Friday, April 19, 2024
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Japan to initiate high-level policy dialogue on agriculture

Criticizes small scale mechanized farming strategy

In an effort to improve the Ethiopian agriculture sector dominated by smallholder farmers, the Government of Japan has initiated a regular high level policy dialogue with the Ethiopian officials.

In an exclusive interview with The Reporter, Jin Kimiaki, Chief Representative of Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) in Ethiopia, said that the idea behind instituting a high-level policy dialogue on agriculture is to help resolve the age-long productivity and marketing challenges which have beleaguered smallholder farmers in Ethiopia. With due consideration to the difference in ecology and agricultural development philosophies of Ethiopia and Asia, Japanese experts are keen to share their experiences in the sector with their Ethiopian counterparts, Kimiaki told The Reporter.

The Government of Japan is eager to reignite the “Green Revolution” in Africa whose focus was to bring about mass production with applications of improved and modern seed varieties, fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. Despite all that, the revolution remained misdirected and failed to bump crop production in the continent.

Agreeing to that fact, the JICA chief said that there is still room to cooperate in areas such as maize and rice production with African nations, Ethiopia in particular. Previously, maize production was not part of green revolution in the rest of Africa. However, Ethiopia enjoyed relative success in boosting maize production between 2004 and 2013. Since 2004, the productivity of maize per hectare of land was some 1.6 tons in Ethiopia, Kimiaki recalled, but recent figures show that maize productivity has almost tripled to reach some 3.6 tons per hectare in the country.

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This bump in crop harvest is something JICA is hoping to imitate in other African countries. That said, how Ethiopia has been able to register that success is still unstudied, Kimiaki said. He also indicated that well-established evidence is hardly available for this success story. “We have huge interest to promote Ethiopia’s achievement. But, there are certain limitations that must be considered. What contributed to that level of achievement is not yet properly analyzed. We need to further discuss that with the Ethiopian government,” Kimiaki said.

In a view to have a regularized biannual policy dialogue on Ethiopian agriculture, an initial joint seminar that brought together the Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources (MoANR), the Ethiopian Development Research Institute (EDRI) and JICA experts was held in Addis last week. During the seminar, Kei Otsuka, professor of Development Economics at Kobe University in Japan, was among the experts who have challenged the agricultural mechanization strategy of Ethiopia.

Professor Otsuka pointed out some of the misleading arguments which were documented in the national strategy. The strategy looks at increasing crop yields via mechanization. It also states, among other things, that “traditional agricultural practices are highly labor intensive and inefficient”. But, according to the arguments of the professor, Ethiopia needs to reconsider the introduction of mechanization to its labor oriented agriculture so as not to endanger the farm community with massive unemployment. He says mechanization is unaffordable for the majority of smallholder farmers in the country and hence the strategy is not the best way to go about improving yield in the sector. He rather recommended the utilization of affordable and easy-to-use small machineries which would not threaten the jobs of smallholder farmers in Ethiopia.

In line with the launching of the high-level policy dialogue, the Government of Japan is also contemplating to set up farmers’ training facilities to introduce farmers to the concept of modern contract farming and market oriented horticulture practices in the country. The policy dialogue is planned to be held bi-annually pending the approval of the government.

It is to be remembered that, the Japanese have been actively involved in industrial policymaking of Ethiopia. The high-level dialogue on industrial policy, which was conducted for the past eight years, is a primary mechanism by which Japanese experts left their fingerprint in Ethiopia’s industrial drive. The engagement goes back to the Plan for Accelerated and Sustained Development to End Poverty (PASDEP) and continued through the planning of the two Growth and Transformation Plans (GTP I and II). 

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