Ethiopia’s agricultural sector is in a period of historic transformation, as it shifts from being subsistence based to market oriented, and is employing modern techniques to make dramatic differences in its yields, practices and results.
Khalid Bomba, CEO of the Agricultural Transformation Agency (ATA), said Ethiopia’s agriculture sector is indeed in a stage of transition and change.
“ATA was formed at the beginning of GTP I to focus on more about transforming the agricultural sector- changing the dynamics of how the sector works so that it is not just producing more, but rather ‘How are we producing?’ and ‘Are we producing sustainably?'” he said.
“Our primary role is to support the Ministry of Agriculture and other partners in effectively executing the specific issues within the Agricultural Transformation Agenda that we have all agreed are important for transformation,” he pointed out. “We have been working during GTP I on 16 program areas with 84 deliverables. Each one of these 84 deliverables unlocks a particular issue.”
“The first one is in the teff value chain. Teff is native to the country and it is one of the most important commodities for Ethiopia. It is grown by over 6.5 million farmers and it is the staple food of the country as well.
“The yield of teff, when the GTP I began, was 1.2 tons per hectare. The ATA was asked to identify a technology that could increase the yield of farmers. Although many people were really worried that we were going to introduce biotechnology and GM approaches, what we found was that a very simple technology, which changed the way farmers grow teff, can increase their yield by about 70%-80%. This technology was essentially planting the teff seed in rows and reducing the amount of seed that farmers were using by 90%; so from 30-50 kilos of seeds per hectare down to 3-5 kilos instead.
“In our first year of operations, only two farmers were willing to work with us. But last year we reached a milestone of 6.5 million farmers trained. Of those, nearly 2 million farmers are actually using the technology.
“During the GTP I, what we have seen is over a 40% increase in the national yield of teff, from 1.2 tons per hectare to over 1.6 tons per hectare. Many individual farmers using the technology are actually achieving yields of 2.5 and 3 tons per hectare. This has been one of our most successful interventions, because it has directly affected the yield of over 2 million farmers and improved their incomes and their livelihoods.”
He continued: “The second example is in the fertilizer industry. Ethiopia had been using the same two types of fertilizer for 30 years. We did an analysis and came up with a new project called EthioSIS, which stands for Ethiopian Soil Information System.
“This project has allowed us to map the soil fertility of the entire country’s agricultural lands using remote sensing and satellite technology, as well as collecting field samples from across the country.
“In 2016, we will finish mapping the entire country. We have already finished mapping 65%-70% of the country and provided new fertilizer recommendations. So farmers are no longer just using the old fertilizers of DAP and urea, but they are now using NPS, and other fertilizers that include magnesium, calcium and sulphur.
“The last one that I would mention is a project called Direct Seed Marketing. Ethiopia in the past has used its cooperative system to distribute seed and fertilizer to farmers. These cooperatives are essentially given directions from the government, through a very centralized process, for how much seed and how much fertilizer to distribute.
“We made a recommendation to the government that by introducing a private sector element to seed distribution we could get better efficiency, better distribution of seeds, and ultimately lower prices for farmers. What started with only a handful of woredas, last year grew to over 400 private seed distributors in over 100 districts of the country working on seed distribution, something that the country has never had before.”
Commenting on the small-scale irrigation (SSI) projects that the Ministry of Agriculture is implementing, he said, “this is the direction that we ultimately want to go across the whole country, to become less reliant on rain.”
“Irrigation is certainly one of the major ways of insuring that. What we have been working on together with the Ministry of Agriculture is the groundwater mapping; understanding how much water is under the soil, how deep it is, and how fast it recharges so that we don’t deplete it very quickly.
“In addition to that, what we’re trying to do is to create a supply chain of irrigation pumps so that we are not just distributing pumps without anybody providing maintenance or spare parts. For example, we are training auto mechanics to also be able to maintain irrigation pumps, and training well drillers in local communities to go and drill these wells, instead of having international companies come and do this.”
Regarding collaboration between the different stakeholders, Khalid said the engagement with investors has improved over time, but certainly, more can be done. The Ethiopian Investment Agency is now an Investment Commission that reports to the Prime Minister. That has been a very good and positive change, ensuring that there is one entity that is coordinating and supporting investors coming into the country.
“That being said, the federal and regional level issues still have some additional challenges to be resolved. The one-stop shop that existed at the Ethiopian Investment Commission has to be strengthened. Some of the regulations and policies that the government is creating to support private sector investors also have to be streamlined. These are the things that the government is working on at the moment. The collaboration between different government partners has improved as well, but certainly more can be done.”
When asked to highlight the investment opportunities suitable for investors in the UK, he said, “since I work in the agriculture sector, of course I am going to focus on agriculture as the opportunities that are probably best placed for UK investors.”
“I think one of the most important is on the sourcing side of the equation. For UK supermarkets to source fresh fruits and vegetables from Ethiopia, I think it’s a prime opportunity. But beyond fresh fruits and vegetables, there are also commodities such as the gluten-free teff that the UK market is becoming more informed about and which we can supply. So there is that kind of relationship that I think we can certainly strengthen.
“But there are also opportunities for UK businesses to come to Ethiopia, similar to what Diageo & Pittards have done, and invest. Because we do have the raw materials to be able to process, add value, and export, not only to the UK but also to many regional and international markets.”
This post first appeared HERE