M.Sc) degree in Horticulture/vegetables & Soil Microbiology (Minor) from the Indian Agricultural Research Institute/IARI/, New Delhi, India, and a Bachelor of Science (B.Sc) degree in Agriculture/plant sciences/ from Alemaya University of Agriculture, Dire Dawa, Ethiopia. Dr Fentahun has also completed several short-term courses and received certificates and diplomas in various fields, including leadership, ICT and knowledge society, interdisciplinary team research, institutional leadership, gender & nutrition, food systems, environmental and social risk management, etc.
He has previously worked as the Director General of the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR) and the Amhara Regional Agricultural Research Institute and as a Senior Agronomist for Tufts University in Addis Ababa on a USAID-funded Agricultural Knowledge Learning, Documentation, and Policy (AKLDP) project. He has also held several other key leadership positions in the agricultural sector in Ethiopia.
Dr Fentahun’s commitment to improving agricultural research and development has been recognized through numerous awards and recognition. He is an accomplished leader with an impressive track record in agricultural research and development, and his expertise continues to be highly valued in the sector. He has significantly contributed to advancing agriculture in Ethiopia and the wider East African region. His research has focused on grain and horticultural crop breeding, nutrition, crop protection, agro-techniques, crop agro-biodiversity, microbiology, climate, conservation agriculture, and other areas.